Oct. 14, 2003: Towed aerial target era ends
Before 1956, aircraft on the Barry M. Goldwater Range used tow targets for air-to-air training. Another aircraft towed the targets behind them for the trailing aircraft’s pilot to hone his or her gunnery skills.
The towed aerial targets took on the acronym DART and weighed 170 pounds. They were made with a metal and wood frame covered with a foil skin to provide a reflective surface. The reflected signal made the DARTs much easier to pick up. Additionally, the DART shape was more aerodynamic than the older targets and looked more like an aircraft.
After the air-to-air portion of the training mission was complete, the tow aircraft released the DART in the drop area. They were collected, repaired and used again. Unfortunately, not all the DARTs made it back to the impact area.
Aircrews used DARTs on the range until 1994 when an acoustically scored aerial targeting system went into operation.
Three years later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lodged a complaint that more than 1,000 DARTs remained within the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge on the range. Luke Airmen began the cleanup, but because the location was a wildlife refuge, Airmen could only use established roads. For those DARTs lying close to existing roads, the teams drove up as close to the DART as possible, hiked in, picked it up and hauled it out.
But there were far too many DARTs the Airmen could not get to by road. The only way to retrieve the remaining DARTs was by helicopter. Since Luke Air Force Base no longer had helicopters, the rest of the cleanup required excessive funding to pay to get the job done. To get the funding would take Air Force leadership time. Then, 10 years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the DART tow targets in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge as part of the habitat. That negated the 56th Fighter Wing’s requirement to retrieve those targets thus ending the DART tow target era for Luke.