The F-16 was born out of the conundrum experienced by the Air Force in the Vietnam War.

Introduce

The General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon is a single-engine supersonic multirole fighter originally developed by General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) for the United States Air Force. Designed as an air superiority day fighter, it evolved into a successful all-weather multirole aircraft. Over 4,600 aircraft have been built since production was approved in 1976.

Although no longer being purchased by the U.S. Air Force, improved versions are being built for export customers. In 1993, General Dynamics sold its aircraft manufacturing business to the Lockheed Corporation, which in turn became part of Lockheed Martin after a 1995 merger with Martin Marietta.

In designing the F-16, advanced aerospace science and proven reliable systems from other aircraft such as the F-15 and F-111 were selected. These were combined to simplify the airplane and reduce its size, purchase price, maintenance costs and weight. The light weight of the fuselage is achieved without reducing its strength. With a full load of internal fuel, the F-16 can withstand up to nine G’s — nine times the force of gravity – which exceeds the capability of other current fighter aircraft.

The F-16 was born out of the conundrum experienced by the Air Force in the Vietnam War. Fast and heavy F-4 Phantom fighters had underperformed against the North Vietnamese Air Force, due to their immature long-range missile technology and lack of aptitude for tight maneuvering in dogfights. This led a faction known as the Fighter Mafia to argue that Air Force had its design priorities all wrong, and that what was really needed was a relatively cheap, lightweight airframe that maximized energy for short-range dogfights, rather than another heavy twin-engine fighter like the F-15 Eagle that was then under development, which would doubtlessly be over-reliant on defective guided missiles.

F-16 Fighting Falcon
F-16 Fighting Falcon

Design

Externally, the F-16 became a well-contoured, streamlined aircraft with extensive blending used in the wings and fuselage. The cockpit and its bubble canopy give the pilot unobstructed forward and upward vision, and greatly improved vision over the side and to the rear.

The seat-back angle was expanded from the usual 13 degrees to 30 degrees, increasing pilot comfort and gravity force tolerance. The pilot has excellent flight control of the F-16 through its “fly-by-wire” system.

Electrical wires relay commands, replacing the usual cables and linkage controls. For easy and accurate control of the aircraft during high G-force combat maneuvers, a side stick controller is used instead of the conventional center-mounted stick. Hand pressure on the side stick controller sends electrical signals to actuators of flight control surfaces such as ailerons and rudder.

The F-16 has an internal M61 Vulcan cannon and 11 hardpoints for mounting weapons and other mission equipment. The F-16’s official name is “Fighting Falcon”, but “Viper” is commonly used by its pilots and crews, due to a perceived resemblance to a viper snake as well as the Colonial Viper starfighter on Battlestar Galactica which aired around when the F-16 entered service.

Avionics systems

Avionics systems include a highly accurate enhanced global positioning and inertial navigation systems, or EGI, in which computers provide steering information to the pilot. The plane has UHF and VHF radios plus an instrument landing system.

It also has a warning system and modular countermeasure pods to be used against airborne or surface electronic threats. The fuselage has space for additional avionics systems.

The F-16 became the world’s first aircraft to be aerodynamically unstable by design. With a rearward center of gravity, its natural tendency is to nose up rather than down. Level flight is created by the elevator pushing the tail up rather than down, and therefore pushing the entire aircraft up. With the elevator working with the wing rather than against it, wing area, weight, and drag are reduced.

Powerplant

The aircraft is powered by a single engine: the General Electric F110-GE-129 or Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229. The popular F-16C “Block 50” model is powered by a single General Electric F110-GE-100 series afterburning turbofan engine outputting 76.31 kN (17,150lbs) of dry thrust and 131 kN (28,600lbs) of thrust with afterburner.

The aircraft can reach a maximum speed of Mach 2. Ferry range is 4,217 km (2,600 miles) with fuel drop tanks. The airframe can reach a service ceiling of 15,000m (50,000 feet), and Rate of climb of 250 m/s. The fuel supply is equipped with an inert gas anti-fire system. An inflight refuelling probe is installed in the top of the fuselage.

Operators

In addition to active duty in the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserve Command, and Air National Guard units, the aircraft is also used by the USAF aerial demonstration team, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, and as an adversary aircraft by the United States Navy. The F-16 has also been procured to serve in the air forces of 25 other nations.

F-16s have participated in numerous conflicts, most of them in the Middle East. USAF F-16 multirole fighters were deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm, where more sorties were flown than with any other aircraft. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the  F-16 fighting falcon has been a major component of the combat forces committed to the Global War on Terrorism, flying thousands of sorties in support of operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom.

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