Aviation History

US Naval Aviator explains why even according to the famed photo featuring the F-16 vs F-4 Minimum Turn Radius the Viper is the most successful fighter ever built

‘F-16 vs F-4 max performance turn. I once saw this performed live. Stunning,’ David Tussey, former US Navy A-7E Corsair II pilot.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the US and allied nations.

The first operational F-16A was delivered in January 1979 to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

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.

With about 4,600 F-16s delivered to over 25 countries, the Viper is one of the world’s most prolific fighter aircraft. More than 3,000 F-16 fighters are currently operational worldwide.

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F-16 fighter jets were received by a number of countries including Bahrain, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Morocco, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, South Korea, Oman, Chile, and Poland.

For all these reasons as David Tussey, former US Navy A-7E Corsair II pilot, explains on Quora the F-16 is the most successful fighter aircraft ever built.

‘“Successful” can mean many things to different people. My vote is for the General Dynamics F-16 (now Lockheed).

‘Successful because:

1) it set a new bar for aerodynamic performance, an order of magnitude beyond other jet aircraft at the time, and

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2) it enjoyed broad popularity, continual upgrades, and remains the gold standard by which all modern aircraft are judged (“Is it as good as the F-16?”)

‘It’s hard to capture how dramatic the aerodynamic improvements were for the YF-16 (and YF-17). [As the famed photo below shows] The USAF would demonstrate the F-16 alongside an F-4, which was a beast in its own right. The F-16 made it look like the F-4 was a woolly mammoth. And then not only did the USAF buy thousands, but so did dozens of other countries. Huge success. And continual upgrades have kept the F-16 competitive. So yeah…successful.

F-16 vs F-4 max performance turn. I once saw this performed live. Stunning.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Minimum turn radius: F-4 Phantom II (outer) vs F-16 Fighting Falcon (inner)
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.

View Comments

  • They could have elaborated a little more on why this plane was so remarkable. It had brand new technology... Digital flight controls... Quad redundant surface actuators... Artificial stability... All things that cut the weight and the size of the plane boosting its carry weight to GVW ratio, making it stronger and air combat, using a common engine to the f-15 which was a logistics game changer versus its competition, etc. Not only might it be the best fighter ever built, it might be the best plane ever built!

  • As Bart mentioned, New Zealand never recorded the F16s contacted for by the National (right wing) government of the time. Between the contract signing and the delivery, the Labour party (left wing) won the election and came to power, followed by the cancellation of the contract.

    I was a school kid at the time, but from what I remember from the times, the contract was advanced far enough that the cancellation penalties plus the non-refundable purchase payments paid already came to more than actually accepting delivery and just pushing them off the wharf would have cost.

    I believe they were originally built for Pakistan but the sale was cancelled due to US political disgruntlement at Pakistani nuclear tests.

  • Wonder how well the 16 would have faired vis the amount of iron thrown at the F4 over Vietnam?

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