Zombie Jet Fighters: Drones from Beyond the Grave
Visit Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, and you'll see rows upon of obsolete F-4 Phantom II aircraft – or at least their gutted carcasses. This is the Aerospace Maintenance And Regeneration Center or AMARC -- whatever you do, don't call it the Boneyard. For many years, it has been common practice to resurrect these deceased planes as QF-4 unmanned drones, so that they can have a brief and undignified existence as "full-scale aerial targets." Everything in the inventory -- from Sidewinder missiles to Patriots -- have been tested on one at some point, even though some find it "kind of hard to shoot at such a magnificent aircraft."
Some 230 Phantoms have been through this resurrection process since 1995. It costs about $800,000 U.S. per aircraft. The tail and wingtips are painted orange to they can be easily distinguished from manned aircraft. Typically they are flown several times. Not all tests need to end in the plane being shot down, and there is an onboard scoring system to determine how close a warhead came. Up to six QF-4s can be flow together remotely by computer, maintaining tight formation using GPS. (Hey, how about a robotic version of the Blue Angels?)
But earlier this year, the zombie fleet got a new twist (see photo): one of them fired a modified High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile.
So maybe the undead QF-4 should get its revenge on the living and get to fire some missiles itself for a change. Let's hear it for the new Phantom Menace…