The F-16 fighter jet, flying solo

The F-16 is one of America's premier fighter jets-- used by the Air Force in operations from Desert Storm to Libya. Today we learn how the Fighting Falcon is being re-purposed -- as a drone.

A pilot runs through his pre-flight checks on an F-16 jet fighter -- then climbs out. The canopy comes down and the F-16 takes off without him.

The Air Force is modifying F-16 jets to fly as drones

It happened last week at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and although unmanned aircraft are everywhere these days, it still makes you do a double take.

The F-16 is being flown by remote control from a ground station. It is able to perform all the maneuvers it could if a pilot were in the cockpit -- climb to 40,000 feet, fly faster than the speed of sound, and turn so sharply the g forces could make you black out.

No, this is not a faster, more agile hunter killer drone. It's a faster more agile target for pilots to train against. The Air Force has been doing this for decades,

But the current model target, a remotely piloted version of the Vietnam-era F-4, just doesn't have the moves of a modern fighter aircraft.

No pilot! This F-16 is flying by remote control

Now pilots will start going up against the leaner, meaner F-16 in dog fights and occasionally even shoot one down, which is only sort of OK with Boeing test pilot Jason Clements.

"I love the F-16 and brag about it a lot and now to get something ready to take off on its own so that somebody else can shoot it down makes it -- makes it a little bittersweet in my eyes," Clements said.

So far Boeing has modified six F-16s to fly without a pilot but more will start arriving in 2015.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.


Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Watch Now

On Twitter

New Android App

For your Android phone and tablet, download the FREE redesigned app, featuring CBSN, live 24/7 news.

The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App