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F-16 Fighting Falcon

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon is a multirole jet fighter aircraft originally developed by General Dynamics for the United States Air Force. Designed as a lightweight fighter, it evolved into a successful multirole aircraft. The Falcon's versatility is a paramount reason it has proven a success on the export market, having been selected to serve in the air forces of 25 nations. The F-16 is the largest Western fighter program with over 4,400 aircraft built since production started in 1976. Though no longer being bought by the U.S. Air Force, advanced versions are still being built for export customers. In 1993, General Dynamics sold its aircraft manufacturing business to the Lockheed Corporation, which in turn became part of Lockheed Martin after a 1995 merger with Martin Marietta.

The Fighting Falcon is a dogfighter with numerous innovations including a frameless, bubble canopy for better visibility, side-mounted control stick to ease control while under high g-forces, and reclined seat to reduce the effect of g-forces on the pilot. It was also the first fighter aircraft deliberately built to sustain 9-g turns. It has a thrust-to-weight ratio greater than one, providing enough power to climb and accelerate vertically – if necessary. Although the F-16's official name is "Fighting Falcon", it is known to its pilots as the "Viper", after the Battlestar Galactica starfighter.

The F-16 is scheduled to remain in service with the U.S. Air Force until 2025. The planned replacement is the F-35 Lightning II, which is scheduled to enter service in 2011 and will gradually begin replacing a number of multirole aircraft among the air forces of the program's member nations.

Development

Origins

The U.S. Air Force and Navy both concluded during the early 1960s that the future of air combat would be determined by increasingly sophisticated missiles. As was strongly affirmed by "Project Forecast", a 1963–1964 Air Force attempt to identify future weapons trends, future fighter aircraft would be designed primarily for long range, high speed, and equipped with extremely large radar systems in order to detect and engage opposing fighters at beyond visual range (BVR). This made them much more like interceptors than classic fighter designs, and led to increasingly heavier and more technologically sophisticated designs – and thus costlier. In the early 1960s, both the Air Force and Navy expected to use the F-111 (then still in development as the TFX) and F-4 Phantom II for their long- and medium-range needs. The perception of a declining need for close-in “dogfighting” capabilities resulted in the original decision to not install internal cannons in the Phantom.

However, real-world experience in the Vietnam War revealed some shortcomings in American fighter capabilities, as early-generation Soviet-bloc jet fighters proved to be more of a challenge than expected for U.S. designs. Even though U.S. pilots had achieved favorable kill-to-loss ratios, combat had revealed that air-to-air missiles (AAM) of this era were significantly less reliable than anticipated. Furthermore, the rules of engagement in Vietnam precluded long-range missile attacks in most instances, as visual identification was normally required. Under these conditions, combat invariably closed to short ranges where maneuverability and short-range air-to-air weapons became critical, even for dedicated interceptors like the F-102 Delta Dagger.

The need for new air superiority fighters led the USAF to initiate two concept development studies in 1965: the Fighter Experimental (FX) project originally envisioned a 60,000 lb (27,200 kg) class twin-engine design with a variable-geometry wing, and the Advanced Day Fighter (ADF), a lightweight design in the 25,000 lb (11,300 kg) class which would out-perform the MiG-21 by 25%. However, the first appearance of the Mach-3-capable MiG-25 'Foxbat' in July 1967 would result in the ADF effort being deemphasized in favor of the FX program, which would produce the F-15, a 40,000 lb (18,100 kg) class aircraft.

Based on his experiences in the Korean War and as a fighter tactics instructor, in the early 1960s Colonel John Boyd and mathematician Thomas Christie developed the Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) theory of the value of aircraft specific energy maintenance as an advantage in fighter combat. Maneuverability was the means of getting “inside” an adversary’s decision-making cycle, a process Boyd called the “OODA loop” (for “Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action”). This approach emphasized an aircraft design capable of “fast transients” – quick changes in speed, altitude, and direction. A fighter that is superior in its ability to gain or lose energy while out-turning an opponent can initiate and control any engagement opportunity; a fast transient capability allows the pilot to stay inside a hard-turning opponent when on the offensive or to force an overshoot of an opponent when on the defensive. These parameters called for a small, lightweight aircraft – which would minimize drag and increase the thrust-to-weight ratio – but a larger, higher-lift wing to minimize wing loading – which tends to reduce top speed while increasing payload, and can lower range (which can be compensated for by increased fuel in the larger wing).

Boyd’s theories helped restrain the F-15’s growth into a very large design that threatened to turn into an “F-111 Mark II”, but it strengthened his conviction that the F-15 would need to be complemented by larger numbers of smaller fighters – the “high/low mix” – as had been the case with previous twin-engine fighters. In the late 1960s he gathered around him a group of like-minded innovators that became known as the “Lightweight Fighter Mafia”. In 1969, the “Fighter Mafia” was able to secure funds for a “Study to Validate the Integration of Advanced Energy-Maneuverability Theory with Trade-Off Analysis”. General Dynamics received $149,000 and Northrop $100,000 to develop design concepts that embodied Boyd’s E-M theory – a small, low-drag, low-weight, pure fighter with no bomb racks; their work would lead to the YF-16 and YF-17, respectively.

Lightweight Fighter program

Although the Air Force’s FX proponents remained hostile to the concept because they perceived it as a threat to the F-15 program, the ADP concept (revamped and renamed as the ‘F-XX’) gained civilian political support under the reform-minded Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard, who favored the idea of competitive prototyping. As a result in May 1971, the Air Force Prototype Study Group was established, with Boyd a key member, and two of its six proposals would be funded, one being the Lightweight Fighter (LWF) (or Light-Weight Fighter) proposal. The Request for Proposals (RFP) issued 6 January 1972 called for a 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) class air-to-air day fighter with a good turn rate, acceleration and range, and optimized for combat at speeds of Mach 0.6–1.6 and altitudes of 30,000–40,000 ft (9,150–12,200 m). This was the region in which the USAF expected most future air combat to occur, based on studies of the Vietnam, Six-Day, and Indo-Pakistani wars. The anticipated average flyaway cost of a production version was $3 million. This production plan, though, was only notional as the USAF was under no obligation to acquire the aircraft and, in fact, had no firm plans to procure the winner, which was to be announced in May 1975.

Five companies responded and in March 1972, the Air Staff announced the winners for the follow-on prototype development and testing phase were Boeing’s Model 908-909 and General Dynamics’ Model 401; however, after further review, the Source Selection Authority (SSA) would demote Boeing’s entry to third place, after Northrop’s P-600. GD and Northrop were awarded contracts worth $37.9 million and $39.8 million to produce the YF-16 and YF-17, respectively, with first flights of both prototypes planned for early 1974. To overcome resistance in the Air Force hierarchy, the 'Fighter Mafia' and other LWF proponents successfully advocated the idea of complementary fighters in a high-cost/low-cost force mix (in part, to be able to afford sufficient fighters to sustain overall USAF fighter force structure requirements); this “high/low mix” concept would gain broad acceptance by the time of the flyoff between the prototypes, and would define the relationship of the F-15 and F-16 – and, subsequently, the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.

Flyoff

The first YF-16 was rolled out on 13 December 1973, and its 90-minute-long “official” first flight was made at the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards AFB, California, on 2 February 1974. Its actual first flight occurred accidentally during a high-speed taxi test on 20 January. While gathering speed, a roll-control oscillation caused a fin of the port-side wingtip-mounted missile and then the starboard stabilator to scrape the ground, and the aircraft then began to veer off the runway. The GD test pilot, Phil Oestricher, decided to lift off to avoid wrecking the machine, and safely landed it six minutes later. The slight damage was quickly repaired and the official first flight occurred on time. The YF-16’s first supersonic flight was accomplished on 5 February 1974, and the second YF-16 prototype flew for the first time on 9 May 1974. This was followed by the first flights of the Northrop’s YF-17 prototypes, which were achieved on 9 June and 21 August 1974, respectively. Altogether, the YF-16s would complete 330 sorties during the flyoff, accumulating a total of 417 flight hours; the YF-17s would accomplish 268 sorties.

Air Combat Fighter competition

Three factors would converge to turn the LWF into a serious acquisition program. First, four North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies of the U.S. – Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway – were looking to replace their F-104G fighter-bomber variants of the F-104 Starfighter interceptor; furthermore, they were seeking an aircraft that their own aerospace industries could manufacture under license, as they had the F-104G. In early 1974, they reached an agreement with the U.S. that if the USAF placed orders for the aircraft winning the LWF flyoff, they would consider ordering it as well. Secondly, while the USAF was not particularly interested in a complementary air superiority fighter, it did need to begin replacing its F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers. Third, the U.S. Congress was seeking to achieve greater commonality in fighter procurements by the Air Force and Navy in August 1974 redirected funds for the Navy’s VFAX program to a new Navy Air Combat Fighter (NACF) program that would essentially be a navalized fighter-bomber variant of the LWF. These requirements meshed relatively well, but the timing of the procurement was driven by the timeframe needs of the four allies, who had formed a “Multinational Fighter Program Group” (MFPG) and were pressing for a U.S. decision by December 1974. The U.S. Air Force had planned to announce the LWF winner in May 1975, but this decision was advanced to the beginning of the year, and testing was accelerated. To reflect this new, more serious intent to procure a new aircraft, along with its reorientation toward a fighter-bomber design, the LWF program was rolled into a new Air Combat Fighter (ACF) competition in an announcement by U.S. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger in April 1974. Schlesinger also made it clear that any ACF order would be for aircraft in addition to the F-15, which essentially ended opposition to the LWF.

ACF also raised the stakes for GD and Northrop because it brought in further competitors intent on securing the lucrative order that was touted at the time as “the arms deal of the century”. These were Dassault-Breguet’s Mirage F1, the SEPECAT Jaguar, and a proposed derivative of the Saab Viggen styled the “Saab 37E Eurofighter” (which is not to be confused with the later and unrelated Eurofighter Typhoon). Northrop also offered another design, the P-530 Cobra, which looked very similar to its YF-17. The Jaguar and Cobra were dropped by the MFPG early on, leaving two European and the two U.S. LWF designs as candidates. On 11 September 1974, the U.S. Air Force confirmed firm plans to place an order for of the winning ACF design sufficient to equip five tactical fighter wings. On 13 January 1975, Secretary of the Air Force John L. McLucas announced that the YF-16 had been selected as the winner of the ACF competition.

