The QF-16 is an F-16 that's been converted to a drone and used as a target for advanced target practice. How do you test to make sure it's ready to be operational? You fire missiles at it.
This aircraft is about to solidify its replacement status as America's next Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT), a more capable replacement for the dwindling stocks of QF-4 Phantom drones. The test seen in the video below is the second to the last hurdle before the QF-16 is declared fully operational.
This test was against a surface-to-air missile system, the final test will be against a F-15C and an air-to-air missile, that like its SAM counterpart, will be fired without a warhead. By pulling the missile's warhead and filling that space with telemetry gear, not only does it enhance the test data but it also greatly increases the chances of the multi-million dollar QF-16s surviving the engagement.
These aircraft are optionally manned, and are indeed intended to be destroyed in testing, but they can be used over and over again for many years until, quite literally, their flight hours are up. Then they can be earmarked for destructive testing.
This video shows us exactly what the QF-16 (made of up surplus early block F-16 stocks) was reborn from the boneyard to do, which is representing a modern 4th generation threat, similar in performance as Russian-built MiG-29s and Su-27s, and be shot at by test systems under highly instrumented circumstances. The product of which results in more effective missiles and countermeasures for our warfighters to bet their lives on.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com