Unmanned Drone Detonated Off Coast of Gulf County

By: Jamie Burch, News Director Email
By: Jamie Burch, News Director Email
Tyndall Air Force Base says a QF-4 drone had to be destroyed for safety considerations during its return to base following a routine operation.

A QF-4 Drone in flight as it is tracked by a missile at Tyndall AFB, Fla. The drones are used as moving targets to test weapons. (Courtesy photo)

A Tyndall Air Force Base operation caught the attention of folks in Gulf County.

The Sheriff’s Office started receiving 911 calls about 10:30 a.m. from people who thought they saw a plane catch fire and crash into the Gulf. Others reported seeing a flare of some sort.

Gulf County’s dispatcher called Tyndall which confirmed it was a drone.

According to a news released from Tyndall, an unmanned QF-4 drone, assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, was destroyed over the Gulf of Mexico at 10:28 a.m. CST.

Tyndall says the drone was carrying a small self-destruct charge and “had to be destroyed for safety considerations during its return to base following a routine operation. “

The QF-4 Drone is a modified F-4 Phantom that is used as a moving target to test weapons.

Portions of Highway 98 in Gulf County and a corridor in the Gulf of Mexico were closed during the exercise. But Tyndall says it had nothing to do with the detonation. The base says the precautionary safety measures are taken during take-off and landing of these drones.

Courtesy: US Air Force.
Mission
The supersonic QF-4 is a reusable full-scale target drone modified from the F-4 Phantom. The QF-4 provides a realistic full-scale target for air-to-air weapons system evaluation, development and testing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., and Holloman AFB, N.M.

Features
The QF-4 is a remotely controlled target, which simulates enemy aircraft maneuvers. The drone can be flown by remote control or with a safety pilot to monitor its performance. The drone is flown unmanned when missiles are fired at it, and only in specific over-water airspace authorized for unmanned flight. When flown unmanned, an explosive device is placed in the QF-4 to destroy the aircraft if it inadvertently becomes uncontrollable.

The QF-4 is equipped to carry electronic and infrared countermeasures to fully evaluate fighters and weapons flown and fired against it. Full-scale drone aircraft can be flown totally by computer using the Gulf Range Drone Control System, or controlled manually during takeoff and landing using a mobile control station located at the drone runway. As a safety precaution, a chase plane trails the drone during critical periods of flight.

Background
First flown in May 1958, the Phantom II originally was developed for U.S. Navy fleet defense and entered service in 1961. The USAF evaluated it as the F-110A Spectre for close air support, interdiction and counter-air operations. In 1962, U.S. Air Force version was approved. The Air Force's Phantom II was designated F-4C, and first flew May 27, 1963. Production deliveries began in November 1963.

The F-4 was the primary fighter-bomber aircraft in the U.S. Air Force throughout the 1960s and 1970s. F-4s also flew reconnaissance and "Wild Weasel" anti-aircraft missile suppression missions. Phantom II production ended in 1979.

The modified F-4 became the QF-4. It is the successor to the QF-106 in the Air Force drone inventory.

The drone fleet is operated and maintained by the 82d Aerial Targets Squadron, located at Tyndall AFB. The squadron is a subordinate unit of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall AFB. The 53rd WEG reports to the 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla. The QF-4 program attained initial operational capability in 1997.

General Characteristics
Primary function: Full-scale drone
QF-4 Modification Contractor: BAE Systems
F-4 Prime Contractor: McDonnell Aircraft Co.
Power plant: Two General Electric turbojet engines with afterburners
Wingspan: 38 feet, 15 inches (11.7 meters)
Length: 63 feet, 1(9.2 meters)
Height: 16 feet, 6 inches (5 meters)
Weight: 30,328 pounds (13,757 kilograms)
Maximum Launch Weight: 62,000 pounds (28,030 kilograms)
Speed: 1,600 mph (Mach 2)
Ceiling: 60,000 feet (18,182 meters)
Range: 1,300 miles
Cost: $2.6 million (drone conversion)
Initial operating capability: 1997
Inventory: Active force, 86


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