The chief reasons given by the Secretary for the decision were the YF-16’s lower operating costs; greater range; and maneuver performance that was “significantly better” than that of the YF-17, especially at near-supersonic and supersonic speeds. The flight test program revealed that the YF-16 had superior acceleration, climb rates, endurance, and (except around Mach 0.7) turn rates. Another advantage was the fact that the YF-16 – unlike the YF-17 – employed the Pratt & Whitney F100 turbofan engine, which was the same powerplant used by the F-15; such commonality would lower the unit costs of the engines for both programs.

Shortly after selection of the YF-16, Secretary McLucas revealed that the USAF planned to order at least 650 and up to 1400 of the production version of the aircraft. The U.S. Air Force initially ordered 15 “Full-Scale Development” (FSD) aircraft (11 single-seat and 4 two-seat models) for its flight test program, but this would be reduced to 8 (6 F-16A and 2 F-16B). The Navy, however, announced on 2 May 1975, that it had decided not to buy the navalized F-16; instead, it would develop an aircraft derived from the YF-17, which would eventually become the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.

Moving into production

Manufacture of the FSD F-16s got underway at General Dynamics’ Fort Worth, Texas plant in late 1975, with the first example, an F-16A, being rolled out on 20 October 1976, followed by its first flight on 8 December. The initial two-seat model achieved its first flight on 8 August 1977. The initial production-standard F-16A flew for the first time on 7 August 1978 and its delivery was accepted by the USAF on 6 January 1979. The F-16 was given its formal nickname of “Fighting Falcon” on 21 July 1980, and it entered USAF operational service with the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Hill AFB on 1 October 1980.

On 7 June 1975, the four European partners, now known as the European Participation Group (EPG), signed up for 348 aircraft at the Paris Air Show. This was split among the European Participation Air Forces (EPAF) as 116 for Belgium, 58 for Denmark, 102 for the Netherlands, and 72 for Norway. These would be produced on two European production lines, one in the Netherlands at Fokker’s Schiphol-Oost facility and the other at SABCA’s Gossellies plant in Belgium; production would be divided among them as 184 and 164 units, respectively. Norway’s Kongsberg Vaapenfabrikk and Denmark’s Terma A/S also manufactured parts and subassemblies for the EPAF aircraft. European co-production was officially launched on 1 July 1977 at the Fokker factory. Beginning in mid-November 1977, Fokker-produced components were shipped to Fort Worth for assembly of fuselages, which were in turn shipped back to Europe (initially to Gossellies starting in January 1978); final assembly of EPAF-bound aircraft began at the Belgian plant on 15 February 1978, with deliveries to the Belgian Air Force beginning in January 1979. The Dutch line started up in April 1978 and delivered its first aircraft to the Royal Netherlands Air Force in June 1979. In 1980 the first aircraft were delivered to the Royal Norwegian Air Force by SABCA and to the Royal Danish Air Force by Fokker.

Since then, a further production line has been established at Ankara, Turkey, where Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has produced 232 Block 30/40/50 F-16s under license for the Turkish Air Force during the late 1980s and 1990s, and has 30 Block 50 Advanced underway for delivery from 2010; TAI also built 46 Block 40s for Egypt in the mid-1990s. Korean Aerospace Industries opened another production line for the KF-16 program, producing 140 Block 52s from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. If India selects the F-16IN for its Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) procurement, a sixth F-16 production line will be established in that nation to produce at least 108 fighters.

Evolution

After selection, the YF-16 design was altered for the production F-16. The fuselage was lengthened , a larger nose radome was fitted to house the AN/APG-66 radar, wing area was increased from 280 to 300 ft2 (26.0 to 27.9 m2), the tailfin height was decreased slightly, the ventral fins were enlarged, two more stores stations were added, and a single side-hinged nosewheel door replaced the original double doors. These modifications increased the F-16's weight approximately 25% over that of the YF-16 prototypes.

One needed change that would originally be discounted was the need for more pitch control to avoid deep stall conditions at high angles of attack. Model tests of the YF-16 conducted by the Langley Research Center revealed a potential problem, but no other laboratory was able to duplicate it. YF-16 flight tests were not sufficiently extensive to resolve the issue, but relevant flight testing on the FSD aircraft demonstrated that it was a real concern. As a result, the horizontal stabilizer areas were increased 25%; this so-called "big tail" was introduced on the Block 15 aircraft and retrofitted later on earlier production aircraft. Besides significantly reducing (though not eliminating) the risk of deep stalls, the larger horizontal tails also improved stability and permitted faster takeoff rotation.

Design

Overview

The F-16 is a single-engined, supersonic, multi-role tactical aircraft. The F-16 was designed to be a cost-effective combat "workhorse" that can perform various kinds of missions and maintain around-the-clock readiness. It is much smaller and lighter than its predecessors, but uses advanced aerodynamics and avionics, including the first use of a relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire (RSS/FBW) flight control system, to achieve enhanced maneuver performance. Highly nimble, the F-16 can pull 9-g maneuvers and can reach a maximum speed of Mach 2+.

The F-16 is equipped with an M61 Vulcan 20 mm cannon in the left wing root, and early models could be armed with up to six AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking short-range air-to-air missiles (AAM), including a single missile mounted on a dedicated rail launcher on each wingtip. Some variants can also employ the AIM-7 Sparrow long-range radar-guided AAM, and more recent versions can be equipped with the AIM-120 AMRAAM. It can also carry other AAM; a wide variety of air-to-ground missiles, rockets or bombs; electronic countermeasures (ECM), navigation, targeting or weapons pods; and fuel tanks on eleven hardpoints under the wings and fuselage – eight under the wings and three under the fuselage.

General configuration

The F-16 design employs a cropped-delta planform incorporating wing-fuselage blending and forebody vortex-control strakes; a fixed-geometry, underslung air intake inlet supplying airflow to the single turbofan jet engine; a conventional tri-plane empennage arrangement with all-moving horizontal “stabilator” tailplanes; a pair of ventral fins beneath the fuselage aft of the wing’s trailing edge; a single-piece, bird-proof “bubble” canopy; and a tricycle landing gear configuration with the aft-retracting, steerable nose gear deploying a short distance behind the inlet lip. There is a boom-style aerial refueling receptacle located a short distance behind the rear of the canopy. Split-flap speedbrakes are located at the aft end of the wing-body fairing, and an arrestor hook is mounted underneath the aft fuselage. Another fairing is situated at the base of the vertical tail, beneath the bottom of the rudder, and is used to house various items of equipment such as ECM gear or drag chutes. Several later F-16 models, such as the F-16I variant of the Block 50 aircraft, also have a long dorsal fairing “bulge” that runs along the “spine” of the fuselage from the rear of the cockpit to the tail fairing; these fairings can be used to house additional equipment or fuel.

The F-16 was designed to be relatively inexpensive to build and much simpler to maintain than earlier-generation fighters. The airframe is built with about 80% aviation-grade aluminum alloys, 8% steel, 3% composites, and 1.5% titanium. Control surfaces such as the leading-edge flaps, tailerons, and ventral fins make extensive use of bonded aluminum honeycomb structural elements and graphite epoxy laminate skins. The F-16A had 228 access panels over the entire aircraft, about 80% of which can be reached without work stands. The number of lubrication points, fuel line connections, and replaceable modules was also greatly reduced compared to its predecessors.

Although the USAF’s LWF program had called for an aircraft structural life of only 4000 flight hours, and capable of achieving 7.33 g with 80% internal fuel, GD’s engineers decided from the start to design the F-16’s airframe life to last to 8000 hours and for 9-g maneuvers on full internal fuel. This proved advantageous when the aircraft’s mission was changed from solely air-to-air combat to multi-role operations. However, changes over time in actual versus planned operational usage and continued weight growth due to the addition of further systems have required several structural strengthening programs.

Wing and strake configuration

Aerodynamic studies in the early 1960s demonstrated that the phenomenon known as “vortex lift” could be beneficially harnessed by the utilization of highly swept wing configurations to reach higher angles of attack through use of the strong leading edge vortex flow off of a slender lifting surface. Since the F-16 was being optimized for high agility in air combat, GD’s designers chose use a slender cropped-delta wing with a leading edge sweep of 40° and a straight trailing edge. To improve its ability to perform in a wide range of maneuvers, a variable-camber wing with a NACA 64A-204 airfoil was selected. The camber is adjusted through the use of leading-edge and trailing edge flaperons linked to a digital flight control system (FCS) that automatically adjusts them throughout the flight envelope.

This vortex lift effect can be increased by the addition of an extension of the leading edge of the wing at its root, the juncture with the fuselage, known as a strake. The strakes act as a sort of additional slender, elongated, short-span, triangular wing running from the actual wing root to a point further forward on the fuselage. Blended fillet-like into the fuselage, including along with the wing root, the strake generates a high-speed vortex that remains attached to the top of the wing as the angle of attack increases, thereby generating additional lift. This allows the aircraft to achieve angles of attack beyond the point at which it would normally stall. The use of strakes also permits the use of a smaller, lower-aspect-ratio wing, which in turn increases roll rates and directional stability, while decreasing aircraft weight. The resulting deeper wingroots also increase structural strength and rigidity, reduce structural weight, and increase internal fuel volume. As a result, the F-16’s high fuel fraction of 0.31 gives it a longer range than other fighter aircraft of similar size and configuration.

Flight controls

Negative static stability

The YF-16 was the world’s first aircraft intentionally designed to be slightly aerodynamically unstable. This technique, called "relaxed static stability" (RSS), was incorporated to further enhance the aircraft’s maneuver performance. Most aircraft are designed with positive static stability, which induces an aircraft to return to its original attitude following a disturbance. However, positive static stability hampers maneuverability, as the tendency to remain in its current attitude opposes the pilot’s effort to maneuver; on the other hand, an aircraft with negative static stability will, in the absence of control input, readily depart from level and controlled flight. Therefore, an aircraft with negative static stability will be more maneuverable than one that is positively stable. When supersonic, a negatively stable aircraft actually exhibits a net positive static stability due to aerodynamic forces shifting aft between subsonic and supersonic flight. At subsonic speeds, however, the fighter is constantly on the verge of going out of control.

