The F-16 Fighting Falcon, originally developed by General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin), is a proven compact, single-engine, multi-role fighter aircraft. Since the F-16A’s first flight in December 1976, this highly maneuverable air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack aircraft has provided mission versatility and high-performance for the U.S. and allied nations at a relatively low-cost.
In an air combat role, the F-16’s maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter.
In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.
The U.S. Air Force officially named the F-16 “Fighting Falcon” on July 21, 1980, during a ceremony at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the home of the first F-16 unit.
The F-16V, or Viper, is the latest variant of the F-16 fourth-generation fighter aircraft. The upgrade integrates advanced capabilities to better interoperate with fifth-generation fighters, such as the F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor.
The last F-16 was delivered to the U.S. Air Force on 18 March 2005. The F-35 was developed to replace the F-16.
Development and Design
The first operational F-16A was delivered in January 1979 to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill AFB.
The F-16 was built under an agreement between the U.S. and four NATO countries: Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. These countries jointly produced with the U.S. an initial 348 F-16s for their air forces.
The consortium’s F-16s are assembled from components manufactured in all five countries. Belgium also provides final assembly of the F100 engine used in the European F-16s.
Recently, Portugal joined the consortium. The long-term benefits of this program will be technology transfer among the nations producing the F-16, and a common-use aircraft for NATO nations. Additionally, the program increases the supply and availability of repair parts in Europe and improves the F-16’s combat readiness.
All F-16s delivered since November 1981 have built-in structural and wiring provisions and systems architecture that permit expansion of the multirole flexibility to perform precision strike, night attack and beyond-visual-range interception missions.
This improvement program led to the F-16C and F-16D aircraft, which are the single- and two-seat counterparts to the F-16A/B, and incorporate the latest cockpit control and display technology. All Air Force units have converted to the F-16C/D.
Avionics systems include a highly accurate enhanced global positioning and inertial navigation systems, or EGI, in which computers provide steering information to the pilot. The plane has UHF and VHF radios plus an instrument landing system. It also has a warning system and modular countermeasure pods to that can be used against airborne or surface electronic threats. The fuselage also has space for additional avionics systems.
The cockpit and its bubble canopy give the pilot unobstructed forward and upward vision and greatly improved vision over the side and to the rear.
The F-16’s incredible maneuverability is achieved by its “relaxed stability” design. The airframe is inherently unstable, as the center of mass and lift are much closer together than on other designs, however this allows the aircraft to respond quickly to pilot control input and with tighter maneuvers.
While a fully analog jet aircraft of this design would require the pilot to make too many control inputs to fly safely, the F-16 pilot maintains excellent flight control through the aircraft’s “fly-by-wire” system.
The YF-16 became the world’s first aircraft to be aerodynamically unstable by design. With a rearward center of gravity, its natural tendency is to nose up rather than down. Level flight is created by the elevator pushing the tail up rather than down, and therefore pushing the entire aircraft up. With the elevator working with the wing rather than against it, wing area, weight, and drag are reduced.
The airplane is constantly on the verge of flipping up or down totally out of control. This tendency is being constantly caught and corrected by the fly-by-wire control system so quickly that neither the pilot nor an outside observer can tell. If the control system were to fail, the aircraft would instantly tumble; however, this has never happened.
Through a side stick controller, the pilot sends electrical signals to actuators of flight control surfaces, such as ailerons and rudder, while powerful onboard computers constantly adjust those inputs to enable stability in level flight and high maneuverability in combat. The side stick controller, in lieu of a center-mounted stick, allows the pilot easy and accurate control during high G-force combat maneuvers.
In designing the F-16, advanced aerospace science and proven reliable systems from other aircraft such as the F-15 and F-111 were selected. These were combined to simplify the airplane and reduce its size, purchase price, maintenance costs and weight. The lightweight of the fuselage is achieved without reducing its strength. With a full load of internal fuel, the F-16 can withstand up to nine G’s, nine times the force of gravity, which exceeds the capability of other current fighter aircraft.
Operation and Deployment
More than 4,000 F-16’s are in service in 24 countries. There are 110 different versions of the aircraft. The main user of the F-16 is the U.S. The country with the largest F-16 fleet outside the U.S. is Israel. The four European Participating Forces
who developed the midlife update for the F-16 are the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and later also Portugal. Other users of the F-16 are Bahrain, Chile, Egypt, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela, United Arabian Emirates and South Korea.
U.S. Air Force F-16s were deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm, where more sorties were flown than with any other aircraft. These fighters were used to attack airfields, military production facilities, Scud missiles sites and a variety of other targets.
During Operation Allied Force, U.S. Air Force F-16 multirole fighters flew a variety of missions to include suppression of enemy air defense, offensive counter air, defensive counter air, close air support and forward air controller missions. Mission results were outstanding as these fighters destroyed radar sites, vehicles, tanks, MiGs and buildings.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the F-16 has been a major component of the combat forces committed to the war on terrorism flying thousands of sorties in support of operations Noble Eagle (Homeland Defense), Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom
Did you know?
- Many military pilots refer to the F-16 as the “Viper”, because of its similarities to the head of the snake.
- The F-16 was the first fighter jet to use a side-mounted control stick. The stick lets pilots rest their arm while flying, giving them better control of the jet in high-G maneuvers.
- With its high thrust-to-weight ratio, extreme maneuverability, and pilot ergonomics and visibility, the F-16 has been one of the most respected and feared fighter aircraft of the past 40 years.
- In 1976, Tech. Sgt. Joseph A. Kurdel, photo sensor shop supervisor for the 1st Tactical Fighter wing, MacDill AFB, Florida, won the “Name-the-Plane Contest” with the name Fighting Falcon. He won a free dinner at the MacDill AFB NCO Mess.
F-16 Fighting Falcon Fact Sheet:
Primary function: multirole fighter
Contractor: Lockheed Martin Corp.
Power plant: F-16C/D: one Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-200/220/229 or General Electric F110-GE-100/129
Thrust: F-16C/D, 27,000 pounds
Wingspan: 32 feet, 8 inches (9.8 meters)
Length: 49 feet, 5 inches (14.8 meters)
Height: 16 feet (4.8 meters)
Weight: 19,700 pounds without fuel (8,936 kilograms)
Maximum takeoff weight: 37,500 pounds (16,875 kilograms)
Fuel capacity: 7,000 pounds internal (3,175 kilograms); typical capacity, 12,000 pounds with two external tanks (5443 kilograms)
Payload: two 2,000-pound bombs, two AIM-9, two AIM-120 and two 2400-pound external fuel tanks
Speed: 1,500 mph (Mach 2 at altitude)
Range: more than 2,002 miles ferry range (1,740 nautical miles)
Ceiling: above 50,000 feet (15 kilometers)
Armament: one M-61A1 20mm multibarrel cannon with 500 rounds; external stations can carry up to six air-to-air missiles, conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions and electronic countermeasure pods
Crew: F-16C, one; F-16D, one or two
Unit cost: F-16A/B , $14.6 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars); F-16C/D,$18.8 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars)
Initial operating capability: F-16A, January 1979; F-16C/D Block 25-32, 1981; F-16C/D Block 40-42, 1989; and F-16C/D Block 50-52, 1994
Inventory: total force, F-16C/D, 1017