The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Missouri, was awarded a not-to-exceed $49,677,000 firm-fixed-price letter contract for QF-16 Production Lot 6 Block 25 and Block 30 Unique Material for Drone Peculiar Equipment Package, program integration support, production line support material and warranty for drone peculiar equipment lay-in material. Work will be performed in St. Louis, Missouri, and is expected to be completed by April 30, 2025. This award is the result of a sole source acquisition. Fiscal 2021 Navy weapons procurement funds in the amount of $4,186,507; and fiscal 2022 procurement funds in the amount of $20,651,992 are being obligated at the time of award. U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is the contracting activity.
The U.S. Air Force plans to convert Block 15 F-16As, and Block 25, 30 F-16Cs into full-scale target drones under the QF-16 Air Superiority Target (AST) program. These AST drones are used in Weapon System Evaluation Programs (WSEP) for assessing upgrades or replacements for air-to-air missiles (AAM), and they are also useful for giving pilots the experience of a live AAM shot and kill prior to entering combat. QF-16s would replace the current QF-4 drones, the last of which are expected to be expended around 2015. The U.S. Air Force’s Air Armament Center hosted its first “Industry Day” for interested vendors at Eglin AFB, Florida on 16–19 July 2007. Six F-16s will be modified during the development phase, as prototypes for engineering tests and evaluation.
From 2014, up to 126 QF-16 drones will be created. The prototype QF-16 undertook its maiden flight in May 2012. In January 2013, the 576th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Squadron refit team was due to begin modification work on the QF-16 program. Davis-Monthan has 210 F-16s stocked for conversion. F-16C Block 30B s/n 85-1569 was the first aircraft delivered in November 2012. On 19 September 2013, an empty F-16 jet tested by Boeing and US Air Force, two US Air Force pilots controlled the plane from the ground as it flew from Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, Florida. The jet – which had previously sat mothballed at an Arizona site for 15 years – flew at an altitude of 40,000 ft (12.2 km) and a speed of Mach 1.47 (1,119 mph/1,800 km/h).
QF-16 carried out a series of maneuvers including a barrel roll and a “split S” – a move in which the aircraft turns upside down before making a half loop so that it flies the right-way-up in the opposite direction. This can be used in combat to evade missile lock-ons. The firm added that the flight attained 7 g of acceleration but was capable of carrying out maneuvers at 9 g – something that might cause physical problems for a pilot. On 19 July 2017, the first QF-16 was shot down during a Combat Archer Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP) exercise. In 2017, a QF-16 was used as a UCAV, autonomously attacking a ground target as a part of the “Loyal Wingman” program. The Air Force ran this exercise under the name “Have Raider II”.