Fly-by-wire

To counter this tendency to depart from controlled flight – and avoid the need for constant minute trimming inputs by the pilot – the F-16 has a quadruplex (four-channel) fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system (FLCS). The flight control computer (FLCC), which is the key component of the FLCS, accepts the pilot’s input from the stick and rudder controls, and manipulates the control surfaces in such a way as to produce the desired result without inducing a loss of control (known as "departing" controlled flight). The FLCC also takes thousands of measurements per second of the aircraft’s attitude, and automatically makes corrections to counter deviations from the flight path that were not input by the pilot, thereby allowing for stable flight. This has led to a common aphorism among Viper pilots: “You don’t fly an F-16; it flies you.”

The FLCC further incorporates a series of limiters that govern movement in the three main axes (pitch, roll and yaw) based on the jet’s current attitude, airspeed and angle of attack, and prevent movement of the control surfaces that would induce an instability such as a slip or skid, or a high angle of attack inducing a stall. The limiters also act to prevent maneuvering that would place more than 9 g's of force on the pilot or airframe.

Unlike the YF-17 which featured a FBW system with traditional hydromechanical controls serving as a backup, the F-16’s designers took the innovative step of eliminating mechanical linkages between the stick and rudder pedals and the aerodynamic control surfaces. The F-16’s sole reliance on electronics and wires to relay flight commands, instead of the usual cables and mechanical linkage controls, gained the F-16 the early moniker of "the electric jet". The quadruplex design permits “graceful degradation” in flight control response in that the loss of one channel renders the FLCS a “triplex” system. The FLCC began as an analog system on the A/B variants, but has been supplanted by a digital computer system beginning with the F-16C/D Block 40.

Cockpit and ergonomics

One of the more notable features from a pilot’s perspective is the F-16’s exceptional field of view from the cockpit, a feature that is vital during air-to-air combat. The single-piece, bird-proof polycarbonate bubble canopy provides 360° all-round visibility, with a 40° down-look angle over the side of the aircraft, and 15° down over the nose (compared to the more common 12–13° of its predecessors); the pilot’s seat is mounted on an elevated heel line to accomplish this. Furthermore, the F-16's canopy lacks the forward bow frame found on most fighters, which obstructs some of the pilot’s forward vision. (The length of the tandem arrangement of two-seat F-16s does necessitate a frame between the pilots, however.)

The rocket-boosted ACES II zero/zero ejection seat is reclined at an unusually high tilt-back angle of 30°; the seats in older and contemporary fighters were typically tilted back at around 13–15°. The F-16’s seat-back angle was chosen to improve the pilot’s tolerance of high g forces, and to reduce his susceptibility to gravity-induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC). The increased seat angle, however, has also been associated with reports of increased risk of neck ache when not mitigated by proper use of the head-rest. Subsequent U.S. jet fighter designs have more modest tilt-back angles of 20°. Because of the extreme seat tilt-back angle and the thickness of its polycarbonate single-piece canopy, the F-16’s ejection seat lacks the steel rail canopy breakers found in most other aircraft’s ejection systems. Such breakers shatter a section of the canopy should it fail to open or jettison to permit emergency egress of the aircrew. On the F-16, crew ejection is accomplished by first jettisoning the entire canopy; as the relative wind pulls the canopy away from the plane, a lanyard triggers the seat’s rockets to fire.

The pilot flies the aircraft primarily by means of a side-stick controller mounted on the right-hand armrest (instead of the more common center-mounted stick) and an engine throttle on the left side; conventional rudder pedals are also employed. To enhance the pilot’s degree of control of the aircraft during high-g combat maneuvers, a number of function switches formerly scattered about the cockpit have been moved to "hands on throttle-and-stick (HOTAS)" controls found on both of these controllers. Simple hand pressure on the side-stick controller causes the transmission of electrical signals via the FBW system to adjust the various flight control surfaces used for maneuvering. Originally, the side-stick controller was non-moving, but this arrangement proved uncomfortable and difficult for pilots to adjust to, sometimes resulting in a tendency to "over-rotate" the aircraft during takeoffs, so the control stick was given a small amount of “play”. Since its introduction on the F-16, HOTAS controls have become a standard feature among modern fighters (although the side-stick application is less widespread).

The F-16 cockpit also has a Head-Up Display (HUD), which projects visual flight and combat information in symbological form in front of the pilot without obstructing his view. Being able to keep his head “out of the cockpit” further enhances the pilot’s situational awareness of what is occurring around him. Boeing’s Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) is also available from Block 52 onwards for use with high-off-boresight air-to-air missiles like the AIM-9X. JHMCS permits cuing the weapons system to the direction in which the pilot’s head is facing – even outside the HUD’s field of view – while still maintaining his situational awareness. JHMCS was first operationally deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The pilot obtains further flight and systems status information from multi-function displays (MFD). The left-hand MFD is the primary flight display (PFD), which generally shows radar and moving-map displays; the right-hand MFD is the system display (SD), which presents important information about the engine, landing gear, slat and flap settings, fuel quantities, and weapons status. Initially, the F-16A/B had only a single monochrome cathode ray tube (CRT) display to serve as the PFD, with system information provided by a variety of traditional “steam gauges”. The MLU introduced the SD MFD in a cockpit made compatible for usage of night-vision goggles (NVG). These CRT displays were replaced by color liquid-crystal displays (LCD) on the Block 50/52. The Block 60 features three programmable and interchangeable color MFDs (CMFD) with picture-in-picture capability that is able to overlay the full tactical situation display on the moving map.

Radar

The F-16A/B was originally equipped with the Westinghouse (now Northrop Grumman) solid-state AN/APG-66 pulse-Doppler fire-control radar. Its slotted planar-array antenna was designed to be sufficiently compact to fit into the F-16’s relatively small nose. In uplook mode, the APG-66 uses a low pulse-repetition frequency (PRF) for medium- and high-altitude target detection in a low-clutter environment, and in downlook employs a medium PRF for heavy clutter environments. It has four operating frequencies within the X band (8-12 GHz), and provides four air-to-air and seven air-to-ground operating modes for combat, even at night or in bad weather. The Block 15’s APG-66(V)2 model added a new, more powerful signal processor, higher output power, improved reliability, and increased range in a clutter or jamming environments. The Mid-Life Update (MLU) program further upgrades this to the APG-66(V)2A model, which features higher speed and memory.

The mechanically scanned AN/APG-68 X-band pulse-Doppler radar, an evolution of the APG-66, was introduced with the F-16C/D Block 25. The APG-68 has greater range and resolution, as well as 25 operating modes, including ground-mapping, Doppler beam-sharpening, ground moving target, sea target, and track-while-scan (TWS) for up to ten targets. The Block 40/42’s APG-68(V)1 model added full compatibility with Lockheed Martin Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-Red for Night (LANTIRN) pods, and a high-PRF pulse-Doppler track mode to provide continuous-wave (CW) target illumination for semi-active radar-homing (SARH) missiles like the AIM-7 Sparrow. The Block 50/52 F-16s initially received the more reliable APG-68(V)5 which has a programmable signal processor employing Very-High-Speed Integrated Circuit (VHSIC) technology. The Advanced Block 50/52 (or 50+/52+) are equipped with the APG-68(V)9 radar which has a 30% greater air-to-air detection range, and a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) mode for high-resolution mapping and target detection and recognition. In August 2004, Northrop Grumman received a contract to begin upgrading the APG-68 radars of the Block 40/42/50/52 aircraft to the (V)10 standard, which will provide the F-16 with all-weather autonomous detection and targeting for the use of Global Positioning System (GPS)-aided precision weapons. It also adds SAR mapping and terrain-following (TF) modes, as well as interleaving of all modes.

The F-16E/F is outfitted with Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-80 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, making it only the third fighter to be so equipped.

In July 2007, Raytheon announced that it was developing a new Raytheon Next Generation Radar (RANGR) based on its earlier AN/APG-79 AESA radar as an alternative candidate to Northrop Grumman’s AN/APG-68 and AN/APG-80 for new-build F-16s as well as retrofit of existing ones. On 1 November 2007, Boeing selected this design for development under the USAF’s F-15E Radar Modernization Program (RMP).

Propulsion

The powerplant first selected for the single-engined F-16 was the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200 afterburning turbofan, a slightly modified version of the F100-PW-100 used by the F-15. Rated at 23,830 lbf (106.0 kN) thrust, it remained the standard F-16 engine through the Block 25, except for new-build Block 15s with the Operational Capability Upgrade (OCU). The OCU introduced the 23,770 lbf (105.7 kN) F100-PW-220, which was also installed on Block 32 and 42 aircraft; while not offering a noteworthy difference in thrust, it introduced a Digital Electronic Engine Control (DEEC) unit that improved reliability and reduced the risk of engine stalls (an unwelcome occasional tendency with the original "-200" that necessitated a midair engine restart). Introduced on the F-16 production line in 1988, the "-220" also supplanted the F-15’s "-100," thereby maximizing commonality. Many of the "-220" jet engines on Block 25 and later aircraft were upgraded from mid-1997 to the "-220E" standard, which further enhanced reliability and maintainability, including a 35% reduction of the unscheduled engine removal rate.

Development of the F100-PW-220/220E was the result of the USAF’s Alternate Fighter Engine (AFE) program (colloquially known as “the Great Engine War”), which also saw the entry of General Electric as an F-16 engine provider. Its F110-GE-100 turbofan, however, required modification of the F-16’s inlet; the original inlet limited the GE jet’s maximum thrust to only 25,735 lbf (114.5 kN), while the new Modular Common Inlet Duct allowed the F110 to achieve its maximum thrust of 28,984 lbf (128.9 kN) in afterburner. (To distinguish between aircraft equipped with these two engines and inlets, from the Block 30 series on, blocks ending in "0" (e.g., Block 30) are powered by GE, and blocks ending in "2" (e.g., Block 32) are fitted with Pratt & Whitney engines.)

Further development by these competitors under the Increased Performance Engine (IPE) effort led to the 29,588 lbf (131.6 kN) F110-GE-129 on the Block 50 and 29,100 lbf (129.4 kN) F100-PW-229 on the Block 52. F-16s began flying with these IPE engines on 22 October 1991 and 22 October 1992, respectively. Altogether, of the 1,446 F-16C/Ds ordered by the USAF, 556 were fitted with F100-series engines and 890 with F110s. The United Arab Emirates’ Block 60 is powered by the General Electric F110-GE-132 turbofan, which is rated at a maximum thrust of 32,500 lbf (144.6 kN), the highest ever developed for the F-16 aircraft.

