F-16 Fighting Falcon

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Positioned as a lower-cost alternative to the F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter-bomber, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, more commonly called the Viper by its pilots, is a multirole fighter used the United States Air Force and a large number of foreign militaries. In the system of fighter generations, it is usually considered fourth generation.

The F-16 was built under an unusual agreement creating a consortium between the United States and four NATO countries: Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. These countries jointly produced with the United States an initial 348 F-16s for their air forces. Final airframe assembly lines were located in Belgium and the Netherlands. The consortium's F-16s are assembled from components manufactured in all five countries. Belgium also provides final assembly of the F100 engine used in the European F-16s. Recently, Portugal joined the consortium. The long-term benefits of this program will be technology transfer among the nations producing the F-16, and a common-use aircraft for NATO nations. This program increases the supply and availability of repair parts in Europe and improves the F-16's combat readiness.[1] A number of other countries operate the F-16.

In the United States Navy, the now-retired F-14 Tomcat was the "high" end of the mix. F-18 Hornets are carrier-based aircraft that has a "low" role comparable to the F-16; the F-18E/F Super Hornet is more generation 4.5. The Soviet/Russian MiG-29 has a roughly comparable role to the F-16 and F-18; there is a carrier-capable MiG-29K. F-16's do not have the range of the F-15, but routinely use air refueling.

The F-16 is due to be replaced by the F-35A Lightning II, the Air Force version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Just as the F-16 is teamed with the F-15, the F-35 will team with the F-22 Raptor.


In John Boyd's concept of a high/low mix of fighters, the F-16 took the low role, with a strong ground attack capability, but also having its maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter. In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.


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 the first operational aircraft intentionally designed to have a negative static margin. Pilots call some aircraft — the F-16 is not one of them — "forgiving", in that they tend to stabilize themselves if nearly out of control. Without computer assistance, the F-16 and later unstable fighters are absolutely unforgiving. Item one on the checklist for "all of the multiple flight control computers have failed" is eject. There is no step 2. With a flight control system, the pilot is relieved of much of the workload of keeping the aircraft under control, but, when extreme maneuvers are required, the instability becomes an advantage. [2]

Human factors

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.


It was assumed the aircraft electronics (avionics) would constantly be updated, so the aircraft has a MIL-STD-1553 data bus architecture for networking sensors and computers. This was upgraded to MIL-STD-1760 in the Block 50/52 latest production versions of the F-16C/D.

The latest Block 50/52 upgrades, and export production versions, have increased data storage and bandwidth, GPS and ring-laser gyro inertial navigation, the AN/ALR-56M radar warning receiver and AN/ALE electronics countermeasure system, and improved human interface displays.

Replacing the earlier AN/APG-66 radar,[3], the most common is the carries the Westinghouse AN/APG-68, now at revision V(9}, passive electronically scanned array pulse-Doppler radar.[4] The latest versions of this radar have synthetic aperture radar, which can create images of the ground or targets in bad weather or at night.

The latest radar under consideration is the AN/APG-80 AESA Radar, which will go on Block 60 aircraft, including those for the United Arab Emirates.

Overall electronics countermeasures suite control can come from the Danish-originated AN/ALQ-213. Threat detection comes from the AN/AAR-57 Common Missile Warning system. The infrared countermeasures was not limited to flares, but directed energy from the AN/ALQ-157 system.[5] The aircraft has an AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispenser System [CMDS], is a "smart" dispenser that connects directly to infrared and radar warning receivers, release expendable and towed/retrievable decoys, as well as helping the pilot with situational awareness of the threat. Radar jamming is provided by AN/ALQ-131 or AN/ALQ-184 pods; the latter can tow an AN/ALE-50 expendable radar decoy.

The AN/ALQ-178 is an export-only, U.S. made defensive electronic system. Not all coutries qualify to receive all technologies available for it.

Deployment and variants

The F-16A, a single-seat model, first flew in December 1976. The first operational F-16A was delivered in January 1979 to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The F-16B, a two-seat model, has tandem cockpits that are about the same size as the one in the A model. Its bubble canopy extends to cover the second cockpit. To make room for the second cockpit, the forward fuselage fuel tank and avionics growth space were reduced. During training, the forward cockpit is used by a student pilot with an instructor pilot in the rear cockpit.

