TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – An Air Force drone being tested at a nearby base crashed on takeoff Wednesday near a remote stretch of a Florida Panhandle highway. Officials say no one was injured but the road would be closed into Wednesday night.
The Air Force closed Highway 98 west of Panama City and east of Mexico Beach because of possible fires from the crash. Officials said the drone has a limited, 24-hour battery life and would be inactive after the battery depleted.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the QF-4 is tested at nearby Tyndall Air Force Base and at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The plane is a modified F-4 Phantom aircraft, which has been in use since the 1950s.
Public information officials at Tyndall released a brief statement about the crash and declined to answer specific questions about the drone or the reason for the crash.
James Lewis is a military technology expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and said the QF-4 was likely used for target practice by Tyndall's F-22 Raptor pilots.
"It is an older fighter plane they have modified for use as a target," Lewis said. "The QF-4 is not a drone in the way we normally think of drones. It is not used for anything other than to be shot down. It is an old aircraft that would otherwise be sold for scrap."
The Air Force fact sheet said the plane is controlled remotely, simulates enemy aircraft maneuvers and missiles are fired at it. An explosive device in the plane destroys it if it becomes uncontrollable, the fact sheet said.
Highway 98 hugs the Gulf Coast and is a popular route for tourists looking for scenic drive from Panama City to Florida's Big Bend region.