Costs

Unit cost:

  • F-16A/B: US$14.6 million (1992)
  • F-16C/D: US$18.8 million (1998)
  • F-16E/F: US$26.9 million (2005)
  • F-16I: ~US$70 million (2006)

Operational history

Due to their ubiquity, F-16s have participated in numerous conflicts, most of them in the Middle East.

First combat successes: Bekaa Valley and Osiraq raid (1981)

The F-16’s first air-to-air combat success was achieved by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) over the Bekaa Valley on 28 April against a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter, which was downed with cannon fire following an unsuccessful attempt with an AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile (AAM). A year later, on 9 June , during the initial air battle of the 1982 Lebanon War, the IAF achieved the first F-16 "kill" of another fighter with a successful AAM shoot-down of a Syrian MiG-21.

On 7 June , eight Israeli F-16s, escorted by F-15s, executed Operation Opera, their first employment in a significant air-to-ground operation. This raid severely damaged Osiraq, an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction near Baghdad, to prevent the regime of Saddam Hussein from using the reactor for the creation of nuclear weapons.

Operation Peace for Galilee (1982)

The following year, during Operation Peace for Galilee (Lebanon War) Israeli F-16s engaged Syrian aircraft in one of the largest air battles involving jet aircraft, which began on 9 June and continued for two more days. At the end of the conflict, the Israeli Air Force credited their F-16s with 44 air-to-air kills, mostly of MiG-21s and MiG-23s, and claim to have suffered no air-to-air losses of their own. F-16s were also used in their ground-attack role for strikes against targets in Lebanon.

Incidents during the Soviet-Afghan War (1986-1988)

During the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan Air Force F-16s shot down around ten Afghan and Soviet ground attack and transport aircraft operating in Pakistani airspace between May 1986 and December 1988.

However, Afghanistan claimed to have shot down a Pakistani F-16A during an encounter on 29 April 1987; the pilot ejected safely and landed in Pakistani territory. Pakistani authorities admitted to having lost a fighter jet to enemy fighters, but suggested that it may have been either an F-16 or an F-6 and insisted it was attacked over Pakistani territory. Subsequently, Pakistani officials confirmed that the loss was an F-16, but asserted it was accidentally shot down in a friendly fire incident during a dogfight with enemy aircraft over Pakistani territory. According to this claim, Flight Lieutenant Shahid Sikandar Khan’s F-16 was hit by an AIM-9 missile fired by another F-16 piloted by Squadron Leader Amjad Javed.

Operation Desert Storm (1991)

In Operation Desert Storm of 1991, 249 USAF F-16s flew 13,340 sorties in strikes against Iraq, the most of any Coalition aircraft, with three were lost in combat, of which two to hostile surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and one to anti-aircraft artillery. Other F-16s were damaged in accidents and by hostile ground fire but were able to return to base and be repaired.

Interwar Air Operations over Iraq (1991-2003)

From the end of Desert Storm until the invasion of Iraq in 2003, USAF F-16s patrolled the Iraqi no-fly zones. Two air-to-air victories were scored by USAF F-16s in Operation Southern Watch. On 27 December 1992, a USAF F-16D shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 in UN-restricted airspace over southern Iraq with an AIM-120 AMRAAM; this was the first USAF F-16 kill since the F-16 was introduced; and was also the first AMRAAM kill. On 17 January 1993, a USAF F-16C destroyed an Iraqi MiG-23 with an AMRAAM missile for the second USAF F-16 victory.

F-16s returned to Iraq in December 1998 as part of the Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign to "degrade" Iraq's ability to manufacture and use weapons of mass destruction.

Venezuelan coup attempt (1992)

On 27 November 1992, two Venezuelan F-16s took part in the November Venezuelan Coup Attempt on the side of the government. In particular, the two F-16As strafed targets on the ground and shot down two OV-10 Broncos with AIM-9Ps and one AT-27 Tucano with cannon fire as these rebel-flown aircraft attacked loyalist army positions.

Balkans (1994-1995 and 1999)

F-16s were also employed by NATO during Bosnian peacekeeping operations in 1994-95 in ground-attack missions and enforcing the no-fly-zone over Bosnia (Operation Deny Flight). On 28 February 1994, 4 J-21 and 2 IJ-21 Jastrebs and 2 J-22 Oraos had violated the no-fly-zone to conduct a bombing run. The pilots of the 2 J-22s spotted the F-16s above them and after their attack, they left the area in low-level flight towards Croatia, where the U.S. jets could not follow; one of these later crashed due to lack of fuel. Meanwhile, the rest of the group was engaged and attacked, first by 2 USAF F-16Cs, which scored three kills. The remaining J-21 was taken out by a different pair of USAF F-16Cs. Of the six Yugoslavian jets engaged, four were shot down (one by AMRAAM and the others by Sidewinders). On 2 June 1995, one F-16C was lost to a Serb 2K12 Kub SAM (NATO reporting name: SA-6 'Gainful') while on patrol over Bosnia. Its pilot ejected and was later rescued by a USMC CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter on 8 June.

NATO F-16s also participated in air strikes against Serbian forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina during Operation Deliberate Force in August-September 1995, and again in Operation Allied Force over Yugoslavia from March-June 1999. During Allied Force, F-16s also achieved one or two aerial victories: one by a Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM, which shot down a Yugoslavian MiG-29 with an AMRAAM, and possibly another by a USAF F-16C which fired two AMRAAMs at a Yugoslavian MiG-29. However, in the latter case, the Serbs claimed to have subsequently found fragments of a 9K32M Strela-2M NATO designation: SA-7b ‘Grail’ Mod 1) MANPAD in the wreckage of this MiG-29, suggesting it was mistakenly downed by Serbian infantry.

On 2 May 1999, a USAF F-16CG was lost over Serbia. It was shot down by an S-125 Pechora SAM (NATO: SA-3 ‘Goa’) near Nakucani. Its pilot managed to eject and was later rescued by a combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) mission. The remains of this aircraft are on display in the Yugoslav Aeronautical Museum, Belgrade International Airport.

Aegean incidents (1996 and 2006)

On 10 October 1996, during an air-to-air confrontation in disputed airspace over the Aegean Sea, a Greek Mirage 2000 is reported to have accidentally fired an R550 Magic and shot down a Turkish F-16D, which the Turkish government claims was on a training mission in international air space north of the Greek island of Samos, close to the Turkish mainland. The Turkish pilot died, while the co-pilot ejected and was rescued by Greek forces. While the Turkish government admits the loss, the Greek government officially denies the shootdown occurred.

On 23 May 2006, two Greek F-16 Block 52+ jets were scrambled to intercept a Turkish RF-4 reconnaissance aircraft and its two F-16 escorts off the coast of the island of Karpathos. A mock dogfight ensued between the two sides’ F-16s, which ended in a midair collision between a Turkish F-16 and a Greek F-16. The Turkish pilot ejected safely after his jet was destroyed, but the Greek pilot was killed when his canopy and cockpit were destroyed during the collision.

Kargil War (1999)

During the 1999 Kargil War, Indian Air Force MiG-29s provided fighter escort for Mirage 2000s dropping laser-guided bombs (LGBs) on enemy targets. IAF MiG-29s armed with Vympel R-77 (NATO: AA-12 'Adder') beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missiles, were able to lock on to PAF F-16s. Since Pakistani F-16 aircraft were not equipped with BVR missiles at that time, they were forced to disengage. As a result, the PAF restricted itself to flying combat air patrols over Pakistani territory. The IAF was able to deliver strikes on Pakistani positions in India without threat from PAF interceptors.

Operations in Afghanistan (2001-date)

F-16s have been used by the United States in Afghanistan since 2001. In 2002, a tri-national detachment known as the European Participating Air Forces (Danish, Dutch and Norwegian) of 18 F-16s in the ground attack role deployed to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Since April 2005, eight Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s, joined by four Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s in February 2006, have been supporting International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ground troops the southern provinces of Afghanistan. The detachment is known as the 1st Netherlands-Norwegian European Participating Forces Expeditionary Air Wing (1 NLD/NOR EEAW).

Invasion of Iraq and post-war operations (2003-date)

US F-16s participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the only loss suffered over Iraq during this phase was an F-16CG of the 388th Fighter Wing’s 421st Fighter Squadron that crashed near Baghdad on 12 June 2003 when it ran out of fuel.

A US Army MIM-104 Patriot SAM fire-control radar was damaged on 25 March 2003 following a hit by an AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile (ARM) fired from an USAF F-16C on a patrol over southern Iraq, when the radar established a lock-on onto the fighter.

On June 7, 2006, two USAF F-16s dropped two guided bombs (one GBU-12 Paveway LGB and one GBU-38 GPS-guided “smart” bomb) destroying an al-Qaeda safehouse, killing Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

An F-16CG crashed near Fallujah on 27 November 2006 while on a low-altitude ground-strafing run; although under fire, according to the official USAF report, the apparent cause was due to flying into the ground while attempting to maintain visual identification of targeted enemy vehicles. The pilot, Major Troy Gilbert, was killed.

Two other F-16s were lost in Iraq to separate accidents a month apart, on 15 June and 15 July 2007.

Second Lebanon War (2006)

Israeli F-16s, the bomber workhorse of the Israel Defense Forces, participated in the 2006 Lebanon War. The only reported F-16 loss was an IDF F-16I that crashed on July 19 when one of its tires burst as it took off for Lebanon from an air base in the Negev. The pilots ejected safely and there were no casualties on the ground.

Operation Sun (2008)

Turkish built F-16's with LANTIRN belonging to the 181st Squadron (Pars Filo) of the Turkish Air Force, took part in the bombing of PKK Terrorist infraustructure located in Northern Iraq during Operation Sun.

Variants

F-16 models are denoted by sequential block numbers to denote significant upgrades. The blocks cover both single- and two-seat versions. A variety of software, hardware, systems, weapons carriage, and structural enhancements have been instituted over the years to gradually upgrade the F-16 and retroactively implement the upgrades in previously delivered aircraft.

