The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, the first US Air Force (USAF) multi-role combat aircraft, is arguably the most iconic fighter jet in the world.
An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft receives fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker during training over Germany, May 2018. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jovante Johnson
In service with over 25 countries, the F-16 is one of the most versatile aircraft in the US Air Force’s inventory. It has been a mainstay of America’s aerial combat fleet with over 1,000 units in service. Over time, the F-16 has been modified to complete a number of missions including air-to-air fighting, ground attack and electronic warfare.
The Fighting Falcon's key features include a frameless bubble canopy for better visibility, side-mounted control stick to ease control while maneuvering, a seat reclined 30 degrees to reduce the effect of g-forces on the pilot, and the first use of a relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire flight control system, which helps make it a nimble aircraft.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Kyle Smith cleans condensation off the canopy of an F-16D Fighting Falcon aircraft at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Janiqua P. Robinson
The F-16 has an internal M61 Vulcan cannon and 11 locations for mounting weapons and other mission equipment. The F-16's official name is "Fighting Falcon", but "Viper" is commonly used by its pilots and crew members, due to a perceived resemblance to a viper snake as well as the Colonial Viper starfighter on Battlestar Galactica.
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 most adversary competitors. It can locate targets in all types of weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft with its sophisticated radar system.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon departs after being refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker during Sentry Savannah 16-3, Aug. 3, 2016. The F-16 is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack.
US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Solomon Cook
In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 fighting falcon 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.
Birth of the F-16
The Fighting Falcon was built under an unusual agreement that created a consortium between the United States and four NATO countries: Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.
USAF Capt. Zoe “SiS” Kotnik, F-16 Viper Demonstration Team (VDT) commander and pilot, performs a precision aerial demonstration near Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.
These countries jointly produced with the United States the initial 348 F-16s for their air forces. Final airframe assembly lines were located in Belgium and the Netherlands. The consortium's F-16s are assembled from components manufactured in all five countries.
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.
An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon deploys flares over McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., May 6, 2017 during the South Carolina National Guard Air and Ground Expo.
US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago
The light weight of the aircraft’s main body is achieved without reducing its strength. With a full load of internal fuel, the F-16 can withstand up to nine G's that is nine times the force of gravity, which exceeds the capability of many other combat aircraft.
In addition to active duty in the US Air Force, Air Force Reserve Command, and Air National Guard units, the aircraft is also used by the USAF aerial demonstration team, the Thunderbirds. The F-16 has also been procured to serve in the air forces of 25 other nations. In 2015, it was the world's most numerous fixed-wing aircraft in military service.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon sits on the flightline of Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, before morning training sorties.
Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker
Fighting Falcon Advancements
Advanced equipment fitted on the current build of the F-16 includes Honeywell color flat-panel liquid crystal multifunction displays, digital terrain system, modular mission computer, color video camera to record the pilot’s view of the head-up display (HUD), a color triple-deck video recorder, and an enhanced programmable display generator.
A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flies a training mission over Tucson, Arizona.
US Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen
Under the USAF project Sure Strike, the F-16 is equipped with an improved data modem (IDM), which automatically provides target data to the HUD, using data transmitted by a ground observer.
Missiles and Weapons
The aircraft has nine hardpoints for weapons payloads: One at each wingtip, three under each wing and one center-line under the fuselage. The ordnance is launched from Raytheon LAU-88 launchers, MAU-12 and Orgen bomb ejector racks. The port wing is fitted with a 20mm General Electric M61A1 multi-barrel cannon and the gunsight is interfaced to the cockpit HUD.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 309th Fighter Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., taxis to the runway during Green Flag-West 14-09 at Nellis AFB, Nevada
US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Spangler
Air-to-air missiles carried on the F-16 include: The Lockheed Martin / Raytheon AIM-9 Sidewinder, Raytheon AMRAAM, Raytheon Sparrow, MBDA Skyflash and ASRAAM, and the MBDA R550 Magic 2.
Air-to-surface missiles carried on the F-16 include: Maverick, HARM and Shrike missiles manufactured by Raytheon, and anti-ship missiles including the Boeing Harpoon and Kongsberg Penguin. Flight tests with the Lockheed Martin “joint air-to-surface standoff missile” (JASSM) have also been conducted with the F-16.
USAF F-16 multirole fighters 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.
An Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the skies near al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. James Cason
During Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia, USAF Fighting Falcons 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. 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 Global War on Terrorism, flying thousands of sorties in support of operations Noble Eagle (Homeland Defense), Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan) and Iraqi Freedom.
An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Aviano Air Base, Italy, waits as Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron complete a final check of the aircraft’s weapons before taking off on a combat sortie from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
US Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford
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