Military Aviation


The F-16 program transformed USAF’s fighter forces

In 1977, the United States Air Force (USAF) announced that the 388th Fighter Wing (FW) would be the first unit to transition to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, now more commonly known as the Viper.

Thirty-eight years ago, the first operational F-16A took to the skies at Hill Air Force Base (AFB).

An early combat-coded F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft in flight.

The first operational F-16A arrived at Hill AFB on Jan. 23, 1979, beginning a service history marked by 40 years of tactical and logistical innovation and nearly constant worldwide deployments in support of training exercises and contingency operations.

The 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) received its first F-16A on Sep. 23, 1979 and by Nov. 18, 1980, all three combat squadrons at Hill AFB, 34th TFS, 4th TFS and 421th TFS, were fully equipped with F-16As.

F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing line an airfield during Operation Desert Shield.

Four months after receiving its 24th aircraft, the ‘Fuujins’ of the 4th TFS declared Full Operational Capability (FOC), becoming the Air Force’s first fully combat ready F-16 squadron.

As arguably the most successful fighter aircraft in history, the Viper evolved multiple times across nearly four decades of service at Hill into an aircraft its developers could scarcely have imagined.

An F-16 aircraft from the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron being armed during Operation Desert Storm.

This is a fitting testament to her capability, but an even more fitting tribute to the 388th FW Airmen who flew and maintained it.

As has always been the case in fact, it is the men and women who served during this time who enabled nearly four decades of F-16 flying and over 25 years of continuous combat operations. These Airmen tirelessly maintained her, lovingly prepared her and her pilots for combat, and flew her into harm’s way.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft returns to the fight after receiving fuel June 10 during a mission over Iraq. The F-16 is assigned to Balad Air Base, Iraq, and is deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

However 2017 will be bitter-sweet for 388th FW: in fact as the unit prepares for the last last combat coded F-16 to depart from Hill for the last time, 388th FW airmen stand ready to repeat history with the new F-35A Lightning II.

Noteworthy the F-16 program transformed USAF’s fighter forces.

Airmen perform a final safety inspection before an F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan for a mission Aug. 20, 2016. The F-16s and the Airmen are deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and are assigned to the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron.

In designing the aircraft in fact, advanced aerospace science and proven reliable systems from other combat planes 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.

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.

An F-16 Viper aircraft from the 4th Fighter Squadron in flight.

All F-16s delivered since Nov. 1981 have built-in structural and wiring provisions and systems architecture that permit expansion of the multirole flexibility to 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.

The 4th Fighter Squadron “Fightin’ Fuujins” flew a “fini” flight May 31, 2016, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

Source: Hill F-16 squadron celebrating 40 years of combat airpower, part 1 and part 2 by Lt. Col. Steven Engberg and Lt. Col. Michael Meyer, 4th Fighter Squadron and 421st Fighter Squadron; Additional source: U.S. Air Force. Photo credit: Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway, Felicia Juenke and R. Nial Bradshaw / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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