With the ability to exceed Mach 2, F-16 offer low maintenance costs for a modern fighter jet. Since its inception, 4,500 units of this aircraft have been produced, and more than 25 countries around the world use it. A feat in the world of aviation.
During the Vietnam War, the US Air Force realized that its fighters jet were unsuited for close air combat: too big, too heavy and not very handy, the American fighters were, in fact, unable to confront the Soviet Migs in dogfight situation.
To solve this problem, the US Air Force launched on January 6, 1972, the “Lightweight Fighter” program and selected the proposals of General Dynamic and Northrop. The two manufacturers were asked to build two aircraft prototypes each.
Northrop’s aircraft prototype was named: YF-17 and that of General Dynamics: YF-16.
The first YF-16 came out of production at the end of 1973. And although the first YF-16 flight officially occurred on February 2, 1974, the plane actually flew accidentally a few days earlier, on January 20, 1974, when the YF-16 test pilot made the decision to take off its uncontrollable aircraft to avoid an imminent crash on the runway.
In January 1975, after several months of testing, the US Air Force officially declared that it had selected the YF-16 at the expense of the Northrop YF-17. This marked the beginning of a long and successful story for the F-16, which after more than 40 years is still in service today within the US Air Force and many other countries around the world.
The F-16 is equipped with a Pratt & Whitney F100 jet engine. Also known as “JTF22” it was developed and built by Pratt & Whitney in the late 1960s and is actually one of the most sold jet engines in the world. More than 7000 units were produced, including more than 5000 who are still in service today. It also equips the F-15 fighter jet since the 1970s.
Designed with a built-in afterburner, The Pratt & Whitney F100 provides enough power to the F-16 to exceed Mach 2. Its reliability is imperative since the F-16 has only one Pratt & Whitney F100 and can solely rely on this single engine to ensure its propulsion.
To significantly improve its maneuverability in close air combat, the F-16 is the first fighter jet designed intentionally to be aerodynamically unstable. And to control this unsteady aerodynamic, the F-16 is also the first fighter jet to use fly-by-wire flight control, a technology that replaces the conventional manual flight controls with an electronic interface.
And to improve the visibility of the pilot, the F-16 is equipped with a frameless polycarbonate canopy that was made thicker in case of birds collision. This choice allows the F-16 to be one of the modern fighter jets that offer the best visibility for its pilots. A precious help during close air combat.
During its history, the F-16 has also been declined in many version.
Among these different versions, there is the F-16 XL, a modified version of the F-16 designed in the 1980s to respond to the US Air Force “Enhanced Tactical Fighter” program that was launched to replace the General Dynamics F-111.
Equipped with a “cranked-arrow delta wing” this modified F-16 had a much higher lift and was able to carry more fuel, significantly increasing its autonomy.
But after being eliminated in February 1984 against the F-15E Strike Eagle who won the US Air Force tender, the F-16XL project was abandoned, and the prototypes were given to NASA for its aeronautical test.
Another notable version of the F-16 is the QF-16, an unmanned version intended to serve as a flying target for flight tests and specific training such as “air combat maneuvering ” or “air-to-air missile firing.” Designed and Built by Boeing, the unmanned QF -16 replaces the QF-4 which was based on the F-4 Phantom II who was also created to serve as a flying target.
The F-16 is also used by the famous US Air Force Thunderbirds during impressive air show.
Created in 1953 in Arizona, the Thunderbirds are the official acrobatic patrol of the US Air Force and use the F-16 Fighting Falcon since 1983. They travel the US to perform aerobatics during air shows, and their presentation program is usually performed with six aircraft who display several maneuvers in tight formation or solo.
The F-16 maneuverability is a key advantage for this squadron that accomplish some of the most complex acrobatics in the world.
And as they are part of the US Air Force, the Thunderbirds can be called at any time to join a combat unit. It is estimated that the Thunderbird F-16 can be put into combat configuration in less than 72 hours.