The military plane of the future is not likely to have anyone actually inside the aircraft, and a new video released from Boeing gives us a glimpse into what that could look like.
Boeing and the U.S. Air Force have been working on converting old F-16 fighter jets into unmanned aerial targets called QF-16s so pilots can get much more realistic practice, and with a live missile test carried out earlier this week in New Mexico, they have gotten even closer.
From Boeing’s news release:
“The QF-16’s mission is really to act as a target and validate weapons systems. So, we do have a scoring system on the aeroplane and its job is to tell us basically how close the missile came and its trajectory.”
The ground control station sets the coordinates for the missile. Then, using its on board system, the QF-16 validates that the missile hit those coordinates, and detects the distance and speed of the missile. If all the data matches up, the mission is considered a “kill.”
While its first remote flight was back in Sep. 2013, this was the first time they tried shooting a missile at it.
The test was successful, and the aircraft — remotely-piloted with GoPro cameras around the cockpit — returned back to base. According to FlightGlobal, the plan is to get around 210 QF-16s operational as aerial targets in the future.
As we’ve seen with the rapid rise of drone technology amid its use in Iraq and Afghanistan, the next step in weaponizing and using QF-16s or similar over the battlefield is likely not that far off. While the military hasn’t yet published a requirement for the QF-16s to do such a task, FlightGlobal reports that “Boeing has anticipated an interest in performing that work” and is studying whether it could work alongside the MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper drones already flying overseas.
The idea makes sense. Removing a pilot from the cockpit removes the risk of a casualty while still preserving the ability to provide air cover, and drones aren’t really affected by high G-force maneuvers that would make a human being pass out. Of course, the ethics of such a move are another matter worthy of debate.
Regardless, the remotely-piloted aircraft isn’t going away. Instead, it will only gain ground, as two former military pilots recently told Business Insider they expect the F-35 Lightning will likely be the last manned fighter jet in the U.S. arsenal.
Here’s the video from the test:
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.