Pre-production variants

YF-16: Two single-seat YF-16 prototypes were built for the Light Weight Fighter (LWF) competition. The first YF-16 was rolled out at Fort Worth on 13 December 1973 and accidentally accomplished its first flight on 21 January 1974, followed by its scheduled “first flight” on 2 February 1974. The second prototype first flew on 9 March 1974. Both YF-16 prototypes participated in the flyoff against the Northrop YF-17 prototypes, with the F-16 winning the Air Combat Fighter (ACF) competition, as the LWF program had been renamed.F-16 FSD: In January 1975, the Air Force order eight full-scale development (FSD) F-16s – six single-seat F-16A and a pair of two-seat F-16B – for test and evaluation. The first FSD F-16A flew on 8 December 1976 and the first FSD F-16B on 8 August 1977. Over the years, these aircraft have been used as test demonstrators for a variety of research, development and modification study programs.

Main production variants

F-16A/B

The F-16A (single seat) and F-16B (two seat) were initially equipped with the Westinghouse AN/APG-66 pulse-doppler radar, Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200 turbofan, rated at 14,670 lbf (64.9 kN) and 23,830 lbf (106.0 kN) with afterburner. The USAF bought 674 F-16As and 121 F-16Bs, with delivery completed in March 1985.Block 1: Early blocks (Block 1/5/10) featured relatively minor differences between each. Most were later upgraded to the Block 10 configuration in the early 1980s. There were 94 Block 1, 197 Block 5, and 312 Block 10 aircraft produced. Block 1 is the early production model with the nose cone painted black.Block 5: It was discovered that the Block 1 aircraft’s black nose cone became an obvious visual identification cue at long range, so the color of the nose cone was changed to the low-visibility grey for Block 5 aircraft. During the operation of F-16 Block 1, it was discovered that rain water could accumulate in certain spots within the fuselage, so drainage holes were drilled in the forward fuselage and tail fin area for Block 5 aircraft.Block 10: The Soviet Union significantly reduced the export of titanium during the late 1970s, so the manufacturers of the F-16 used aluminum instead wherever practical. New methods were also used: the corrugated aluminum is bolted to the epoxy surface for Block 10 aircraft, replacing the old method of aluminum honeycomb being glued to the epoxy surface used in earlier aircraft.

Block 15: The first major change in the F-16, the Block 15 aircraft featured larger horizontal stabilizers, the addition of two hardpoints to the chin inlet, an improved AN/APG-66(V)2 radar, and increased capacity for the underwing hardpoints. The Block 15 also gained the Have Quick II secure UHF radio. To counter the additional weight of the new hardpoints, the horizontal stabilizers were enlarged by 30%. Block 15 is the most numerous variant of the F-16, with 983 produced. The last one was delivered in 1996 to Thailand.Block 15 OCU: From 1987 Block 15 aircraft were delivered to the Operational Capability Upgrade (OCU) standard, which featured improved F100-PW-220 turbofans with digital control interface, the ability to fire the AGM-65 Maverick, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and AGM-119 Penguin missiles, countermeasures and cockpit upgrades, and improved computers and data bus. Its maximum takeoff weight increased to 37,500 lb (17,000 kg). A total of 214 aircraft were produced with this upgrade, as well as some Block 10 aircraft, retroactively.

F-16 ADF: The F-16 Air Defense Fighter (ADF) was a special variant of the Block 15 optimized for the United States Air National Guard's fighter interception mission. Begun in 1989, 270 airframes were modified. Avionics were upgraded (including the addition of an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) interrogator with "bird-slicing" IFF antennas), and a spotlight fitted forward and below the cockpit, for night-time identification. This was the only US version equipped with the AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile. Beginning in 1994, these aircraft began to be replaced by newer F-16C variants. By 2005 only the North Dakota ANG was flying this variant.Block 20: The Republic of China (Taiwan) received 150 F-16A/B Block 20 aircraft with the further addition of most of the F-16C/D Block 50/52 capability: Improved AN/APG-66(V)3 radar, carriage of AGM-45 Shrike, AGM-84 Harpoon, and AGM-88 HARM missiles, as well as the LANTIRN navigation and targeting pod. The computers onboard Block 20 are significantly improved in comparison to that of the earlier versions, with the overall processing speed increased 740 times and the overall memory storage increased 180 times in comparison to that of Block 15 OCU.

On board modular mission computer(MMC) upgraded from original MMC-3000 to MMC-3051 later for Link 16 inter-computer data exchange capability (Believed to be completed at 2003).

F-16C/D

F-16C (single seat) and F-16D (two seat).Block 25: The Block 25 F-16C first flew in June 1984 and entered USAF service in September. The aircraft are fitted with the Westinghouse AN/APG-68 radar and have improved precision night-attack capability. Block 25 introduced a very substantial improvement in cockpit avionics, including improved fire-control and stores management computers, an Up-Front Controls (UFC) integrated data control panel, data-transfer equipment, multifunction displays, radar altimeter, and many other changes. Block 25’s were first delivered with the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200 engine and later upgraded to the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220E. With 209 models delivered, today the USAF’s Air National Guard and Air Education and Training Command are the only remaining users of this variant. One F-16C, nicknamed the Lethal Lady, had flown over 7,000 hours by April 2008.

Block 30/32: This was the first block of F-16s affected by the Alternative Fighter Engine project under which aircraft were fitted with the traditional Pratt & Whitney engines or, for the first time, the General Electric F110-GE-100. From this point on, blocks ending in "0" (e.g., Block 30) are powered by GE, and blocks ending in "2" (e.g., Block 32) are fitted with Pratt & Whitney engines.

The first Block 30 F-16 entered service in 1987. Major differences include the carriage of the AGM-45 Shrike, AGM-88 HARM, and the AIM-120 missiles. From Block 30D, aircraft were fitted with larger engine air intakes (called a Modular Common Inlet Duct) for the increased-thrust GE engine. Since the Block 32 retained the Pratt and Whitney F-100 engine, the smaller (normal shock inlet) was retained for those aircraft. A total of 733 aircraft were produced and delivered to six countries. The Block 32H/J aircraft assigned to the USAF Thunderbird flight demonstration squadron were built in 1986 and 1987 and are some of the oldest operational F-16s in the Air Force. The Air National Guard procured many upgrades for their fleet of aging block 30/32s including the addition of improved inertial guidance systems, improved electronic warfare suite (ALQ-213), and upgrades to carry the Northrop Grumman LITENING targeting pod. The standard Inertial Navigation Unit (INU) was first changed to a ring laser gyro, and later upgraded again to an Embedded GPS/INS (EGI) system which combines a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver with an Inertial Navigation System (INS). The EGI provided the capability to use Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and other GPS-aided munitions (see Block 50 list below). This capability, in combination with the LITENING targeting pod, greatly enhanced the capabilities of this aircraft. The sum of these modifications to the baseline Block 30 is commonly known as the F-16C++ (pronounced "plus plus") version.

F-16N/TF-16N: The U.S. Navy acquired 22 modified Block 30 F-16s for use as adversary assets for dissimilar air combat training (DACT); four of these were TF-16N two-seaters. These aircraft were delivered in 1987-1988. Fighter Squadron 126 (VF-126) and the Navy Fighter Weapons School (NFWS) (or TOPGUN) operated them at NAS Miramar, California on the West Coast; East Coast adversary training squadrons were Fighter Squadron 43 (VF-43) at NAS Oceana, Virginia and Fighter Squadron 45 (VF-45) at NAS Key West, Florida. Each squadron had five F-16N and one TF-16N, with the exception of TOPGUN which had six and one, respectively. Due to the high stress of constant combat training, the wings of these aircraft began to crack and the Navy announced their retirement in 1994. By 1995, all but one of these aircraft had been sent to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) for preservation and storage; one F-16N was sent to the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, Florida as a museum article. As adversary aircraft, the Navy’s F-16Ns were notable for their colorful appearance. Most Navy F-16N aircraft were painted in a three-tone blue and gray "ghost" scheme. TOPGUN had some of the more colorful ones: a three-color desert scheme, a light blue one and a green splinter camouflage version with Marine Corps markings. VF-126 also had a unique blue example.

In 2002, the Navy began to receive 14 F-16A and B models from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) that were originally intended for Pakistan before being embargoed. These aircraft (which are not designated F-16N/TF-16N) are operated by the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) / (TOPGUN) for adversary training and like their F-16N predecessors are painted in exotic schemes.

Block 40/42 (F-16CG/DG): Entering service in 1988, the Block 40/42 is the improved all-day/all-weather strike variant equipped with LANTIRN pod; also unofficially designated the F-16CG/DG, the night capability gave rise to the name "Night Falcons". This block features strengthened and lengthened undercarriage for LANTIRN pods, an improved radar, and a GPS receiver. From 2002, the Block 40/42 increased the weapon range available to the aircraft including JDAM, AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) and the (Enhanced) EGBU-27 Paveway “bunker-buster”. Also incorporated in this block was the addition of cockpit lighting systems compatible with Aviator's Night Vision Imaging System (ANVIS) equipment. The USAF’s Time Compliance Technical Order (TCTO) that added the night vision (NVIS)-compatible systems was completed in 2004. A total of 615 Block 40/42 aircraft were delivered to 5 countries.Block 50/52: The first Block 50/52 F-16 was delivered in late 1991; the aircraft are equipped with improved GPS/INS, and the aircraft can carry a further batch of advanced missiles: the AGM-88 HARM missile, JDAM, JSOW and WCMD. Block 50 aircraft are powered by the F110-GE-129 while the Block 52 jets use the F100-PW-229. From Block 52 onwards, the cockpit also uses the Boeing Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS).

F-16CJ/DJ Block 50D/52D: An unknown number of Block 50/52 aircraft have been delivered to the USAF modified to perform the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) mission, replacing the F-4GWild Weasel’ aircraft; these were unofficially designated F-16CJ/DJ. Capable of launching both the AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) and AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missiles, the F-16CJ/DJ are equipped with a Lockheed Martin AN/AAS-35V Pave Penny laser spot tracker and the Texas Instruments AN/ASQ-213 HARM Targeting System (HTS), with the HTS pod being mounted on the starboard intake hardpoint. The first F-16CJ (serial number 91-0360) was delivered on 7 May 1993.

