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
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(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.

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Sep 26, 2013 8:47 AM CDT
Death To Drones! Death To Drone Culture! The only good drone is a destroyed drone!
Sep 26, 2013 12:01 AM CDT
In 1974, the year I ETSed from the Army, a test Boeing 747 was computerized for programmed flying without a pilot. It was taxied to the end of the runway at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the engineers turned on all of the computer controls, the pilot crew stepped-back out of their pilot seats and took ride-along seats, and without a crew at the controls the computer locked the brakes, revved-up the engines in a standard engine test, revved the engines back down, obtained computer-synthesized vocal clearance from the control tower, then released the brakes and took off. It then flew around Los Angeles and came in on a computerized landing without the crew controlling the aircraft until it stopped itself, then the computers were turned off, the crew got back in their seats and took control of the aircraft, and taxied it back to the hangar. This was all duly recorded in the Los Angeles Times where I read it, and the following year in an outraged act, our US Congress outlawed any more test flights with computerized aircraft when outside of restricted air-space. Yes, it has happened before. Remote control flights have occurred hundreds of times out of the Palmdale-Lancaster US Air Force plant called "The Skunk Works" for decades, probably where the drone technology was developed by guess.
Sep 25, 2013 7:50 PM CDT
Not new http://www.fencecheck.com/content/index.php?title=The_Final_Mission:_The_USAF%92s_QF-4_Target_Drones