F-16 Takes Off— With No One Inside

Retired jets retrofitted into drones for Air Force training

By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 25, 2013 6:54 AM CDT | Updated Sep 25, 2013 9:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Yesterday's fighter jets are today's drones. Or that's the hope of Boeing and the US Air Force, which have retrofitted retired F-16s to fly as unmanned aerial vehicles, the BBC reports. One of the six new pilot-less planes made the first test flight last week, with two pilots on the ground successfully flying the jet from a Florida base to the Gulf of Mexico at a speed of Mach 1.47, performing barrel rolls and other maneuvers on the way. Boeing says the hope is that the planes will eventually be used in training drills, so pilots can practice firing on other planes.

"It flew great, everything worked great, (it) made a beautiful landing—probably one of the best landings I've ever seen," says the project's chief engineer. But not everyone is impressed. "I'm very concerned these could be used to target people on the ground," says a spokesperson for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. "There is every reason to believe that these so-called 'targets' could become a test bed for drone warfare, moving us closer and closer to automated killing." But unmanned training planes are nothing new for the Air Force, notes CBS: pilot-less Vietnam-era F-4s have been used for decades. The F-16s just offer a faster, more modern opponent for pilots to practice against.

The unmanned F-16 in flight.   (Boeing)
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