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17 Jul, 2013 15:28

Air Force drone crashes and explodes in Florida, shutting down highway (VIDEO)

A United States military drone presumed to be a QF-4 crashed, exploded and sent up a large black cloud of smoke Wednesday morning at Tyndall Air Force Base.

Local news outlets from the Florida panhandle region reported Wednesday morning that an unmanned aerial vehicle crashed on the drone runway at Tyndall AFB during take-off at 8:20 a.m. EST that morning.

Eyewitnesses told WJHG News that the drone “came in hard and fast” before it crashed.

According to the network, Tyndall officials said the drone was carrying a small self-destruct charge and “had to be destroyed for safety considerations during its return to base following a routine operation.”

Following the accident, the UAV reportedly went up in flames and started a ground fire, prompting authorities to close nearby Highway 98. They’ve reported no injuries.

#BREAKING: Drone crash at Tyndall AFB. US 98 is closed. http://t.co/oICHjCLYc7#drone#airforce#crash#wjhgpic.twitter.com/SWaSb1P0Fx

— WJHG-TV (@WJHG_TV) July 17, 2013

This closure is being done strictly as a precautionary measure due to fires resulting from the crash and a small self-destruct charge carried on board the drone,” officials from Tyndall said in a statement. “The status of this device is unknown, however it is powered by a short-life battery which will be fully depleted in 24 hours.”

The Air Force described the QF-4 as a supersonic, reusable full-scale target drone modified from the F-4 Phantom and “provides a realistic full-scale target for air-to-air weapons system evaluation, development and testing.” The aircraft measures 63 feet long, 30,328 pounds and has a wingspan of more than 38 feet. Converting each jet to a UAV costs the Air Force an average of $2.6 million. 

Only last week, officials at Tyndall ordered another QF-4 to self-destruct over the Gulf of Mexico. “The drone was carrying a small self-destruct charge and had to be destroyed for safety considerations during its return to base following a routine operation,” Tyndall announced at the time.

Late last year, an F-22 Raptor fighter jet crashed near Tyndall AFB, again prompting officials to close down Highway 98. An Air Force pilot safely ejected from the aircraft before the jet crashed a quarter-mile east of the drone runway.