Officials continue their investigation of a QF-4 drone that crashed five miles west of Holloman off of Runway 22 in the White Sands National Monument Friday morning, a spokeswoman said.Dunes Drive inside the monument will remain closed until further notice.
The unmanned QF-4 drone was assigned to the Detachment 1, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron and is a tenant unit at Holloman assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group.Capt. Stephanie L. Schonberger said U.S. Highway 70 West and WSNM were closed in advance due to the unmanned aircraft's routine training mission.
"We're working closely with the Parks Service because clearly we're on their property," Schonberger said. "It's going to affect their operations and visitors for the weekend. There is no threat to the public at this time. The cause of the crash is unknown at this time. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause."She said the QF-4 was conducting a test mission.
"There was an unmanned QF-4 drone flying with an piloted F-4 manned chase plane with a pilot actually in the cockpit," Schonberger said. "There's always somebody in the cockpit of the F-4 tailing the unmanned QF-4 and watching what's happening with the drone. Those aircraft always fly over the Monument in their approach to land at Holloman. It's a pretty normal flight pattern in going over the monument. That's when it crashed."The QF-4 is one of HAFB's target drones, she said.
"It's an F-4 Vietnam era fighter that's been converted to a remote controlled airplane used as a target plane for other aircraft to shoot down," Schonberger said. "The plane that crashed did not have a pilot and was being controlled remotely. It didn't damage any buildings or structures. No one was injured in the accident. Based on where it went down, Dunes Drive on the monument is closed because there could be debris on the road. Right now, the area is cordon off for safety."Beginning Saturday, our folks will be in there on the ground and really looking at things closely. They will be figuring out what needs to be moved. Our goals here is the safety of park visitors, our folks and getting the opened again."
She said the U.S. Air Force will convene an Accident Investigation Board and a Safety Investigation Board to look into the aircraft crash that occurred around 9 a.m. Friday.White Sands National Monument spokeswoman Rebecca Wiles said it's common practice to close Dunes Drive as a precautionary measure to ensure public safety during missile tests when flight paths include airspace over the monument.
"The closure of Dunes Drive Friday morning before the missile test ensured no injuries resulted from the accident," Wiles said. "The White Sands visitor center and gift shop will remain open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Dunes Drive will remain closed indefinitely while staff from Holloman and White Sands Missile Range investigate the crash site. There is no visitor access to the sand dunes, picnic areas or hiking trails while Dunes Drive remains closed for the investigation and cleanup."Friday's crash follows a QF-4 crash in July 2011 where a manned version of the aircraft crashed near Hope. The pilot safely ejected and was unharmed in the 2011 crash. The last two unmanned crashes occurred at Holloman in August 2006 and September 2004.
The supersonic QF-4 is a reusable full-scale, remotely piloted aerial target modified from the F-4 Phantom. The QF-4 provides a realistic full-scale target for air-to-air weapons system evaluation, development and testing. Holloman is one of two bases to operate the QF-4, with the other being Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The QF-4 is being replaced by the QF-16, a supersonic reusable full-scale aerial target modified from an F-16 Fighting Falcon.