Military Aviation

QF-16 modification line at Cecil Airport in Jacksonville delivers final “Zombie Viper” Full Scale Aerial Target

The QF-16 “Zombie Viper” was delivered to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida.

Defense Contract Management Agency Aircraft Integrated Maintenance Operations (DCMA AIMO) St. Augustine personnel celebrated the delivery of the final QF-16 “Zombie Viper” Full Scale Aerial Target from Boeing at Cecil Airport in Jacksonville on Jul. 29, 2022.

As told by Jonathan Alfaro in the article AIMO St. Augustine celebrates ‘Zombie Viper’ delivery, the aircraft was delivered to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) in Panama City, Florida.

The QF-16 is the latest Full-Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) designed to test and evaluate US weapon systems and assist in developing tactics, techniques, and procedures to counter fighter-size airborne threats.

The QF-16 is an optionally piloted, reusable aerial target system modified from previously-retired legacy F-16 aircraft, which were once used in Air Force combat missions. After modification, the aircraft can be flown by a pilot or via remote control by a skilled group of ground operators and technicians who monitor performance. Without risk to aircrew, the aircraft can fly a multitude of missions, to include the testing of newly developed weapons systems, air-to-air live fire training, ground-to-air live fire missile tests, auto takeoff and landing, and supersonic flight.

The QF-16 retains F-16 flight performance characteristics and payload capabilities including supersonic, after-burning engine, high-G maneuvering, complex electronic attack, and expendable countermeasures.

The QF-16 Zombie Viper’s first unmanned flight took place Sep. 23, 2013. Since then, more than 75 modified aircraft have been delivered from the Boeing facility in Jacksonville. Boeing previously received retired F-16 aircraft, which were regenerated from storage at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, Arizona, and flown to Cecil Airport for installation of drone equipment to prepare the aircraft for its newfound mission. The QF-16 system is composed of regenerated F-16 Block 15, 25, and 30 aircraft equipped with Drone-Peculiar Equipment to enable remote command and control, missile trajectory scoring, and safe flight termination.

DCMA and its industry counterparts faced various obstacles throughout the production lifespan of the QF-16 aircraft. Those obstacles included supply chain disruptions, the COVID-19 pandemic and a variety of maintenance issues on the 30-plus year-old aircraft.

“We worked daily, directly on the hangar floor, and hand-in-hand with the contractor, to resolve a variety of production issues,” said Michael Jackson, a quality assurance specialist with DCMA AIMO St. Augustine. “Our DCMA team worked diligently to overcome all obstacles, alleviating production delays, and delivering the remaining aircraft on schedule and under budget.”

The QF-16 platform is the successor to the QF-4 Phantom drone, which was retired in 2016.

“The QF-16 provides a crucial capability to both the Air Force and Navy in the development of next generation weapon systems,” said Navy Cmdr. Gabriel Hohner, DCMA AIMO St. Augustine commanding officer. I am proud of the partnership DCMA has had with Boeing here to deliver this capability.”

The QF-16’s have always been delivered from Boeing to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base for operational use. Each aircraft maintains a lifespan of approximately 300 flight hours.

The conclusion of the QF-16 modification line at Cecil Airport ends a decade of work on this unique platform in Jacksonville. A second QF-16 line, based at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, will continue to operate through the remaining procurement contract.

Defense Contract Management Agency Aircraft Integrated Maintenance Operations St. Augustine personnel celebrated the delivery of the final QF-16 “Zombie Viper” Full Scale Aerial Target from Boeing at Cecil Airport in Jacksonville, Florida, on Jul. 29, 2022. The aircraft was delivered to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, Florida.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Boeing

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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