A Lockheed Martin F-16 jet had been retired and sitting in Arizona for some 15 years. Boeing recently fitted the jet up with the right equipment, turning it into a pilotless drone that can be controlled from the ground. According to the initial test flight, the unmanned F-16 performed exceptionally well.
The presence of the pilot in an F-16 limits the kinds of maneuvers that the jet can perform. However, without a pilot in it and externally controlled from the ground, the same jet can perform a whole range of new moves.
According to reports, the pilotless jet flew from Florida to the Gulf of Mexico, flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet and at a speed of Mach 1.47. It is fairly incredible to note that the plane flew perfectly and without any incident, even when it had been brought back from retirement after some 15 years.
However, to preempt any possible untoward incidents, two planes accompanied it along its journey. Not only that, the unmanned F-16 was set up with such gear that would have allowed self-detonation in case of an emergency.
According to the chief engineer of the project at Boeing, Paul Cejas, “It flew great, everything worked great, [it] made a beautiful landing – probably one of the best landings I’ve ever seen.” Similar sentiments were cited by Lt. Col Ryan Inman who said, “It was a little different to see it without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around.”
This is a landmark achievement since it paves the way for the future. It is essentially a proof of the concept that such jets which have been retired could be re-used as drones.