Lockheed Martin / General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon Multi-Role Lightweight Fighter / Strike Fighter
The multirole-minded Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon has proven a favorite in the export market with over 20 operators committed to the type.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) F-16 "Fighting Falcon" was a product of Cold War-development and introduced along the lines of agility, lightweight classification and controlled costs - a multirole fighter to serve alongside the air superiority-minded McDonnell Douglas F-15 "Eagle". First flying on January 20th, 1974, the F-16 was formally introduced on August 17th, 1978 and has since seen production reach over 4,500 units with sales to over 25 foreign parties. Modernization programs have helped to evolve the F-16 in reaching all-new capabilities over the modern battlefield, allowing the system to retain a viable presence in the exceedingly computer-controlled airspaces of today. Its multirole nature allows the standard aircraft design to undertake a variety of roles as required and customizability allows each operator to field local weaponry, systems and equipment as needed.
Despite its given name of "Fighting Falcon", the F-16 is also recognized under the nickname of "Viper". As it stands by today's classification conventions, the F-16 is deemed a "Fourth Generation Fighter" now that the Lockheed F-22 Raptor
has officially ushered in the era of the "Fifth Generation Fighter". However, the costs associated with 5th generation types ensure that many 4th generation models will continue flying into the 2030s.
The F-16 in U.S. service (and perhaps elsewhere) is expected to be replaced by the highly touted Lockheed F-35 "Lightning II" stealth-minded strike fighter. However, mounting delays and cost overruns in the program have extended the useful service lives of existing Fourth Generation Fighters like the F-16s for the near future, prompting various modernization programs to be enacted in keep the aircraft flying for years to come. Additionally, the procurement costs associated with new technology will keep the F-16 a mainstay of foreign air powers for the foreseeable decade and perhaps beyond.
The F-16 was born from the USAF's LightWeight Fighter (LWF) program emerging in the early 1970s. The program intended to validate the prospect of a light, single-engine, single-seat fighter form against the norm of heavier, twin-engined designs which proved the call of the day. The field originally included submissions from Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed, LTV and Northrop but this was eventually whittled down to the two major players in General Dynamics and Northrop. General Dynamics put forth their "YF-16" against Northrop's "YF-17" and two prototypes each were allowed under the competition. The YF-16 went airborne for the first time on January 20th, 1974 and differentiated from the Northrop design by its single-engine approach (the YF-17 utilized two in a side-by-side arrangement). After a year of evaluations, the USAF formally selected the YF-16 as its LWF winner and production mounts took on the finalized F-16 designation, earning itself the nickname of "Fighting Falcon" (the YF-17 eventually evolved to be selected as the U.S. Navy's F/A-18 "Hornet" in another subsequent program).
After the USAF arranged for production to begin in 1975, the aircraft was also taken on by European parties aligned with American interests. This included the likes of Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway who agreed on localized production of the type. The first production-quality F-16 went airborne for the first time in 1978 marking the start of a now-storied aviation career.
At the time of its inception, the F-16 became the first production-quality military fighter to feature Fly-By-Wire (FBW) controlling. This was coupled to a "relaxed" airframe design to allow for maximum effort from the onboard digital processing scheme and improved responsiveness considerably.
Externally, the F-16 became a well-contoured, streamlined aircraft with extensive blending used in the wings and fuselage. The pilot sat in a cockpit that was well-forward in the fuselage length, given a very commanding view of the surrounding area through a large, unobstructed canopy. The cockpit included a HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle And Stick) configuration (sidestick controller) for piloting efficiency as well as a noticeably-reclined (30-degrees) ejection seat. The nose cone housed the radar system which was coupled to in-flight systems and the weapon stores. The main wing appendages were swept along their leading edges and each wingtip supported an AIM-9 "Sidewinder" short-range air-to-air missile. The empennage consisted of a single vertical tail fin and a pair of horizontal planes. Ventral strakes were noted under the tail unit. The engine was buried deep within the fuselage and aspirated through an oblong air intake found under the cockpit and exhausted through a single ring at the base of the tail rudder. Each main wing supported multiple ordnance hardpoints with the inboard most plumbed for fuel stores. There also proved a centerline hardpoint, also plumbed, which helped to grant the aircraft considerably increased operating ranges. The undercarriage rather narrow-track in its arrangement and all-centralized around the belly. The undercarriage consisted of three single-wheeled legs with two main legs under center mass and a nose leg just aft and under the cockpit.
Armament-wise, the F-16 was granted a 20mm M61 Vulcan 6-barreled Gatling-type internal cannon for close-in work. Beyond its typical wingtip missile armament, the aircraft eventually supported medium-range air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, precision-guided munitions and conventional drop ordnance (cluster bombs, general purpose bombs, runway denial weapons, etc...).
All told, the F-16 has evolved to become a proven, multi-faceted war machine which enables it undertake a plethora of mission types - from interception to patrol and general strike to anti-radar. Foreign buyers have also added localized ordnance options to the existing F-16 armament suite for a more customized approach to war. Beyond the given armament options, the F-16 also supports mission-specific equipment such as Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) pods, targeting pods, sensor pods and chaff/flare dispenser pods. The original radar was the Westinghouse (Northrop Grumman) APG-66 series.