Block 50/52 Plus (or 50/52+): This variant, which is also known as the "Advanced Block 50/52", was first delivered in April 2003 to the Hellenic Air Force. Its main differences are the addition of conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), APG-68(V9) radar, On-Board Oxygen Generation (OBOGS) system and JHMCS helmet; the Greek Block 52+ aircraft also employ the IRIS-T short range air-to-air missile. All two-seat "Plus" aircraft have the enlarged Avionics Dorsal Spine, which adds 30 cu ft (850 L) to the airframe for more avionics with only small increases in weight and drag. This version is the foundation of F-16E/F Block 60. The first 60 Greek Hellenic Air Force aircraft were operational as of 2004, with a delivery of another 30 "Block 52 Advanced" pending for 2009.

The Block 52+ was also ordered by the Polish Air Force. These aircraft are fitted with the latest avionics (including the ALE-50 Towed Decoy System) and provisions for CFTs. On 9 November 2006, it was unveiled that the Polish F-16s will be named Jastrząb (Hawk). Limited operational readiness will be achieved in 2008 and the final Polish F-16 should be delivered by the end of that year. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) also ordered the two-seat version of the Block 52+. Singapore's most recent order consists of an aircraft model rumored to be the exact configuration as Israel’s F-16I (see entry below), but re-designated to avoid sensitivity. The latest D+ models ordered by the RSAF can be noted to have the same antennas, sensor locations and cockpit configurations as that of the F-16I. These fighters are also fitted with DASH-3 helmet-mounted sighting system, 600-gallon tanks, CFTs, AMRAAM, HARM, and laser-guided weapons, fully-configured for long-range strike. The Pakistan Air Force ordered 18 Block 52+ F-16s with an option for 18 more as part of a $5.1 billion arms package. Pakistani F-16s will be equipped with AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM, AIM-9M-8/9, JDAM, Harpoon Block II, JHMCS, CFTs, and possibly IRIS-T missiles.KF-16: Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) built 132 examples of the F-16C/D Block 52 under license from Lockheed Martin in the 1990s. The F/A-18 Hornet had originally won the Korea Fighter Program (KFP) competition, but disputes over costs and accusations of bribery led the Korean government to withdraw the award and select the F-16 instead. Designated the KF-16 (which is also sometimes mistakenly applied to the earlier batch of F-16 Block 32 bought by South Korea), the first 12 aircraft were delivered to Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) in December 1994. Almost 2,500 parts are changed from the original F-16C/D. All KF-16 are capable of launching the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.

F-16I Sufa: The F-16I is a two-seat variant of the Block 50/52 Plus developed for the Israeli Defense Force – Air Force (IDF/AF). Israel issued a requirement in September 1997 and selected the F-16 in preference to the F-15 in July 1999. An initial "Peace Marble V" contract was signed on 14 January 2000 with a follow on contract signed on 19 December 2001 for a total procurement of 102 aircraft. The F-16I, which is called Sufa (Storm) by the IDF/AF, first flew on 23 December 2003, and deliveries to the IDF/AF began on 19 February 2004.

The F-16I's most notable difference from the standard Block 50+ is that approximately 50% of the American avionics have been replaced by Israeli-developed avionics (such as the Israeli Aerial Towed Decoy replacing the ALE-50). The addition of Israeli-built autonomous aerial combat maneuvering instrumentation systems enables the training exercises to be conducted without dependence on ground instrumentation systems, and the helmet-mounted sight is also standard equipment. The helmet-mounted sight, HUD, mission computer, presentation computer, and digital map display are made by Elbit Systems of Israel. Furthermore, the F-16I is able to employ Rafael's new Python 5 imaging infrared-guided high-agility air-to-air missile. The F-16I also has the IAI-built removable conformal fuel tanks added to extend its range; removal takes two hours. Key American-sourced systems include the F100-PW-229 engine, which offers commonality with the IDF/AF's F-15Is, and the APG-68(V)9 radar.

F-16E/F

F-16E (single seat) and F-16F (two seat). Originally, the single-seat version of the General Dynamics F-16XL was to have been designated F-16E, with the twin-seat variant designated F-16F. This was sidelined by the Air Force's selection of the competing F-15E Strike Eagle in the Enhanced Tactical Fighter fly-off in 1984. The 'Block 60' designation had also previously been set aside in 1989 for the A-16, but this model was dropped. The F-16E/F designation now belongs to a special version developed especially for the United Arab Emirates, and is sometimes unofficially called the "Desert Falcon".

Block 60: Based on the F-16C/D Block 50/52, it features improved radar and avionics and conformal fuel tanks; it has only been sold to the United Arab Emirates. At one time, this version was incorrectly thought to have been designated "F-16U." A major difference from previous blocks is the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-80 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which gives the airplane the capability to simultaneously track and destroy ground and air threats. The Block 60's General Electric F110-GE-132 engine is a development of the -129 model and is rated at 32,500 lbf (144 kN). The Block 60 allows the carriage of all Block 50/52-compatible weaponry as well as AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM) and the AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM). The CFTs provide an additional 450 US gallon (2,045 L) of fuel, allowing increased range or time on station. This has the added benefit of freeing up hardpoints for weapons that otherwise would have been occupied by underwing fuel tanks. The MIL-STD-1553 data bus is replaced by MIL-STD-1773 fiber-optic data bus which offers a 1000 times increase in data-handling capability.

Technology demonstrators and other variants

LTV Aerospace Model 1600/1601/1602: A variant capable of conducting operations from an aircraft carrier operations proposed for the U.S. Navy’s Naval Fighter Attack Experimental (VFAX) program; the three models featured different powerplants. Jointly developed by LTV Aerospace and GD, LTV would have been the production lead, however, in 1975 the Navy selected the F/A-18 Hornet instead.YF-16 CCV: A 1975 conversion of the initial YF-16 prototype to serve as the USAF Flight Dynamics Laboratory's Control-Configured Vehicle (CCV) testbed. The CCV concept entails “decoupling” the aircraft’s flight control surfaces so that they can operate independently. The success of the CCV flight test program led to the employment of the F-16 as the testbed for the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (AFTI) program.F-16 SFW: The Swept Forward Wing (SFW) F-16 was GD’s entry for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) 1976 program to develop an experimental forward-swept wing test aircraft. F-16/79: The F-16/79 was a export-oriented version of the F-16A/B modified to use the General Electric J79 turbojet engine. Intended to satisfy President Jimmy Carter's February 1977 directive to curtail arms proliferation by selling only reduced-capability weapons to foreign countries, the lack of interest in a “second-class” fighter led to neither the F-16/79 nor its competitor, Northrop’s F-20 Tigershark, achieving any sales. It first flew in October 1980.F-16/101: A modification of the first FSD F-16A fitted with a variant of General Electric’s (GE) F101 turbofan engine developed under the joint USAF/Navy Derivative Fighter Engine (DFE) program. The F101X DFE outperformed the F-16’s then-standard Pratt & Whitney F100, but it was not adopted for production. However, data from the 1980 testing the F-16/101 led to development of GE’s F110 turbofan, which would become an alternate engine for both the F-16 and F-14.F-16XL: General Dynamics developed a variant of the F-16 with a novel ‘cranked-arrow’ type of delta wing under a program originally known as the Supersonic Cruise and Maneuvering Program (SCAMP). This design, designated the F-16XL, was intended to offer low drag at high subsonic or supersonic speeds without compromising low-speed maneuverability. This approach permitted the F-16XL to supercruise – to cruise efficiently at supersonic speeds without use of an afterburner. The F-16XL’s larger wing enabled it to carry twice the payload of the F-16 on 27 hardpoints, and it had a 40% greater range due to an 82% increase in internal fuel carriage, thanks in part to concomitant fuselage stretches totaling 56 in (142 cm). Two FSD aircraft were supplied to GD in late 1980 by the USAF to be modified; the single-seat F-16XL first flew on 3 July 1982, followed by the two-seater on 29 October 1982. The F-16XL competed unsuccessfully with the F-15E Strike Eagle in the Enhanced Tactical Fighter (ETF) program; if it had won the competition, the production versions were to have been designated F-16E/F. From 1989–1999, both aircraft were used by NASA for several experimental research programs, and in 2007, NASA was considering returning the single-seat F-16XL to operational status for further aeronautical research.AFTI/F-16: In March 1980, General Dynamics began converting the sixth FSD F-16A to serve as the technology demonstrator aircraft for the joint Flight Dynamics Laboratory-NASA Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (AFTI) program. Technologies introduced and tested on the AFTI F-16 include a full-authority triplex Digital Flight Control System (DFCS), a six-degree-of-freedom Automated Maneuvering Attack System (AMAS), Automatic Target Handoff System (ATHS) (which transferred target data from ground stations or other aircraft to the AFTI/F-16), a 256-word-capacity Voice-Controlled Interactive Device (VCID) to control the avionics suite, and a helmet-mounted target designation sight that permitted the FLIR and radar to be automatically “slaved” to the pilot’s head movement. First flight of the AFTI F-16 occurred on 10 July 1982, and it participated in numerous research and development programs from 1982–2000. The Air Force Association gave its 1987 Theodore von Karman Award for the most outstanding achievement in science and engineering to the F-16/AFTI team.F-16A(R): About two dozen F-16As of the Royal Netherlands Air Force were supplied with indigenous Oude Delft Orpheus low-altitude tactical reconnaissance pods. Designated F-16A(R), the first flew on 27 January 1983, and they entered service with the RNLAF in October 1984. Beginning in 1995, the Belgian Air Force replaced its own Mirage 5BR reconnaissance aircraft with at least a dozen F-16A(R) equipped with loaned Orpheus pods and Vinten cameras from the Mirages; these were replaced with more capable Per Udsen modular recce pods from 1996–1998.F-16 Recce and RF-16A/C: The first reconnaissance variant was a USAF F-16D experimentally configured in 1986 with a centerline multi-sensor bathtub-style pod; it was referred to as “F-16 Recce” (and not “RF-16D” as it has sometimes been misreported). The USAF decided in 1988 to replace the aging RF-4C Phantom fleet with RF-16C Block 30s fitted with the Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS) centerline pod, which could carry a variety of sensors. However, problems with the ATARS program, led to the USAF’s dropping those plans in June 1993, while it continued to experiment with a series of centerline recce pod designs, before finally settled on the definitive AN/ASD-11 Theater Airborne Reconnaissance System (TARS). The first F-16 flight with a prototype TARS flew on 26 August 1995, and from mid-1998 Block 30s and Block 25s of five Air National Guard squadrons have received the system. The USAF, however, does not designate them “RF-16s”.

