Air Force target drone, shot down in Gulf of Mexico, washes ashore in southern Florida

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An Air Force target drone strayed far from home this week, washing up on the beach at Ocean Ridge Hammock Park in Boynton Beach, Fla., after a test run over the Atlantic Ocean.

The orange, 20-foot-long BQM-167A aerial target plane came to rest in South Florida after launching from Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. A reporter for the local NBC affiliate posted photos of the drone, surrounded by police tape, on Twitter Friday.

The 53rd Wing’s Weapons Evaluations Group flew the target drone from Tyndall over the military’s testing ranges in the Gulf of Mexico, wing spokesperson 1st Lt. Savanah Bray said in an email Friday. That means it was likely carried by the Gulf Stream about 500 miles from where it was shot down, around the southern tip of Florida and up to its final resting spot. Its journey may have lasted two or three months, she said.

As Air Force fighter jets shoot down the drones during target practice, boats owned by the 53rd Wing head out to scoop up the downed planes. Each airframe costs $570,000 and can pull up to 9 Gs in flight, carrying payloads like electronic attack pods, a scoring system, and infrared and radar systems.

“Sometimes, like in this instance, weather, waves or other circumstances prevent our boats from being able to recover the drones, and they can wash up on shore,” Bray said. “The situation isn’t dangerous nor entirely uncommon.”

WPTV reporter Miranda Christian tweeted that local officials briefly closed the beach but ultimately deemed the area near the plane safe.

Bray confirmed the beached drone was recovered Friday afternoon.

About

Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.

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