F-16 Fighting Falcon
F-16 Fighting Falcon
The Air Force, on January 6, 1972, issued a Request For Proposals for a lightweight, low-cost, highly maneuverable fighter with Mach 2 speed capability and about 20,000-pounds normal gross weight. Costs per unit should be about three million in then-dollars, because the big disadvantage of the F-14/15 types was that they were too expensive to fill out all the squadrons needed for defense commitments.
Five companies responding by February 18, included Boeing, Lockheed and Vought, but General Dynamics and Northrop were awarded contracts on April 13, 1972 for two YF-16 and two YF-17 prototypes. The first YF-16 was flown inside a C-5A transport from Fort Worth to Edwards AFB, where the first planned flight was made February 4, 1974, by Phil Oestricher and the second prototype’s tests began May 9. During 330 flights that year in competition with the YF-17, the YF-16 demonstrated a top speed over Mach 2 (1320 mph at 40,000 feet) a climb to 62,000 ft., and a 2 hour, 55 minute flight without refueling. Armament consisted of a 20-mm M61Al in the left side of the fuselage behind the cockpit and an AIM-9 Sidewinder on each wingtip.
On January 13, 1975, the Air Force announced the F-16 was chosen for production that would begin with an April 9 development contract for six single-seat YF-16As and two two-seat YF-16Bs. Both competitors, said Air Force Secretary John L. Lucas, performed well, but the YF-16 had lower drag and excelled in agility, turn rate and endurance. One advantage was having the same F100-PW-100 engine used in the F-15. The simplicity of one pilot and one engine was attractive to Air Force hopes for easier maintenance, and reduced final costs per mission to half those of twin-engine rivals.
The YF-16A first flown December 8, 1976, while the two-place TF-16B trainer first flown August 9, 1977, kept the same weapons capabilities, but had a smaller fuel capacity. A larger nose for APG-65 radar and six pylons under modified wings distinguished them from the original YF-16 prototypes.
While the YF-16A was not as fast as an F-4 or Mig-21, it did claim to have three times the combat radius on internal fuel, better acceleration and turn rates, and instantaneous maneuverability. Wing-body blending and variable wing camber were featured, while the structure included 78.3% aluminum, 10.3% steel, and only 1.6% expensive titanium.
The fly-by-wire control system allowed relaxed stability and maneuver adjustment by computer, an element continually improved during the aircraft’s life cycle. A clear canopy provided excellent visibility and a 30-degree inclined seat increased pilot “G” tolerance. An inflight refueling receptacle was standard.
Average flyaway costs were projected in 1975 as less than five million then-dollars, or less than half that of its twin-engine rivals. These hopes led the Air Force to announce plans in January 1977 to increase its F-16 program to 1,388 aircraft, so TAC could have ten active wings, plus Air Force Reserve squadrons and attrition replacements.
The first F-16A flew on August 7, 1978, and was introduced to TAC service in January 1979 at Hill AFB, Utah, by the 388th TFW, which included a fourth squadron for training foreign pilots. Next, F-16s for the 56th TFW began arriving MacDill AFB on October 22, 1979. Fighting Falcon became the official USAF name on July 21, 1980.
Unsuccessful efforts were made to extend F-16 sales appeal. A cheaper 18,370-pound thrust General Electric J79-GE-17X was flight tested on the second F-16B on October 29, 1980, but no customers responded. No more success was experienced when the first YF-16A flew with a 29,000-pound thrust General Electric F101X on December 19. An advanced F-16XL version with a new wing and more fuel was flown on July 3, 1982, but won no new orders and wound up with NASA in 1989 with three other F-16 technology demonstrators. Fortunately, orders for standard F-16s continued.
While production of over 4,000 aircraft in 25 years made little change in their outside appearance, the Block number series tracked frequent upgrades of equipment. Production deliveries began with 94 F-16A Block 1 and 197 Block 5 aircraft for TAC and NATO. Block 10 with 312 aircraft followed, and earlier models were upgraded to that standard in 1982.
Larger horizontal tails and AIM-7 Sparrow missiles distinguished the most numerous F-16A Block 15, with 983 produced, beginning in November 1981, and ending in February 1996 with six for Thailand. To the M61Al behind the cockpit with 512 20-mm rounds, and two AIM-9L Sidewinders on the wingtips, were added AIM-120 missiles directed by an upgraded computer. Westinghouse APG-66 radar fire control weighed only 290 pounds (less than 1/4th that of an F-14’s radar), but provided all-weather target detection and tracking, and a threat warning radar antenna was placed on the tail fin. Mach 2.05 was the control speed limit.
External stores for the air-to-ground mission held two 2,000-pound Mk 84 or six 500-pound Mk 82 bombs, two 370-gallon drop tanks, and an ALQ-119 ECM pod. Up to 15,200 pounds of other stores could be lifted for short distances on the seven stations, including a centerline station for a 300-gallon tank or B61 nuclear bomb. Four more Sidewinders or four AGM-65A Mavericks could be carried.
USAF deliveries amounted to 620 F-16As and 122 F-16Bs by 1984. In 1989, 279 Block 15 F-16As were converted to an air defense configuration for the ANG squadrons by adding APG-66A radar, an APX interrogator, and a spotlight.