JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Boeing last week showed off some QF-16 target drones that will replicate enemy fighter tactics and eventually get shot down by U.S. military jets.
For Boeing, this project is significant on a few levels.
First and most importantly, it’s a chance to get under the hood of the F-16, which was built by General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin).
The six jets that are part of the small development program were previously retired by the Air Force and had been in the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in the Arizona desert. Boeing and its program partner, BAE Systems, are installing new controls that will allow the planes to be flown remotely or traditionally with a pilot in the cockpit.
Boeing officials believe their early success on the program positions it well to perform sustainment on regular, manned F-16s, which are flying in more than 20 countries worldwide. These officials believe that globally, F-16 upgrade, modification and overhaul work could be a billion-dollar business.
Secondly, as the maker of the F-15 fighter that boasts a flawless air-to-air combat record, there’s nothing that gives the company more joy than to modify a rival company’s jet to get shot down by other aircraft, particularly if those fighters are Boeing-made F-15s or F/A-18s.
Since the creation of the single-engine F-16 — designed to battle enemy fighter jets and attack targets on the ground — F-15 and F-16 pilots have engaged in the “whose jet is better” competition.
Asked by a reporter (not me): “How cool is it to equip an F-16 to get shot down by an F-15?” the answer given by Tony Parasida, the president of Boeing’s Global Services & Support sector, sums it up perfectly.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said with an ear-to-ear grin and a chuckle.
Talk to anyone at Boeing and you’ll get a similar answer.
F-15 pilots throughout the Air Force are drooling at the prospect of being able to shoot down an F-16. Some have even joked it would be the crowning moment of their careers.
The big question now becomes, what happens when an F-16 pilot is tasked with shooting down a QF-16? Does he or she push the trigger?
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