The US Air Force's (USAF) QF-16 full-scale aerial target (FSAT) has achieved initial operational capability (IOC), USAF Air Combat Command (ACC) commander general Hawk Carlisle has declared.
According to Carlisle, the IOC has been approved for 15 QF-16s currently available for target operations.
Airmen from the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron (ATRS) under the 53rd Wing will fly the aircraft assigned to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
The new aerial target will replace the QF-4 aerial target that is to officially retire in December this year.
82nd ATRS commander lieutenant colonel Matthew Garrison said: "This leap forward in airframe capabilities, combined with advanced electronic pods, will allow us to properly test and evaluate our fifth-generation aircraft and weapons.”
The Boeing-built QF-16 FSAT has been designed to provide next-generation of combat training and testing for US warfighters.
Retired F-16 aircraft are converted into QF-16 aerial targets for use in testing newly developed weapons and tactics, said Boeing.
The QF-16 maintains all inherent capabilities of the baseline F-16 Fighting Falcon including supersonic flight and 9 G manoeuvrability, according to the airforce.
Boeing and the USAF conducted the first unmanned flight of the QF-16 in 2013 at Tyndall Air Force Base.
The QF-16 mission profile included auto takeoff, a series of simulated manoeuvres, supersonic flight and an auto land, all without a pilot in the cockpit.
Testing on the six aircraft continues at Holloman Air Force Base.
Image: A QF-16 flies across the horizon at Tyndall Air Force Base. Photo: courtesy of US Air Force photo/Sara Vidoni.