Boeing to convert 18 F- 16 jet fighters
into unmanned target drones
BY John Keller
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Boeing
military avionics experts will
convert 18 retired U.S. Air Force
Lockheed Martin F- 16 jet fighters into sophisticated manned and
unmanned target drones under
terms of a $24.7 million order.
Officials of the Air Force Life
Cycle Management Center at Eglin
Air Force Base, Fla., are awarding
a contract modification to Boeing
Defense, Space & Security in St.
Louis to handle the conversion of 30
F- 16 fighters into unmanned full-scale aerial targets (FSATs).
Boeing won a $28.5 million contract in March 2015 to convert 25
retired F- 16 fighters in QF- 16 target drones. This order exercises
an option on that contract. The
transaction involves Lot 5A production of the QF- 16 FSAT program.
The Air Force has used converted
jet fighters as target drones for
decades, beginning in the 1960s
when the Air Force converted 24
Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jets into
Although some of these retired jet
fighter target drones are destroyed
during weapons tests, often the
drones rely on onboard sensors to
calculate the point of missile detonations to record “kills” without
destroying the target aircraft.
These aircraft are replacing
the Air Force’s fleet of QF- 4 target
drones, which are converted
McDonnell Douglas F- 4 Phantom jet
fighters phased out of active service
in the 1980s.
The newer QF-16s are bringing a
new level of sophistication to U.S.
supersonic target drone capabil-
ity. The F- 16 is a fourth-generation
fighter, and brings new challenges
for weapons testing over the
third-generation F- 4.
Boeing started converting F-16s
into the first QF- 16 drones in 2010.
Company experts strip down retired
F- 16 fighters to remove unnecessary parts like the jet’s 20-millimeter
cannon and APG-66/68 radar. Boeing
alters the aircraft to fly unmanned
or with human pilots.
Boeing also installs a flight termination system that can destroy the
drone if it goes out of control, command telemetry systems so operators can control the drone can be
controlled from the ground, a scoring
system to gauge the accuracy of air-to-air missiles fired at the drone, as
well as avionics packages to enable
these plans to fly unmanned.
Air Force leaders are expected to
buy a total of 120 QF- 16 target drones
through 2019. Optionally Air Force
leaders are considering buying a
total of 210 QF- 16 through 2022. The
fleet should last until 2025.
On this contract, Boeing will do
the work in St. Louis and should be
finished by April 2021. Í
FOR MORE INFORMATION visit Boeing
Defense, Space & Security at www.
Boeing is converting retired F- 16 jet fighters
into unmanned target drones to help train
combat pilots in advanced tactics.
computer is part of the company’s
AB3000 line of small, lightweight
embedded computers with the Intel
E680T processor, MIL-STD-1553
and ARINC 429/708/717 interfaces,
Ethernet, USB, video, audio, and PMC
expansion. The AB3000 series from
Astronics Ballard Technology comes
with factory-installed PCI mezza-
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designers to add an Ethernet switch,
synchronous and asynchronous
serial interfaces, and isolated dou-
The Textron CUSV and its
unmanned maritime command and
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tecture that accommodates platform
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Textron will do the work in Hunt
Valley and Columbia, Md.; Slidell,
La.; Hauppauge, N. Y.; and Lemont
Furnace, Pa., and should be finished
by September 2018. Í
FOR MORE INFORMATION visit Textron
Unmanned Systems at www.textron
systems.com and Astronics Ballard
Technology at www.astronics.com.