The designation RF-16A is used, though, by the Royal Danish Air Force. In early 1994, 10 Danish F-16A were redesignated as RF-16A tactical recce aircraft, replacing the RF-35 Drakens withdrawn at the end of 1993. As a temporary measure they were originally fitted with the Drakens’ optical cameras and E-O sensors repackaged in a Per Udsen ‘Red Baron’ recce pod, which were replaced a few years later by Per Udsen’s Modular Reconnaissance Pod (MRP).F-16 Agile Falcon: The F-16 Agile Falcon was a variant proposed by GD in 1984 that featured a 25% larger wing, uprated engines, and other improvements for the basic F-16. Unsuccessfully offered as a low-cost alternative for the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition that would eventually lead to the F-22 Raptor, some of its capabilities were incorporated into the Block 40 F-16C/D, and the Agile Falcon would serve as the basis for developing Japan’s F-2 fighter.F-16D ‘CK-1’: A specially built Block 40 F-16D testbed aircraft delivered in 1987 to MANAT, the Israeli Air Force’s flight test center. It is used by the IAF for testing new flight configurations, weapon systems and avionics.A-16 and F/A-16: F-16 variants modified to serve as dedicated close air support (CAS) aircraft. The A-16 was a late-1980s GD project to develop a CAS version of the basic F-16 by adding armor and strengthening the wings for a heavier weapons load, including a 30 mm cannon and 7.62 mm Minigun pods. Two F-16A Block 15 aircraft were modified to this configuration. Envisioned as a successor to the A-10, the type was to have received the ‘Block 60’ designation; however, the A-16 never went into production due a 26 November 1990 Congressional directive to the USAF mandating that it retain two wings of A-10s.

A second outcome of that directive was a decision by the Air Force that, instead of upgrading the A-10, it would seek to retrofit 400 Block 30/32 F-16's with new equipment to perform both CAS and battlefield air interdiction (BAI) missions. This “F/A-16” Block 30 approach, however, was dropped in January 1992 in favor of equipping Block 40/42 F-16C/D's with LANTIRN pods.

In 1991, 24 F-16A/B Block 10 aircraft were armed with a four-barrel 30 mm derivative of the A-10A’s GAU-8/A cannon. This weapon was carried in a General Electric GPU-5/A Pave Claw pod on the centerline stores station. There were also plans to convert F-16C’s to this configuration and to incorporate the A-10’s AN/AAS-35V Pave Penny laser spot tracker. However, the vibration from the gun when firing proved so severe as to make both aiming and flying the aircraft difficult, and trials were suspended after two days.F-16AT Falcon 21: The F-16AT ‘Falcon 21’ was a low-cost alternative for the ATF competition unsuccessfully proposed by General Dynamics in 1990. It was a single-engined fighter based on the F-16XL, but with a trapezoidal wing.

NF-16D / VISTA / MATV: In 1988 General Dynamics and its subcontractor Calspan received a contract sponsored by the Air Force, Navy and NASA to develop the Variable-stability In-flight Simulator Test Aircraft (VISTA). The F-16 VISTA effort involved modifying a Block 30 F-16D belonging to Wright Labs with a center stick (in addition to the sidestick controller), a new computer and digital flight control system that allowed it to imitate, to a degree, the performance of other aircraft. Redesignated NF-16D, its first flight in the VISTA configuration occurred on 9 April 1992.

In 1991, the USAF took over the F-16 Multi-Axis Thrust-Vectoring (MATV) project, which had been a joint effort by General Dynamics and General Electric to explore the application of thrust vector control (TVC) technology to the F-16. The variable-stability computers and center stick were temporarily removed from the VISTA for flight tests for the MATV program, under which the first use of thrust-vectoring in flight was accomplished on 30 July 1993. MATV testing was concluded in March 1994, and although the program was considered successful, thrust vectoring was not taken up for the F-16 by the USAF. In 1996 a program was begun to fit the NF-16D with a multi-directional thrust-vectoring nozzle, but the program was canceled due to lack of funding later that year.F-16U: The F-16U was one of several configurations proposed for the United Arab Emirates in the early 1990s. It was a two-seat aircraft that combined many features of the F-16XL and the delta wing of the F-16X.F-16X Falcon 2000: In 1993 Lockheed Martin proposed development of a new version of the venerable F-16 as a competitor to Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This F-16X ‘Falcon 2000’ featured a delta-wing planform like that of the F-22, which together with a fuselage stretch would provide a 80% greater internal fuel volume. LM claimed the F-16X could be built for two-thirds the cost of the Super Hornet.F-16 ES: The F-16 Enhanced Strategic (ES) was an extended-range variant of the F-16C/D fitted with conformal fuel tanks that granted it a 40% greater range over the standard Block 50. Unsuccessfully offered to Israel in late 1993 as an alternative to the F-15I Strike Eagle, it was one of several configuration options offered to the United Arab Emirates that would ultimately lead to the development of the F-16E/F Block 60 for that nation. The F-16ES first flew in November 1994.F-16 LOAN: The F-16 Low-Observable Asymmetric Nozzle (LOAN) demonstrator was an F-16C fitted with a prototype nozzle with significantly reduced radar and infrared signatures and lowered maintenance requirements. It was tested in November 1996 to evaluate the technology for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program.F-16AM/F-16BM: These designations have been applied to F-16A/B that have received the F-16 Mid-Life Update (MLU), which improves the reliability, supportability and maintainability of the aircraft, and upgrades the cockpit to a standard similar to that of the Block 50. Conversion work began in January 1997. F-16 GCAS: This was a Block 25 F-16D modified to supplant the AFTI F-16 in continued investigation of ground collision-avoidance system (GCAS) technologies to reduce "controlled flight into terrain" (CFIT) incidents during 1997–1998.F-16IN: Lockheed Martin has proposed an advanced variant, the F-16IN, as its candidate for India’s 126-aircraft Indian Air Force Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition. If selected as the winner of the competition, Lockheed Martin will supply the first 18 aircraft, and will set up an assembly line in India in collaboration with Indian partners for production of the remainder. GF-16: Small numbers of each type of F-16A/B/C are used for non-flying ground instruction of maintenance personnel.QF-16: The USAF is considering converting older-model F-16s into full-scale target drones under the QF-16 Air Superiority Target (AST) program. QF-16s would replace the current QF-4 drones, the last of which are expected to be expended around 2010.

Major upgrade programs

F-16 MSIP: In 1980, General Dynamics, the USAF’s F-16 System Program Office (SPO), and the EPG partners initiated a long-term Multinational Staged Improvement Program (MSIP) to evolve new capabilities for the F-16, mitigate risks during technology development, and ensure its currency against a changing threat environment. The F-16 Falcon Century program, a survey and evaluation of new technologies and new capabilities that began in 1982, was also relied upon to identify new concepts for integration onto the F-16 through the MSIP derivative development effort. Altogether, the MSIP process permitted quicker introduction of new capabilities, at lower costs, and with reduced risks compared to traditional stand-alone system enhancement and modernization programs.

The first stage, MSIP I, began in February 1980 and it introduced the new technologies that defined the Block 15 aircraft. Fundamentally, MSIP I improvements were focused on reducing the cost of retrofitting future systems. These included structural and wiring provisions for a wide-field-of-view raster head-up display (HUD); multifunction displays; advanced fire control computer and central weapons interface unit; integrated Communications/Navigation/Identification (CNI) system; beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air missiles, electro-optical and target acquisition pods, and internal electronic countermeasures (ECM) systems; and increased-capacity environmental control and electrical power systems. Delivery of the first USAF MSIP I Block 15 aircraft occurred in November 1981, and work on the first EPG MSIP I aircraft began in May 1982.

MSIP II, begun in May 1981, led to the F-16C/D Block 25/30/32. For the Block 25, it basically added the systems which the MSIP I provisions had enabled. The first MSIP II F-16C Block 25 was delivered in July 1984. The Block 30/32 take advantage of the Alternative Fighter Engine program that offered a choice between two engines for the F-16: the General Electric F110-GE-100 (Block 30) as well as the newly upgraded Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 (Block 32). To take full advantage of the higher-thrust GE engine, a larger, modular air inlet duct was fitted on the Block 30s. MSIP II capabilities introduced on the Block 30/32 also included the ability to target multiple aircraft with the AMRAAM; range, resolution and signal processor improvements to the AN/APG-68 radar; a ring laser gyroscope; ALQ-213 electronic warfare system; added cooling air capacity for the more powerful avionics suite; and employment of the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missiles. The first Block 30 was delivered in July 1986.

MSIP III produced the Block 40/42/50/52. Initiated in June 1985, the first MSIP III Block 40 was delivered in December 1988, and the first Block 50 followed in October 1991. Introduced in the MSIP III Block 40/42 were LANTIRN navigation and targeting pods, along with the related diffractive optics HUD; the increased-reliability APG-68V fire-control radar; an aft-seat HUD monitor in the F-16D; a four-channel digital flight-control system; GPS; advanced EW and IFF equipment; and further structural strengthening to counter the aircraft’s growing weight. The Block 50/52 received uprated F100-GE-129 and F110-PW-229 engines; an upgraded programmable display generator; an upgraded programmable display generator with digital terrain mapping; an improved APG-68V5 fire-control radar; an automatic target hand-off system; an anti-jam radio; the ALE-47 chaff dispenser; and integration of AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles.

Although only three stages had been originally planned, GD proposed an MSIP IV segment (marketed as ‘Agile Falcon’), but this was rejected by the Air Force in 1989. However, most of its elements – such as extensive avionics upgrades, color displays, an electronic warfare management system (EWMS), reconnaissance pods, AIM-9X Sidewinder infrared air-to-air missile integration, and helmet-mounted sights – have been introduced since that time. Pacer Loft I & II: F-16A/B Blocks 1 and 5 were upgraded to the Block 10 standard under a two-phase program: Pacer Loft I (1982–1983) and Pacer Loft II (1983–1984).F-16A/B Block 15 OCU: Beginning in January 1988, all Block 15 F-16A/B were delivered with an Operational Capability Upgrade (OCU). The Block 15 OCU aircraft incorporate the wide-angle HUD that was first introduced on the F-16C/D Block 25, more reliable F100-PW-220 turbofans, updated defensive systems, and the ability to fire the AIM-120 AMRAAM, the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile, and the AGM-119 Penguin Mk.3 anti-shipping missile developed by the Norwegian company Kongsberg. Many foreign customers upgraded their aircraft to the F-16A/B Block 15OCU standard.F-16 MLU: In 1989 a two-year study began regarding possible mid-life upgrades for the USAF’s and European Partner Air Forces’ (EPAF’s) F-16A/B’s. The resulting F-16 Mid-Life Update (MLU) package was designed to upgrade the cockpit and avionics to the equivalent of that on the F-16C/D Block 50; add the ability to employ radar-guided air-to-air missiles; and to generally enhance the operational performance and improve the reliability, supportability and maintainability of the aircraft. Development began in May 1991 and continued until 1997; however, the USAF withdrew from the MLU program in 1992, although it did procure the modular mission computer for its Block 50/52 aircraft.

