It is hard to believe that the F-16, officially named the Fighting Falcon, more popularly known as the Viper, turned 40 this year. When the F-16 was first introduced, it was a revelation, with many new features combined into a single aircraft, like a sidestick controller, seat inclined to 30 degrees to offset g forces, negative stability, and fly-by-wire controls running through a quadruplex flight computer. Originally the F-16 was meant solely as a day fighter for air to air combat, its originators, sometimes known as the “Fighter Mafia,” determined to keep weight down and numbers up, and performance high by dispensing with everything they thought unnecessary, which they called “gold-plating.” Gold-plating included things like a fire control radar, ground-attack capability, electronic countermeasures, or radar-guided missiles. When the production aircraft emerged, however, cooler heads had prevailed, and it had the AN/APG-66 radar and ground-attack capability, although it could only initially fire Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. The F-16 has gone on to four decades of success (and counting) as a multirole fighter that has been the backbone of the U.S. Air Force. It has been procured in several different variants by more than 25 air arms. Updated and upgraded, it remains in production today.
U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons: Early Birds | Photos
Prototypes, F-16A, and F-16B
The roll-out of the YF-16, Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 13, 1973. Lockheed Martin photo The YF-16 prototype, ca. 1974. Lockheed Martin photo A YF-16 flies an aerial refueling mission in March of 1975. Lockheed Martin photo A General Dynamics YF-16 and a Northrop YF-17 side-by-side, armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, during the Air Combat Fighter fly-off. The YF-17, the "loser" of the competition, evolved into the F/A-18 Hornet. R.L. House An F-4 Phantom II aircraft flying in formation with an F-16 Fighting Falcon, April 9, 1976. The F-4 is carrying a tow target on its left wing. U.S. Department of Defense photo The delivery ceremony of the first production F-16 in August 1978. After the prototype and full-scale development (FSD) programs, the first Block 1 F-16 (serial number 78-0001) was flown for the first time and delivered to the Air Force that same month. Lockheed Martin photo The first production Block 1 F-16A, 780001, in flight. The earliest F-16s were easily recognizable by their black radomes. The radomes were repainted gray when a paint that didn't interfere with the radar waves was formulated. Gray radomes were standard from Block 5 onward. DoD photo An F-16 armed with an AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air (AAM) missile on its left wing and an air combat maneuvering instrumentation pod (ACMI) on the right wing, Dec. 1, 1979. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Ken Hackman An overhead view of an F-16A Fighting Falcon aircraft with 600-gallon fuel tanks on the wing pylons and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles on the wingtips, Aug. 28, 1980. This was the first flight of an F-16 with 600-gallon tanks. U.S. Department of Defense photo A front view of two F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft parked on the ramp, Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 19, 1982. General Dynamics photo An F-16A Fighting Falcon aircraft carrying an AIM-9J, left, and AIM-9L/M Sidewinder missile. The aircraft was assigned to the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing. General Dynamics Corp. photo A bottom view of an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft carrying AIM-9J Sidewinder missiles, June 15, 1981. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Master Sgt. Don Sutherland A six-ship delta formation of F-16A Fighting Falcon aircraft in flight. The aircraft were from the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, being deployed to Kunsan Air Base, Korea. General Dynamics photo An F-16 firing an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, March 30, 1981. AMRAAM capability was a big upgrade for the F-16. U.S. Department of Defense photo A right side view of aircraft in flight over the pyramids during exercise Bright Star '82, Nov. 1, 1982. The aircraft are, from front to back: a Mig-21 Fishbed, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Mig-17 Fresco and an A-10 Thunderbolt II. An air-to-air right rear view of an F-16B Fighting Falcon aircraft on the first flight with both the navigation and targeting pods of the LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation, Targeting Infrared, for Night) system installed. The targeting pod is under the right side of the air intake and the navigation pod is on the left. DoD photo Two F-16 Fighting Falcons in flight during exercise Team Spirit '82, March 1, 1982. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Tech Sgt. Michael Harrington An F-16A Block 15 of the Air Force Thunderbirds Flight Demonstration Team flying during the first air show in which the team flew the aircraft. The Thunderbirds used the F-16A from 1983 to 1992, when they converted to F-16Cs. DoD photo by SSGT Bob Simons An F-16 Fighting Falcon with a blue flame pulsing from its engine, silhouetted against the setting sun over MacDill Air Force Base (AFB), Fla., Jan. 6, 1983. At the time, the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing was based at MacDill, before its move to Luke AFB. U.S. Department of Defense photo An F-16A banking over a range. One AIM-9L Sidewinder, one AIM-9J Sidewinder, one 2,000-lb Mark 84 bomb and an auxiliary fuel tank are on each wing. An ALQ-119 electronic countermeasures pod is mounted on the centerline station. The aircraft was assigned to the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing. Note the small horizontal stabilizers of the early aircraft. DoD photo by Ken Hackman