The F-16 Fighting Falcon is now over 40 years old. More than 4500 have been produced and customers continue to place orders for additional units. It has been featured in movies like Iron Eagle (1986), and The Sum of All Fears (2002). Seeing the F-16 flash across the movie screen with a calm pilot strapped into the cockpit on top of a rocket, pushing it to the edge, while aiming to intercept a threat, does not teach us much about that aircraft. What do you actually know about them?
Here are 5 fast facts of the F-16 Fighting Falcon
- First flight was 1974 – The F-16 is over 40 years old. It’s prototype, the YF-16, conducted its maiden flight on February 2, 1974, at Edwards Air Force Base in California. On January 13, 1975, the YF-16 was announced as the winner of the Air Combat Fighter Competition sought by U.S. Air Force for their next air-to-air day fighter. Over the years, due to budget constraints and the need for one aircraft to perform multiple different missions, the F-16 eventually evolved into the all-weather, multi-role fighter it is today.
- First to use a fly-by-wire system – The F-16 became the first aircraft to use a fly-by-wire flight control system to make it more maneuverable than earlier-generation fighters. Fly-by-wire removes the direct cable and pulley connection from the pilot controls to the aircraft’s flight control surfaces. A quadruple-redundant flight control system reads the pressures applied by the pilot to the aircraft’s controls and very quickly determines how to move the plane’s control surfaces to maintain the proper flight path quickly and smoothly.
- Highly innovative design – The F-16 was designed to be the best air-to-air dogfighter. To enable this, the F-16 was the first aircraft with a reinforced airframe, enabling it to survive 9-Gs. The pilot’s seat was elevated and set to 30 degrees instead of 12 degrees like other 4th generation aircraft. This angle helps the pilot avoid blacking out during high G maneuvers. The control stick is set to the pilot’s right side versus a traditional middle stick. This provides arm support and more control to the pilot in very tight turns. The F-16 has a one-piece, polycarbonate, bubble canopy with no forward frame. This bird-proof canopy enables the pilot to have a full 360-degree view, better than other 4th generation aircraft.
- EPAFs joined the U.S. during early orders – Along with the U.S., the first four countries to quickly adopt the F-16 Fighting Falcon were Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, and Norway. This group of countries became known as the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF). These European partners signed up for 348 aircraft during the Paris Air Show on June 7, 1975. Today, the F-16 serves 25 countries.
- Mid-life Update – The F-16 began its service life in 1979. It was expected to be replaced in 1999 with a successor. Due to economic and political reasons, the F-16 was to be extended through 2010. In 1989, a study began to address this life extension, and in 1992 the Mid-life Update was created to maintain the operational effectiveness of existing F-16s. The update package included upgrades to the cockpit and avionics as well as a program to identify and repair stress fractures in the air frame’s bulkhead.
Though the U.S. Air Force has still allocated funds to upgrade part of their F-16 fleet, these aircraft are expected to be replaced over the coming years by the F-35 Lightning II. The Falcon is still a tremendous aircraft that serves the United States and many countries around the world. With the need to extend the life of the aircraft and the availability of companies that repair its aging and obsolete systems, this multi-role fighter aircraft will remain in service for countries around the world for years to come.