As I understand it a QF-4 is a Phantom which is converted to a remotely controlled plane for use in weapons testing.

(Apparently in non-destructive runs, a pilot is still on board for safety, convenience etc, but in actual "really shoot down the QF-4" runs, it is flown as a remotely controlled plane.)

I'd be amazed to see what the remote operator station for a QF-4 looks like.

  • Is it just a ... RC unit?

  • Is it just an ordinary PC, perhaps? Fly by mouse/keyboard?

  • I'm wondering is there a video feed from the pilot viewpoint included with the telemetry?

  • Is it perhaps flown from another chase plane?

  • Is it "control control" (the remote operator uses something to actually move the control surfaces, i.e. exactly as actually when flying a plane) or is it "concept control" (you just tell it, go to this point, this altitude etc and the software does that).

  • Can you land it using the remote system?

  • Do the operators of these get a chance to make any training flights, or is it just too expensive? The only time you get to take off, get shot at, and perhaps land is during actual runs as a target?

Again, I'd love to see a photo of what the control system/bay/iPhone app whatever looks like!

  • Footnote. I believe the QF-4 is retired? Question applies to a QF-4 replacement!
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I hope the USAF has paid for the ad-free version of the iPhone app! $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2019 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ LOl on that one DR ! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 5, 2019 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ The air force contracts with government contractors to do stuff like the QF-4. They are generally forced to chose the lowest bidder that meets the contract. If you were a government contractor who made the lowest bid, and had a bunch of programmers and engineers who grew up on PC's, what do you think you would use? $\endgroup$
    – Sam
    Apr 6, 2019 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ hey @Sam ! - I'd use a mac. Actually just an iPad :) more seriously we'd use mac or linux (since those are unix) rather than windows, unless, you needed badass graphics cards for some reason, then i'd just use a gaming PC with windows, cuda etc as you say. I cannot tell in the photo below if those are running Windows! Which flavor of windows would it be in that era? $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 6, 2019 at 11:34

1 Answer 1


Here's a photo:

QF-4 remote operation. U.S. Air Force photo/Sara Vidoni (from Wikimedia Commons)
Retired Lt. Col. Thomas Mudge, a ground controller for the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, remotely pilots a QF-4 during a Combat Archer mission May 12, 2015 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.

QF-4s were retired in 2016. They are now flying the QF-16.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Whoa !! Say, the image on the left under the man's arm: is that a camera (looking downwards at a bay/beach it looks like) or is that just mapping, I can't tell ... thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 5, 2019 at 12:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Fattie Most likely it is just satellite imagery. I doubt they have a high-altitude chase plane/drone to follow around and beam real-time images (which would be affected by things like clouds or smog). $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Apr 5, 2019 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer - indeed, what I was wondering (my "point 3") - do these aircraft have a camera, which, feeds to the operator on the ground. Perhaps answered Gerry knows - it looks like "no" in this example anyway? $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Apr 5, 2019 at 14:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Fattie The QF-4 can fly manned or unmanned. Usually the remote pilot only controls it for landing/take-off and then hands control over to an automated system. The automated system, when flown unmanned, can also blow up the aircraft if it becomes uncontrollable (explosives are loaded for this purpose). There is a chase plane when the QF-4 is transiting to the mission area and back for safety reasons. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Apr 5, 2019 at 14:23
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I don't believe it counts toward "ace" when the plane shot down is yours. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2019 at 19:55

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