F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter

Genesis of the successful F-16 fighter/attack aircraft lies in reaction to severe deficiencies in US fighter design revealed by the Vietnam War.

Following the success of the small, highly maneuverable F-86 day fighter in the Korean War, US fighter design changed to emphasize maximum speed, altitude, and radar capability at the expense of maneuverability, pilot vision, and other attributes needed for close combat.



This trend reached its extremity in the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, which was the principal fighter for both the US Air Force and Navy during the latter part of the Vietnam War.

The F-4 was originally designed as an interceptor for defense of the fleet against air attack - a mission neither it nor any other jet has ever executed, because no US fleet has come under air attack since the beginning of the jet age.

  Related Aircraft:
Chinese J15, Chinese J20,
F-35 JSF, F/A-18E/F, EA-18G

Be that as it may, the F-4 interceptor was designed to meet the fleet defense mission by using rapid climb to high altitude, high supersonic speed, and radar-guided missiles to shoot down threat aircraft at long distance.


Used as a fighter rather than as an interceptor in Vietnam, the F-4 was severely miscast. Against very inferior North Vietnamese pilots flying small, highly maneuverable MiG-21s, the air-to-air kill ratio sometimes dropped as low as 2 to 1, where it had been 13 to 1 in Korea. As the Vietnam War drew to a close, it was generally agreed that the F-4 had prohibitive deficiencies including:

LARGENESS. F-4 pilots to frequently found themselves fighting at separation distances at which they could not see the smaller MiG-21s, but the MiG-21 pilots could see them.
POOR PILOT VISION. In order to minimize high-speed drag, the F-4, and all combat aircraft before the F-14, does not have a bubble canopy. It is designed for a pilot to look straight ahead. Vision down and to the sides is poor; vision to the rear is nonexistent.
MANEUVERABILITY. While the F-4 can pull 7G in turns, which was acceptable for that time, it can only do so by rapidly bleeding off energy (losing speed and/or altitude).
TRANSIENT PERFORMANCE. Ability of the F-4 to change its maneuver (that is, to roll rapidly while pulling high Gs) was poor.
COST. The large F-4 was an expensive aircraft to procure and maintain. This meant that, compared to the MiG-21, fewer aircraft could be bought with a given budget.
NO GUN. The F-4 was designed without a gun, and was thus not capable of very close combat.
COMBAT PERSISTENCE. While the ferry range of the F-4 was acceptable, its ability to engage in sustained hard maneuvering without running out of fuel was a significant problem.
These various sacrifices were rationalized by the belief that visual dogfighting was obsolete, and that in the supersonic age, air combat would be fought beyond visual range (BVR) using radar-guided missiles. This concept failed in Vietnam for two reasons: First, radar could detect and track aircraft but not identify them. Operating beyond visual range created an unacceptable risk of shooting down one's own aircraft. Pilots were therefore required to close to visually identify the target before shooting; this eliminated the theoretical range advantage of radar-guided missiles. Second, the performance of the Sparrow radar-guided missile in Vietnam was poor, generally yielding less than 10% kill per shot.

Dissatisfaction with these deficiencies led to the US Air Force F-15 and US Navy F-14 designs. On this page we discuss only the Air Force programs.

The original F-15 had excellent pilot vision, including being able to see 360 degrees in the horizontal plane. It had strong high-speed maneuverability and a 20mm cannon. In addition to rectifying some of the F-4's deficiencies, it could fly higher and faster than the F-4, and had dramatically better climb and acceleration.

It also had a powerful radar with advanced look-down shoot-down capability, and relied on the Sparrow missile as its principal weapon.

Nevertheless, an informal but influential group called the "Fighter Mafia" objected to the F-15 as moving in the wrong direction. (The most prominent Fighter Mafia spokesmen were systems analyst Pierre Sprey, test pilot Charles E. Meyers, and legendary fighter pilot John Boyd.)

The F-15, the Fighter Mafia objected, was even larger and more expensive than the F-4. Much of that money went into creating high maximum speed (Mach 2.5) and altitude (65,000 feet) and to serving as a launcher, under BVR conditions which couldn't be used in real combat,. for the Sparrow missile which didn't work While recognizing that the F-15 had phenomenal supersonic climb and maneuverability (it could sustain 6Gs at Mach 1.6), at such speeds it could not fight because its turn radius was so large that it could not keep the enemy in sight.

