Target Acquired

The QF-16 is the introduction of fourth-generation fighter capabilities in the aerial target mission. It maintains all inherent capabilities of the baseline F-16 Fighting Falcon including supersonic flight and 9 G maneuverability. The QF-16 is a full-scale aerial target that has been modified to be flown with a pilot in the cockpit for training and also without a pilot as a target for live missile testing.

A QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target maneuvers next to another QF-16 to monitor its take off during a dress rehearsal for an upcoming missile test at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

A QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target maneuvers next to another QF-16 to monitor its take off during a dress rehearsal for an upcoming missile test at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Maintainers at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., refurbish an F-16 Fighting Falcon to be fly worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Maintainers at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., refurbish an F-16 Fighting Falcon to be fly worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

A maintainer at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., circles stress cracks in an F-16 airframe that has been sitting in storage for three years. The F-16 will be made flight worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl., to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

A maintainer at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., circles stress cracks in an F-16 airframe that has been sitting in storage for three years. The F-16 will be made flight worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl., to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, the director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, inspects a rebuilt F-16 Fighting Falcon, before he flies the aircraft to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl., to be modified into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, the director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, inspects a rebuilt F-16 Fighting Falcon, before he flies the aircraft to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl., to be modified into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, the director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, prepares to fly a rebuilt F-16 Fighting Falcon to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl., to be modified into a QF-16. Using the QF-16 as an aerial target gives the warfighter the most realistic approach to a real world mission profile. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, the director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, prepares to fly a rebuilt F-16 Fighting Falcon to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl., to be modified into a QF-16. Using the QF-16 as an aerial target gives the warfighter the most realistic approach to a real world mission profile. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Ariz., takes off in a rebuilt F-16 Falcon from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to Cecil Field, in Jacksonville, Fl., so the aircraft can be modified into a QF-16. Using the QF-16 as an aerial target gives the warfighter the most realistic approach to a real world mission profile.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Ariz., takes off in a rebuilt F-16 Falcon from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to Cecil Field, in Jacksonville, Fl., so the aircraft can be modified into a QF-16. Using the QF-16 as an aerial target gives the warfighter the most realistic approach to a real world mission profile. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer

"Validating the capabilities of other aircraft and missiles is almost impossible to duplicate unless you can actually go out there and replicate it," said Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, the director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. "With the F-16E they can program the aircraft and fly it remotely to nearly any profile that you could ask it to. If we can mimic our advisories tactics, we can validate that our missiles are effective in defeating them." (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

A QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target takes off from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico for a rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

A QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target takes off from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico for a rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon is towed to the runway before takeoff, Aug 1, 2017 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The F-16 was pulled out of storage at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group and refurbished to fight status before being transported to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. where it will be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
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An F-16 Fighting Falcon is towed to the runway before takeoff, Aug 1, 2017 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The F-16 was pulled out of storage at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group and refurbished to fight status before being transported to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. where it will be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Maintainers at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthon Air Force Base, Ariz., refurbish a F-16 Fighting Falcon to be fly worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
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Maintainers at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthon Air Force Base, Ariz., refurbish a F-16 Fighting Falcon to be fly worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

F-16s recently pulled out of storage at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group  in Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. are restored to airworthiness before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl., to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
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F-16s recently pulled out of storage at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. are restored to airworthiness before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl., to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Jim Schreiner, Civilian QF-16 pilot/controller, preflights a QF-16 before a manned dress rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
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Jim Schreiner, Civilian QF-16 pilot/controller, preflights a QF-16 before a manned dress rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Jim Schreiner, Civilian QF-16 pilot/controller, preflights a QF-16 before a manned dress rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
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Jim Schreiner, Civilian QF-16 pilot/controller, preflights a QF-16 before a manned dress rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Civilian Maintainers prepare QF-16s for a dress rehearsal flight at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico before the planned shoot down of a QF-16 over the White Sands Missile test range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
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Civilian Maintainers prepare QF-16s for a dress rehearsal flight at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico before the planned shoot down of a QF-16 over the White Sands Missile test range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)