The first of five prototype conversions flew on 28 April 1995, and installation of production kits began in January 1997. Original plans called for the production of 553 kits (110 for Belgium, 63 for Denmark, 172 for the Netherlands, 57 for Norway, and 130 for the USAF), however, final orders amounted to only 325 kits (72 for Belgium, 61 for Denmark, 136 for the Netherlands, and 56 for Norway). The EPAFs redesignated the F-16A/B aircraft receiving the MLU as F-16AM/BM, respectively. Portugal later joined the program and the first of 20 aircraft was redelivered on 26 June 2003. In recent years, Chile, Jordan, and Pakistan have purchased surplus Dutch and Belgian F-16AM/BM for their air forces.

Development of new software and hardware modifications continues under the MLU program. The M3 software tape was installed in parallel with the Falcon STAR structural upgrade to bring the F-16AM/BM up to the standards of the USAF’s Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP). A total of 296 M3 kits (72 for Belgium, 59 for Denmark, 57 for Norway, and 108 for the Netherlands) were ordered for delivery from 2002–2007; installation is anticipated to be completed in 2010. An M4 tape has also been developed that adds the ability to use additional weapons and the Pantera targeting pod; Norway began operating flying combat operations in Afghanistan with these upgraded aircraft in 2008. An M5 tape is in development that will enable employment of a wider array of the latest smart weapons, and the first aircraft upgraded with it are due to be delivered in 2009.Falcon UP: Although the F-16 was originally designed with an expected service life of 8000 flying hours, actual operational usage has proven to be more severe than expected and this has been exacerbated by its growing weight as more systems and structure have been added to the aircraft. As a result, the anticipated average service life of the F-16A/B had fallen to only 5500 flying hours. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Falcon UP program restored the 8000-hour capability for the USAF’s Block 40/42 aircraft. Pleased with the results, the USAF extended the Falcon UP effort to provide a Service Life Improvement Program (SLIP) for its Block 25 and 30/32 aircraft to ensure 6000 flying hours, and a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) for its F-16A/B aircraft to assure their achieving 8000 hours.Falcon STAR: Falcon STAR (STructural Augmentation Roadmap) is a program to repair and replace critical airframe components on all F-16A/B/C/D aircraft; like Falcon UP, it is intended to ensure an 8000-hour service life, but is based on more recent operational usage statistics. The first redelivery occurred in February 2004, and in 2007 the USAF announced that it would upgrade 651 Block 40/42/50/52 F-16’s; this is expected to extend the Falcon STAR program, which began in 1999, through 2014.F-16 ACE: Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) developed an open-architecture avionics suite upgrade for its F-16s known as the Avionics Capabilities Enhancement (ACE). It introduced the first “full-glass cockpit” on an operational F-16, and featured an advanced fire-control radar, an Up Front Control Panel (UFCP), and an option for a wide-angle head-up display (HUD) or a helmet-mounted display. First flight of an F-16B equipped with ACE was accomplished in May 2001. The ACE upgrade was not taken up by the Israeli Air Force, which ordered a second batch of the F-16I instead; IAI offered ACE to Venezuela but the U.S. government blocked it and stated that it would only permit elements of ACE, not the whole suite, to be exported.F-16 Falcon ONE: Singapore Technologies Aerospace (ST Aero) has also developed a state-of-the-art, “glass cockpit” avionics suite as an alternative to the MLU offering. The Falcon ONE suite includes a wide-angle HUD that can display FLIR imagery, the Striker Helmet-Mounted Display (HMD), a datalink capability, and the FIAR Grifo radar. First revealed at the Farnborough Air Show on 25 July 2000, it has yet to find a customer.F-16 CCIP: The Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP) is a $2 billion modernization effort that seeks to standardize all USAF Block 40/42/50/52 F-16s to a common Block 50/52-based avionics software and hardware configuration for simplified training and maintenance. Lockheed Martin received a contract to develop the first phase CCIP configuration upgrade packages in June 1998; kit production work started in 2000, and deliveries began in July 2001.

Phase 1 of the CCIP introduced new Modular Mission Computers, color cockpit display kits and advanced IFF systems to domestically based Block 50/52 aircraft, and introduced the new Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP). The ability of the F-16CJ/DJ to employ GPS-guided weapons was extended to the rest of the Block 50/52 fleet. Upgraded Phase 1 aircraft redeliveries began in January 2002. The second phase extended these upgrades to overseas-based Block 50/52 Falcons, and redeliveries ran from July 2003 to June 2007. Phase II also included the introduction of autonomous beyond-visual-range air-intercept capability, the Link-16 datalink, and the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS).

The ongoing Phase 3 effort is focused on Block 40/42 F-16s. Development began in July 2003 and by June 2007 Lockheed Martin had completed roughly a quarter of the USAF’s Block 40/42 fleet. Phase 3 incorporates the M3+ Operational Flight Program (OFP) which extends the capabilities of the first two phases to the Block 40/42 fleet and adds Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS), the new NATO-standard datalink network. Development of an M4+ OFP began in late 2002; this update will allow use of the Raytheon AIM-9X on Block 40/42/50/52 aircraft. Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract in early 2004 to develop an M5+ upgrade kit to update the AN/APG-68(V)5 radars on the Block 40/42/50/52 Falcons to the AN/APG-68(V)9 standard; upgrading of Block 40/42 aircraft began in 2007 and is to become operational on the Block 50/52 aircraft by 2010. An M6+ OFP is under consideration, and could include integration of the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) on CCIP aircraft, which is planned to begin in fiscal year 2012.

Turkey became the first international customer for the CCIP update with the signing of a $1.1 billion contract on 26 April 2005 to upgrade an initial 76 Block 40/50 and 41 Block 30 F-16C/Ds to an equivalent of the Phase 3/M5+ OFP standard under the "Peace Onyx III" Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. This work will be performed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and is due to be completed in 2012; however, Turkey holds on option on the upgrade of the remainder of its 100 Block 40s, which could extend the program. Turkey has since exercised the option to upgrade the remainder of it's F-16 fleet, and now a total of 217 F-16 will be upgraded under the Turkish CCIP program (38 block 30, 104 block 40, 76 block 50). CUPID: The Combat Upgrade Plan Integration Details (CUPID) effort is an ongoing initiative to bring older U.S. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Block 25/30/32 F-16s closer to Block 50/52 specifications. CUPID focuses on adding improved precision attack capabilities, night vision equipment, datalinks, carriage of the Litening II infrared targeting pod, and laser- and GPS-guided weapons.

Operators

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Notable incidents

  • On 8 May 1975, while practicing a 9-g aerial display maneuver with the second YF-16 72-1568 at Fort Worth prior to being sent to the Paris Air Show, one of the main landing gear jammed. The test pilot, Neil Anderson, had to perform an emergency gear-up landing and chose to do so in the grass, hoping to minimize damage and to avoid injuring the many GD employees observing the display. The aircraft was only slightly damaged (inlet duct buckling, FS227 bulkhead cracks, etc.). It was scheduled to appear at the Paris air show but due to the mishap the first prototype 72-1567 was sent.
  • During a joint Army-Air Force exercise being conducted at Pope AFB, North Carolina, on 23 March 1994, F-16D 88-0171 of the 23rd Fighter Wing / 74th Fighter Squadron was at the center of a multi-aircraft accident, since known as the “Green Ramp Disaster”, that resulted in 24 fatalities and at least 80 others injured.
  • On 27 March 2000, an Israeli Air Force F-16D-30F-GD serial number 077 of 109 Sq based at Ramat David Air Base, crashed into the Mediterranean Sea during a training flight off the coastal village of Atlit in northern Israel. The pilot, Major Yonatan Begin, was a grandson of former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin. Neither he nor his co-pilot, Lt. Lior Harari, had notified their ground controllers of any problems.

Specifications (F-16C Block 30)

Popular culture

The F-16 can be seen in movies such as Blue Thunder, The Jewel of the Nile, the Iron Eagle series, X2, and The Sum Of All Fears. It also appears, in a more negative light, in the 1992 TV movie Afterburn.

Due to its widespread adoption, the F-16 has been a popular model for computer flight simulators, appearing in over twenty games. Some of them are: Falcon series (1987-2005), F-16 Fighting Falcon (1984), Jet (1989), Strike Commander (1993), iF-16 (1997), F-16 Multi-role Fighter (1998), F-16 Aggressor (1999), and Thrustmaster "HOTAS Cougar" flight simulator controller (exacting reproduction of those found in the F-16 Block 40/50). The F-16 is also one of two aircraft available in the built-in flight simulator in Google Earth.

See also

References

Notes

Bibliography

  • Darling, Kev. F-16 Fighting Falcon (Combat Legend). London: Airlife, 2003. ISBN 1-84037-399-7.
  • Hehs, Eric. "Harry Hillaker — Father of the F-16." Code One: An Airpower Projection Magazine, April/July 1991.
  • Hillaker, Harry. "John Boyd, USAF Retired, Father of the F-16." Code One: An Airpower Projection Magazine, April/July 1997.
  • Mehuron, Tamar A., Assoc. Editor. "2007 USAF Almanac - Equipment" Air Force Magazine, Journal of the Air Force Association 90 (5): May 2007. ISSN: 0730-6784.
  • Peacock, Lindsay. On Falcon Wings: The F-16 Story. RAF Fairford, United Kingdom: The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund Enterprises, 1997. ISBN 1-899808-01-9.
  • Richardson, Doug. General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. London: Salamander Books, 1990. ISBN 0-86101-534-7.
  • Spick, Mike, ed. Great Book of Modern Warplanes. St. Paul, MN: MBI, 2000. ISBN 0-7603-0893-4.

External links

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