What the Air Force needed, the Mafia argued, was a successor to the WWII P-51 Mustang and the Korean War F-86 Saber: an all-new small fighter that would be cheap enough to buy in large numbers. (The F-104 was not considered a predecessor aircraft because, while it had excellent climb and acceleration, its wings were too small, leaving it deficient in range and maneuverability.) The new fighter would have revolutionary maneuverability, transient performance, acceleration, and climb at the subsonic and transonic speeds at which air combat is actually fought. It would have a gun and its primary armament would be the infra-red guided Sidewinder missile that had proven highly effective in Vietnam.

While Sidewinder's range was limited to about three miles, the Mafia argued that air combat beyond that range was fantasy in any case. Some members of the Mafia even suggested that the ideal small fighter would have no radar at all, although this was a minority view.

F-16XL test plane


In any case, the Air Force establishment wanted no part of a new small fighter, with or without radar. It was regarded as a threat to the F-15, which was USAF's highest priority program. But the Fighter Mafia gained considerable resonance in Congress and within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In 1971 Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard began a Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program to explore the concept.

The LWF was to be about 20,000 pounds, or half the weight of the F-15, and was to stress low cost, small size, and very high performance at speed below Mach 1.6 and altitude below 40,000 feet. Two competing designs would be chosen for prototyping.

Industry recognized, correctly, that regardless of USAF hostility, LWF variants had great potential for profitable foreign military sales, including replacing the F-104. Single-engine designs were put forward by Boeing, General Dynamics, LTV, Northrop, and Rockwell. Northrop also proposed on a twin-engine design, in effect using Air Force money to develop a replacement for its F-5 export fighter.

The Boeing and General Dynamics designs were the clear leaders from the beginning, with the Northrop twin-engine design clearly the weakest of the six.

But midway through this stage of the competition, some potential foreign buyers expressed concern over buying a new single-engine fighter. The previous single-engine supersonic export fighter, the F-104, had a troublesome safety record that some buyers were disinclined to repeat.

USAF, therefore, decided that one of the two down-selectees had to have two engines. Since the last-place Northrop design was the only twin-engine contender, it became a down-selection winner by default.

When the General Dynamics design was chosen the other selectee on merit, Boeing was no doubt a bit miffed that its loss was caused by USAF changing the rules in mid-competition. But it did not protest the decision.

Of the two surviving designs, now designated the General Dynamics YF-16 and the Northrop YF-17., the YF-17 was a relatively conventional design, to some extent an outgrowth of the F-5, while the YF-16 was an all-new design incorporating highly innovative technologies that in many respects reached beyond those of the more expensive F-15.


F-16F (Block 60) built for the AIr Force of the UAE, seen on its first flight. This two-seater version is now designated F-16F
F-16F (Block 60) built for the Air Force of the UAE, seen on its first flight. This two-seater version is now designated F-16F.

Lockheed Martin’s F-16 was known as “the workhorse of Desert Storm” and its combat-proven tradition continued in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, with close to 4,000 sorties flown in continuous, all-weather operations. The production lines of this versatile strike fighter revived since the turn of the century, with new production orders for 344 aircraft and modernization and upgrading contracts for many more, that position this air combat veteran at the leading edge of air warfare. Firm orders will provide production line work until at least 2008, with anticipated new orders and deliveries lasting through 2011.

The latest Fighting Falcons rolling off the Lockheed Martin's production line in Fort Worth, Texas, are advanced Block 50/52 and lately, Block 60 versions. These production series represent the largest configuration change in the F-16 history, offering additional fuel and payload capacity, new or improved avionics and sensors, color cockpit displays with enhanced pilot/vehicle interfaces. Nine countries have already ordered Advanced Block 50/52/60 F-16s, including the USA, Greece, Israel, UAE, Chile and Poland, The lead customer for Block 52 was the Hellenic Air Force which will receive all its 50 new F-16s in 2004. 30 additional aircraft, plus options for 10 were ordered by the Greek government In December 2005, with deliveries scheduled for 2009. The Israeli Air Force will receive its first F-16Is in February 2004 and the last of the 102 aircraft is scheduled for delivery by 2008. The lead customer for 80 Block 60 aircraft was the Air Force of the United Arab Emirates which is also in production for initial deliveries in 2004.