Ground crew of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 perform maintenance on a QF-4 Phantom, left, and its replacement, the QF-16, at Holloman AFB, N.M., Dec. 20, 2016. The final variant of the Phantom II, the primary multi-role aircraft in the USAF throughout the 1960s and 1970s, was the QF-4 unmanned aerial target flown by the 82nd at Holloman AFB. Pilots of the 82nd flew the F-4 for the last time prior to a retirement ceremony for the storied aircraft on Dec. 21, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
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Ground crew of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 perform maintenance on a QF-4 Phantom, left, and its replacement, the QF-16, at Holloman AFB, N.M., Dec. 20, 2016. The final variant of the Phantom II, the primary multi-role aircraft in the USAF throughout the 1960s and 1970s, was the QF-4 unmanned aerial target flown by the 82nd at Holloman AFB. Pilots of the 82nd flew the F-4 for the last time prior to a retirement ceremony for the storied aircraft on Dec. 21, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

Civilian QF-4E Pilot/Controller Lt. Col. (Ret) Jim "WAM" Harkins, exits his McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, after a rehearsal for the final military flight and retirement ceremony for the storied aircraft at Holloman AFB, N.M., Dec. 16, 2016. The final variant of the Phantom II was the QF-4 unmanned aerial targets flown by the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 at Holloman AFB. The ceremonial flight was Harkins last in a cockpit for DoD; he will now be a ground controller for the QF-4's replacement, the QF-16. The F-4 Phantom II entered the U.S. Air Force inventory in 1963 and was the primary multi-role aircraft in the USAF throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The F-4 flew bombing, combat air patrol, fighter escort, reconnaissance and the famous Wild Weasel anti-aircraft missile suppression missions.  (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
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Civilian QF-4E Pilot/Controller Lt. Col. (Ret) Jim "WAM" Harkins, exits his McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, after a rehearsal for the final military flight and retirement ceremony for the storied aircraft at Holloman AFB, N.M., Dec. 16, 2016. The final variant of the Phantom II was the QF-4 unmanned aerial targets flown by the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 at Holloman AFB. The ceremonial flight was Harkins last in a cockpit for DoD; he will now be a ground controller for the QF-4's replacement, the QF-16. The F-4 Phantom II entered the U.S. Air Force inventory in 1963 and was the primary multi-role aircraft in the USAF throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The F-4 flew bombing, combat air patrol, fighter escort, reconnaissance and the famous Wild Weasel anti-aircraft missile suppression missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

Fort Meade, MD --


For decades the F-16 Fighting Falcon was the world’s premier fighter jet.  Small, maneuverable and fast, it has been used for air-to-air operations and air-to-ground operations.  Even today, with its current upgrades, it is one of the world’s most advanced fighters.


 

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer
"Validating the capabilities of other aircraft and missiles is almost impossible to duplicate unless you can actually go out there and replicate it," said Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, the director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. "With the F-16E they can program the aircraft and fly it remotely to nearly any profile that you could ask it to. If we can mimic our advisories tactics, we can validate that our missiles are effective in defeating them." (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Lt. Col. Martin Meyer
Lt. Col. Martin Meyer
"Validating the capabilities of other aircraft and missiles is almost impossible to duplicate unless you can actually go out there and replicate it," said Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, the director of flight test at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. "With the F-16E they can program the aircraft and fly it remotely to nearly any profile that you could ask it to. If we can mimic our advisories tactics, we can validate that our missiles are effective in defeating them." (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston
VIRIN: 180524-F-MG591-9010

This is why they are blowing them up.

In a small compound on the edge of the flightline at Davis–Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, retired military maintainers from the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group are pulling retired F-16s from the bone yard and turning them into almost new QF-16s in as little as 18 days.

Lt. Col. Martin Meyer, 309th AMARG director of flight test, said that the mission here has been going on for 50 years.

“The Air Force has always had a need for a full scale aerial target to practice and succeed with missile testing,” he said.  “So we have flown what we call optionally-manned aircraft going all the way back to the F-100 (Super Sabre) in the late fifties…through the F-4 (Phantom II) which we used for a lot of years up until now, the F-16, which we designate the QF-16.”

The QF-16s are pulled from the 309th AMARG and rebuilt to become airworthy and flyable as functional test aircraft.  They are then sent to a Boeing facility, at Cecil Field near Jacksonville, Florida, where they install an optionally manned package on them. The aircraft can be flown just like a normal F-16 fighter with a pilot in the cockpit, or remotely.

A QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target takes off from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico for a rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
A QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target takes off from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico for a rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
A QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target takes off from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico for a rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target takes off from Holloman Air Force Base
A QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target takes off from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico for a rehearsal of a missile test on a QF-16. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Photo By: Tech Sgt. Perry Aston
VIRIN: 180524-F-MG591-9009

After about a year, and one to three hundred flight hours, the aircraft are set for destruction. The QF-16s will have live missiles shot at them for testing and validation, and eventually they’ll get shot down.

“Validating the capabilities of other aircraft and missiles is almost impossible to duplicate unless you can actually go out there and replicate it,” Meyer said. “With the F-16…they can program the aircraft and fly it remotely to nearly any profile that you could ask it to. If we can mimic our adversaries tactics, we can validate that our missiles are effective in defeating them.”

The Air Force is currently planning on 200 QF-16 aircraft, over about a ten-year period, to support this testing. The first shoot down of a QF-16 happened in July 2016.

For approximately 20 years, the Air Force utilized F-4s that were turned into QF-4s. They were also generated at the 309th AMARG. Eventually, as the supply dwindled, it got prohibitively expensive to regenerate them and they were much more limited in the profiles they could fly as a target compared to the F-16.

“The QF-4 was an awesome aircraft but it’s a generation or a generation and a half old,” said Retired Lt. Col. Jim “WAM” Harkins, civilian QF-4E and QF-16 pilot/controller at Detachment 1, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. “The F-16 is a much more of what (pilots) might see today. It’s a better test platform for testing new weapons.”

Civilian Maintainers prepare QF-16s for a dress rehearsal flight at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico before the planned shoot down of a QF-16 over the White Sands Missile test range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Civilian Maintainers prepare QF-16s for a dress rehearsal flight at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico before the planned shoot down of a QF-16 over the White Sands Missile test range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Civilian Maintainers prepare QF-16s for a dress rehearsal flight at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico before the planned shoot down of a QF-16 over the White Sands Missile test range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Civilian Maintainers prepare QF-16s for a dress rehearsal flight
Civilian Maintainers prepare QF-16s for a dress rehearsal flight at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico before the planned shoot down of a QF-16 over the White Sands Missile test range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston
VIRIN: 180524-F-MG591-9003

If you also look at it from the maintenance perspective, the old F-4 with its parts, its fuel burn and its maintenance requirements, was getting difficult to maintain and expensive. The F-16, which is a currently fielded fighter, is much cheaper to maintain, the parts are more readily available and the per-hour cost is much lower than the F-4.

“Overall we got a better target, it’s cheaper, and it does a great job,” Harkins said.

Meyer has a lot of faith in the maintainers that rebuild these jets, some of which have been sitting for 10 years or more.  He is tasked with flying each one and signing off on the Dash Six checklist, making the aircraft airworthy again.

“Almost all these guys are retired Air Force, they’re almost all senior non-commissioned officers; guys who have been around Air Force aircraft their entire lives. The pride that they’ve got in making sure the aircraft are good is evident,” Meyer said. “They take it as a personal insult if they send me up there and something goes wrong with the airplane, even if it’s a bad radio.”

Some would say that rebuilding a jet just to blow it up is wasteful, but Meyer said, as he sat on the edge of a completed QF-16, that the job he and his team does benefits the entire Air Force.

“Take this aircraft for example; this thing flew for the Air Force for fifteen years, flew for the Italian Air Force, and was just sitting in the desert, gathering dust. We’re repurposing it, and it’s something that directly affects the war fighter,” he said. “We are able to replicate mission profiles that would otherwise be impossible to do. And when these guys go into combat, they know that their missiles are going to do what they need them to do. So that part of it is extremely rewarding.”

Maintainers at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., refurbish an F-16 Fighting Falcon to be fly worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Maintainers at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., refurbish an F-16 Fighting Falcon to be fly worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Maintainers at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., refurbish an F-16 Fighting Falcon to be fly worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
F-16 gets refurbished
Maintainers at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., refurbish an F-16 Fighting Falcon to be fly worthy before flying to Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Fl. to be converted into a QF-16 unmanned aerial target. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston)
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Perry Aston
VIRIN: 180524-F-MG591-9015




                                                                                                                                         

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