The US Air Force’s (USAF) 82nd Aerial Target Squadron (82nd ATRS) has taken delivery of the last of the 314 QF-4 full-scale aerial target (FSAT) drones at Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida, US. Bearing a serial number 68-0599, the QF-4 is a modified variant of the decommissioned F-4 Phantom fighter jet, and has spent more than 20 years in the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona, US, prior to conversion by BAE Systems. The drone is scheduled to serve as a target for a modern piloted jet during training exercises, to eventually provide vital data to both US and allied forces.
Flown either by a remote control or with a safety pilot for performance monitoring, the QF-4 is a supersonic, reusable drone designed to serve as a realistic full-scale moving target for newly developed air-to-air weapons testing and aircraft training at Tyndall AFB, and Holloman AFB in New Mexico, US. Modified at BAE’s Flight Systems facilities at Mojave Airport in California, US, the drone replicates enemy aircraft manoeuvres in test and training exercises, and is integrated with electronic and infrared countermeasures for evaluation of the aircraft and weapons flown and fired against it. An inbuilt Gulf Range Drone Control System enables unmanned operation of the QF-4 drone, which can also be manually controlled using a mobile control station during take-off and landing sorties. Having replaced the QF-106 as USAF’s target drone of choice in 1998, the QF-4 is expected to be superseded by the QF-16 in 2014, a converted F-16 Fighting Falcon, due to limited availability of F-4 fighters and the continuing advancement of combat aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptors. Around 60 QF-4s are currently operational at Tyndall AFB and Holloman AFB.