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Dave Ross

The pilot exits the F-16 and it takes off without him

A Boeing F-16 jet fighter, which had been sitting in the desert, out of service for 15 years, is flying once again. With one slight modification to the pre-flight procedure.

After making one final check, “Just making sure all my switches are set in the right position, the throttle is free and clear, the lights are on.”

Pilot Jason Clements leaves the cockpit.

And then Clements watches the F-16 take off without him.

Planes without pilots are nothing new – they’re called drones. But a real F-16 full performance fighter plane without a pilot? That hasn’t been done until now.

A Boeing video shows the first test flight of a once-mothballed F-16 which has been retrofitted so it can be flown from the ground – not to be used in some cyber war, but as a target.

And what a target. It took off from Florida and flew over the gulf of Mexico with two Air Force pilots flying it from the ground.

Retired Lt. Col. Tom Mudge was one of the two at the controls. “The flight itself went very well, it went as advertised. The jet performed well and did what it was supposed to do.”

He took it up to 40,000 feet and speeds of Mach 1.47 – that’s 1,119 miles an hour – and had it doing barrel rolls and hairpin turns that, would make a human pilot black out – and then, a perfect landing.

“It made a beautiful landing, maybe one of the best landings I’ve ever seen,” said Mudge.

While the remote-controlled QF-16s are not designed for battle – you know that’s the next step.

When you think about it, if opposing powers can fight it out by remote control, so that the best pilots and the best equipment would still win, but you wouldn’t have to kill anybody, why not?

Dave Ross on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM

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About the Author

Dave Ross

Dave Ross hosts the Morning News on KIRO Radio weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Dave has won the national Edward R. Murrow Award for writing five times since he started at KIRO Radio in 1978.


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