F-16 Fighter Jet is the Latest Thing to Be Turned Into a Drone

By Chris Mills on at

The US of A has thousands of propellor-driven UAVs terrorising the skies above various bits of the world, but a puny propellor is no match for a legitimate, tooled-up Fighting Falcon flying itself through the skies. Which is why the US Air Force has strapped a really big remote control and a few servos* to some old jets, and flown them around a bit.

With the assistance of Boeing, the US Air Force has outfitted six of its old F-16s (which had previously been mothballed for 15 years). One of those planes undertook a trial flight about a week ago, in which it barelled along at 12,000 metres at speeds well in excess of the speed of sound. To make things fun, the two US Air Force pilots flying the F-16 threw in a barrel roll and S-turn, which, while not exactly Top Gun material, is still pretty impressive for what is essentially a big remote-controlled plane.

Although exact details haven't been revealed yet, Boeing has presumably devised a system that gives low-latency control as well as a constant readout from the instruments, and probably live-streams a few cameras as well.

It's an interesting use for an old plane, although probably not the immediate future of air combat -- although Predator drones and the like are well used for ground strikes, air-to-air combat requires greater situational awareness and response times than remote-control links are generally capable of (unless Boeing has made a serious breakthrough). [BBC]

*OK so it was probably a bit more complicated than that.