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F-16 Background

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is the first operational fighter to employ fly-by-wire flight controls, relaxed static stability, high-g cockpit, bubble canopy, variable camber wings, blended wing-body design, modular construction, and integrated digital avionics.

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Not only the favorite to fly among fighter pilots, the F-16 is also the favorite of maintenance personnel as well as those responsible for managing budgets, force planning, and operations. It is the lowest-cost high-performance fighter in the world, and the most affordable to operate and support.

The F-16’s outstanding reliability and maintainability also translate into high readiness and sortie rates. The F-16 normally has the highest mission-capable rate of all U.S. fighter aircraft. Sustained mission-capable rates above 90 percent are common for the F-16 with fully funded support.

This level of readiness ensures that peacetime training programs are not limited by the availability of aircraft, and, in case of war, that sufficient aircraft are available to do the job. The F-16’s high availability and quick turnarounds yield high combat sortie surge rates, a major force multiplier that can be sustained for long periods. With its night and adverse weather capabilities, the F-16 is able to fully use this surge capability.

The F-16’s high system reliability, system redundancies, navigation, and weapon delivery accuracy, night/adverse weather operability, and high survivability all work together to ensure high mission-success rates – exceeding those of any other fighter in the world.


Versions and Derivatives

In the late 1980s, work began on several programs related to new versions, configurations, and missions for the F-16. In 1982, two F-16XL demonstrators were built that had large cranked-arrow wings with composite skins. This version offered large increases in range and payload.

In 1987, major F-16 improvements were proposed in a program designated Agile Falcon. These included both aerodynamic and avionics enhancements designed to meet future combat threats. While Agile Falcon did not go forward, the avionics portion of the concept eventually launched development of the F-16A/B Mid-Life Update. The larger composite wings of Agile Falcon were adopted for the Japan F-2 program.

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In 1979, the F-16 was selected for modification into a flying test platform for the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (AFTI) program. The AFTI/F-16 flew for the first time in 1982. The AFTI/F-16 team received the Air Force Association’s Theodore von Karman Award in 1987. This aircraft continued flying in capability test programs in the 1990s. The aircraft was modified with electric flight control actuators in support of the Joint Strike Fighter program. This test aircraft was retired in early 2001 after 22 years of service, and will be inducted into the U.S. Air Force Aviation Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

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In the early 1980s, two F-16s were modified with a cranked-arrow wing developed in cooperation with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The F-16XLs made the first of hundreds of successful test flights in 1982. This version offered a large increase in range and payload. The F-16XL resumed flying in 1989 in NASA aerodynamic test programs.

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VISTA/F-16 and MATV/F-16

An extensively modified F-16 was selected in 1987 for the U.S. Air Force’s variable-stability in-flight simulator test aircraft (VISTA) program. Variable-stability aircraft are used in flying-qualities research and evaluation of modified and new aircraft designs.

The VISTA/F-16 flew for the first time in April 1992. In 1993, the aircraft was modified with a General Electric multiaxis thrust-vectoring engine that allowed the aircraft to fly at unrestricted angles of attack and to perform large sideslip maneuvers. The program and key personnel were recognized with numerous awards.

The VISTA/F-16 has since been modified to accept a Pratt & Whitney thrust-vectoring engine. The aircraft has supported F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter handling-qualities research. It is currently in service for test pilot training at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

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Other Achievements:

  • First new fighter to enter service concurrently with U.S. and allied air forces

  • First front-line U.S. Air Force fighter to be co-produced by U.S. and European industry

  • Largest and most successful multinational co-production program in the history of aviation

  • First major military program to receive multiple-year funding from Congress, with three four-year production contracts saving more than $1 billion

  • Recipient of many production awards and much recognition for cost savings and environmental improvements

  • First fighter designed with a preplanned product improvement capability

  • Top scorer in every major bombing competition – Royal Air Force Bomb Competition, U.S. Air Force Gunsmoke, Tactical Air Command Long Rifle, U.S. Air Forces In Europe Excalibur, Low Country Bomb Derby, Moody Invitational Bombing Competition, and many national competitions in Greece, Pakistan, South Korea, and Turkey

  • Recognized air combat superiority – 71 air-to-air victories with no losses in service of five countries. Workhorse of Desert Storm in 1991 – approximately 13,500 strike sorties – more than any other aircraft. First combat kills with AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM). Major participant in Operation Determined Force (1995 operations over Bosnia) and Operation Desert Fox (1998 operations over Iraq), employing advanced capabilities in suppression of enemy air defense missions and precision strike missions. Workhorse of Operation Allied Force (Kosovo) in 1999 with 180 F-16s from seven NATO countries flying 7,500 sorties. F-16’s introduced the multiplane, multi-aim point-precision strike tactic at night.

  • Highest reliability of any fighter

  • Lowest maintenance requirements of any fighter

  • Highest readiness rates and sortie surge rates of any U.S. fighter

  • Safest single-engine fighter and safest multirole fighter in U.S. Air Force history

  • Lowest operation and support cost of any modern fighter

  • Largest stores list of any fighter - more than 100 weapons, sensor pods and fuel tanks

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