F-16CJ aircraft are optimized for suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD), and are equipped to fire the AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missile; they carry the AN/ASQ-213 HARM targeting pod.

All F-16s delivered since November 1981 have built-in structural and wiring provisions and systems architecture (e.g., MIL-STD-1553 bus), to allow customizing thefor perform precision strike, night attack and beyond-visual-range interception missions. This improvement program led to the F-16C and F-16D aircraft, which are the single- and two-place counterparts to the F-16A/B, and incorporate the latest cockpit control and display technology. All active units and many Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units have converted to the F-16C/D.

Some nations have built weapons and subsystems for the aircraft. Norway developed the Kongsberg Penguin missile to give it anti-ship capability. Israel provides its own electronic warfare systems.

In current terminology, a change of suffix (e.g., F-16A to F-16C) usually means there have been truly major changes in the design. Sometimes this is political; the F-18E/F Super Hornet is essentially a new airplane, but the Navy did not have to justify the funding of a new aircraft. Within a given model suffix, changes of a magnitude that used to get a new suffix in the U.S. Air Force are called blocks.

The Block 50/52 is the current production version of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. It features the Improved Performance Engines, either the F110-GE-129 for the Block 50 or the F100-PW-229 for the block 52. The F100-PW-229 is lighter and more powerful than earlier F100s, and had been flying at Edwards AFB since mid-1990 in test ship #81-0816. Both engines are rated at 29,000lbs of thrust (129kN).[6]

Israel uses the F-16I variant, which uses some Israeli-built electronics, and is a two-seat fighter-bomber.

Combat record

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. These fighters were used to attack airfields, military production facilities, Scud missiles sites and a variety of other targets.[1]

During Operation Allied Force, USAF F-16 multirole fighters flew a variety of missions to include suppression of enemy air defense, offensive counter air, defensive counter air, close air support and forward air controller missions. Mission results were outstanding as these fighters destroyed radar sites, vehicles, tanks, MiGs and buildings.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the F-16 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 (Homeland Defense), Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom


  • Primary Function: Multirole fighter[1]
  • Contractor: Lockheed Martin Corp.
  • Power Plant: F-16C/D: one Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-200/220/229 or General Electric F110-GE-100/129
  • Thrust: F-16C/D, 27,000 pounds
  • Wingspan: 32 feet, 8 inches (9.8 meters)
  • Length: 49 feet, 5 inches (14.8 meters)
  • Height: 16 feet (4.8 meters)
  • Weight: 19,700 pounds without fuel (8,936 kilograms)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 37,500 pounds (16,875 kilograms)
  • Fuel Capacity: 7,000 pounds internal (3,175 kilograms); typical capacity, 12,000 pounds with two external tanks (5443 kilograms)
  • Payload: Two 2,000-pound bombs, two AIM-9 and 1,040-gallon external tanks
  • Speed: 1,500 mph (Mach 2 at altitude)
  • Range: More than 2,002 miles ferry range (1,740 nautical miles)
  • Ceiling: Above 50,000 feet (15 kilometers)
  • Armament: One M-61A1 20mm multibarrel cannon with 500 rounds; external stations can carry up to six air-to-air missiles, conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions and electronic countermeasure pods
  • Crew: F-16C, one; F-16D, one or two
  • Unit cost: F-16A/B , $14.6 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars); F-16C/D,$18.8 million (fiscal 98 constant dollars)
  • Initial operating capability: F-16A, January 1979; F-16C/D Block 25-32, 1981; F-16C/D Block 40-42, 1989; and F-16C/D Block 50-52, 1994
  • Inventory: Total force, F-16C/D, 1,280


For the Air Force conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) role, the F-16 is to be replaced by the F-35A, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "F-16 Fighting Falcon", Air Force Link
  2. Dryden, Joe Bill (April 1986), "F-16 Aerodynamics", Code One Magazine
  3. The AN/APG-66 Radar
  4. "APG-68(V)9 Radar for Block 50/52 F-16", Defense Update
  5. BaE Systems, AN/ALQ-157(M) infrared countermeasures system.
  6. "F-16C/D Block 50/52", F16.net