The US Air Force expects to cease carrying out test support using its 22-strong fleet of BAE Systems QF-4 Phantom aerial targets in January 2017, followed by a complete out of service date in the middle of the same year.

The target aircraft – based at Holloman AFB in New Mexico – is being replaced by the Boeing QF-16, the first of which was delivered to Tyndall AFB in Florida in March. Tyndall ceased operating the QF-4 in May 2015, making the 53rd Wing's Detachment 1 82 Aerial Targets Sqn based at Holloman – which is in close proximity to White Sands Missile Range – the last remaining operator.

The remaining QF-4s will continue to fly manned test support and unmanned live fire test support for the Department of Defense test and evaluation – plus foreign military sales testing – until 31 December 2016, 1st Lt Amanda Farr, 53rd Wing spokesperson, tells Flightglobal.

The remaining aircraft are expected to be destroyed during live fire testing, and any that are not destroyed by 1 January 2017 will likely be demilitarised, Farr says.

Last QF-4 - USAF

US Air Force

The last delivery of over 300 QF-4s was in November 2013, paving way for the replacement QF-16 that is deemed to be more representative of commonly used aircraft than the ageing McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom-based model.

Deliveries of 13 QF-16s are expected under the Lot 1 production contract that the first aerial target was delivered under in March, while the air force has a requirement for 210 QF-16s in total.

A multi-year contract to convert retired Block-15, 25 and 30 Lockheed Martin F-16 A and C model aircraft was awarded to Boeing in March 2010, which until conversion had been sitting at the Davis-Monthan AFB aircraft boneyard in Arizona.