First pilotless F-16

The US air force has test flown an F-16 fighter jet without a pilot on board for the first time in the latest sign of the military’s increasing reliance on drones.

The robotic F-16 flew for 55 minutes with an empty cockpit from a Florida base last week as part of a programme that would see the converted fighter jet used as a target for pilots in training, manufacturer Boeing said.

“It was really amazing to see an F-16 take off with nobody in it,” said Michelle Shelhamer from Boeing, which has adapted the plane for the US military.

The aircraft is one of six “retired” F-16 jets that would be used as aerial targets for fighter pilots training for air-to-air combat, she said.

“They’re basically built to be shot down,” she said. “It’s full-scale, real world, real life, combat training – not with a simulator or anything else.”

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