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Drone crashes on take-off from Holloman

QF-4E drones

QF-4E drones

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- An unmanned QF-4E crashed on take-off August 10 here sending a black cloud of smoke into the air that could be seen for miles.

The crash took place at 8:45 a.m. near the west end of runway 22 and runway 25. No one was injured and no damage was reported to military equipment or facilities. The drone, which is a modified F-4 Phantom II, was reported to have been just a few feet off the ground when it lost control and crashed.

Holloman security forces and fire department personnel responded to the crash within minutes ensuring no further damage was done to the base.

"The outstanding response time to this event by security forces and fire department personnel was a testament to their training," said Col. David Goldfein, 49th Fighter Wing, commander. "I'm extremely proud of the job our Airmen did to ensure the area was safe and secure so Team Holloman could quickly return to normal operations and continue to support the Weapon System Evaluation Program."

The remotely-piloted jet was being used as an aerial target to test air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons systems by the WSEP currently taking place here. It was being controlled from a ground station located within the White Sands Missile Range complex.

When flown unmanned, the QF-4E has an explosive device installed to destroy the aircraft if it becomes uncontrollable. Because of this explosive, cleanup crews were required to wait 24 hours to ensure the device detonated during the crash.

"The QF-4E drone was operated by the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base," said Lt. Col. Michael Vaccaro, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

Holloman is home to Detachment 1 of the 82nd ATRS and operates 30 QF-4E drones. A total of eight unmanned and seven manned missions were flown in support of WSEP prior to the crash.

Most air-to-air weapons training using unmanned drones is done over the Gulf of Mexico near Tyndall. According to Lt. Col. Raymond O'Mara, 53rd Weapons Evaluations Group at Tyndall, Holloman was used for testing in a different environment because the weapons react differently over land than over water. The climate in the Tularosa Basin is also more realistic to the deserts of Southwest Asia, where the weapons are currently being used in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Approximately 250 Airmen from Tyndall, Mountain Home AFB in Idaho and Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, were here taking part in WSEP. The tests involved F-16s from Mountain Home and F-15s from Kadena, and were supervised by the 53 WEG based at Tyndall.

This crash follows a QF-4E crash in September 2004 where the drone failed to react properly to controller inputs and was intentionally destroyed over White Sands Missile Range. Estimated at $1.5 million, the 2004 crash was the result of the drone exceeding its flight limits and stalling. Corrective measures from the controller and the drone's autopilot failed, causing the unmanned aerial vehicle to lose control.

According to information from Tyndall, the QF-4E is a remotely controlled target, which realistically simulates enemy aircraft maneuvers. The drone can be flown by remote control or with a safety pilot to monitor its performance.

The drone is equipped to carry electronic and infrared countermeasures to fully evaluate fighters and weapons flown and fired against it. The remotely-piloted jet can be flown totally by computer using the Gulf Range Drone Control Upgrade System, or controlled manually during takeoff and landing using a mobile control station. As a safety precaution, a chase plane trails the drone during critical periods of flight.
Using two General Electric turbojet engines with afterburners, the QF-4E has a top speed of Mach 2 (1,600 mph) and a range of 1,300 miles.