A US Air Force BQM-167A drone was found washed ashore in Florida’s Palm Beach County, indicating the possibility of a target exercise being carried out by a fighter jet. The incident was reported on Friday (March 19) morning.
The US Air Force, like other militaries in the world, carries out live exercises to test the capabilities of new aircraft and other equipment.
The 20-foot-long high-performance aerial target drone was found by passers-by on the waterline at the north end of Ocean Ridge Hammock Park, south of West Palm Beach, on Friday morning.
Soon after the drone was spotted, the police were informed and they immediately secured the spot. According to reports, US Air Force personnel later removed the drone from the area.
The BQM-167A Drone
The BQM-167A is a sub-scale aerial target system developed by the San Diego, California-headquartered drone manufacturer, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc.
The drone has been specially designed for the US Air Force and can be deployed to provide a threat-representative target for the test and evaluation of new air-to-air weapons systems of the USAF and other services.
The drone is also used to provide training to aviators in an air-to-air combat environment. It has been in use since 2007.
According to the drone’s manufacturer, “The primary role of the BQM-167A is to provide the U.S. Air Force aviators with the world’s most realistic and comprehensive end-to-end weapons-release training.”
The BQM-167A is powered by a MicroTurbo TR 60-5 turbojet engine which produces 1,000 pounds of thrust. This enables the drone to fly at speeds up to Mach 0.91 and at altitudes between 50 feet and 50,000 feet.
Moreover, the drone is highly agile and can maneuver at up to 9G. It can also be reconfigured to carry out a number of missions as per the requirement.
The drone can fulfill missions including radar augmentation to present a larger target, or infrared ‘plume pods’ for luring heat-seeking missiles and IR sensors. Other than that, the drone can also carry out other tasks like scoring systems, identification friend or foe (IFF), and chaff and flare countermeasures to spoof missiles and sensors.
The drone takes off from a rail launcher on land, using a rocket booster before the turbojet takes over. It can be recovered with the help of a parachute recovery system either from land or water.
However, this can only be done if the drone hasn’t already been shot down by a fighter jet or some other modern piece of machinery.
According to reports, the drone recovered from the beach suggested that it was largely undamaged. Later, US Air Force personnel said the drone was probably used as an aerial target during weapons training and had likely been shot down two or three months ago.
“It was likely not recovered at the time it was shot down because of the weather,” said the US Air Force.
Florida is considered a hotspot for drone activity. Drones are operated by the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron out of Tyndall Air Force Base, before being shot down over the Gulf of Mexico by other fighter jets.
The US Air Force uses 120-foot boats to recover the drones after they are shot down during live-fire exercises.