Advanced versions of the Block 50/52 F-16s are difficult to tell from previous F-16s, as most changes are internal. However, the two-seat models of the Advanced Block 50/52 and Block 60 are equipped with a dorsal avionics compartment that accommodates all of the systems of the single-seat model as well as some special mission equipment and additional chaff/flare dispensers. Most aircraft are procured wit Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT) for extended range and mission endurance. The rear cockpit can be configured for either a weapon system operator or an instructor pilot and can be converted with a single switch in the cockpit.

Advanced Engines
Advanced Block 50/52 aircraft have a common engine bay that allows customers a choice of engines in the 29,000-pound thrust class. The Block 50s and are powered by the General Electric F110-GE-129 and have the Modular Common Inlet Duct (known as the large mouth inlet). Block 60 aircraft (for the UAE) are fitted with GE F-110-GE-132 engine, a derivative of the F-110-GE-129 that is rated at 32,500 pounds of thrust. The Block 52s are powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 Improved performance Engine (IPE) which also has 29,000 pounds of thrust. The engine is configured with the Normal Shock Inlet (also known as the small mouth inlet). The aircraft is also equipped with an on-board oxygen-generating system replaces the liquid oxygen system of earlier versions to provide breathable air to the pilot. The system improves mission rate, maintainability, deployment flexibility and safety.

Targeting and Weapon Systems
For air/air missions, the aircraft is equipped with medium range missiles such as the AIM-120A AMRAAM. For close range combat, the aircraft can support the AIM-9X, IRIS-T, Python 4 and Python 5. The aircraft also retains the capability to use the six barrel 20mm Gatling gun. Block 52 configurations are also equipped with an advanced version of the APG-68 radar - the (V)9, while F-16E/F is fitted with the new APG-80 Active Electronic Scanning Array (AESA) system. These new radars have improved performance, higher processing speed and memory capacities and improved high-resolution synthetic aperture radar mode which allows the pilot to locate and recognize tactical ground targets from considerable distances. In conjunction with inertial aided weapons, the advanced F-16 gains an enhanced capability for all-weather precision strike from standoff distances. Modern F-16s of the advanced Block 50/52 can accommodate various targeting systems, including the Lockheed Martin Sniper XR/Pantera, and Northrop Grumman/RAFAEL Litening. These pods are used for target identification, acquisition and designation for smart, GPS guided munitions or laser guided bombs such as GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), SPICE guided weapon, and CBU-103/104/105 Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD). The later can also be cued by target data provided directly from the radar, in low visibility conditions. On recce missions, advanced F-16s can also carry autonomous reconnaissance pods on the centerline, on intelligence gathering penetration or standoff sorties.

Navigation Systems
A navigation pod, such as LANTIRN/Pathfinder and digital terrain models are contributing to a safe, accurate low level flight. The aircraft is also equipped with various navigation systems such as tactical air navigation (TACAN), VHF omnidirectional receiver (VOR), distance measuring equipment (DME), and instrument landing system. An integrated precision navigation suite consisting of a ring laser gyro inertial navigation system (INS), global positioning system (GPS), and digital terrain system (DTS) are also standard.

Cockpit Configurations
View of the cockpit of the F-16E/F (Block 60)The standard configuration of an Advanced Block 50/52 cockpit features helmet-mounted cueing system, which allows the pilot to direct sensors or weapons to his line of sight or to help him find a designated target. Head-Up Display and several color multifunction displays and advanced recording and data-transfer equipment is used to reduce pilot workload in every phase of the mission. The cockpit is compatible with night vision goggles. A common configuration includes multi-channel VHF/UHF/HF/Data communications, satellite communication and tactical data link systems (such as the NATO-standard Link 16), in addition. Link 16 provides secure, jam-resistant, high-volume data exchange on a multi-node network. Also standard is the combined friend from foe interrogator/ transponder, which permits autonomous identification to maximize launch ranges of radar-guided air-to-air missiles at distances beyond visual range (BVR).


J-20 J-15 J-10 J-10B J-31 J-11 J-11B Su-27 fighter china WZ-10 Xianglong UAV
J-20 J-15 J-10B J-31 J-11 WZ-10 Xianglong UAV

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