Military Aviation

USAF Fighter Pilot explains why an F-16 Viper is more comfortable than a commercial airplane for long-haul flights

‘In an F-16 Viper, while flying the rudder pedals are unnecessary, so they can be adjusted as far back as my legs will reach, meaning that I can stretch my legs all the way out. Good luck doing that on a commercial airplane,’ Rick Scheff, USAF F-16 Viper pilot.

They fly supersonic jets, drop explosive ordnance, and wear awesome sunglasses: everybody knows fighter pilots are pretty cool. But, as told by Task & Purpose, pilots are human too, and sometimes flying a fighter jet is less like Ace Combat 7 and more like a long road trip at 30,000 feet.

Unlike a long car ride, there are no rest stops to stretch and get a Big Mac.

So, how uncomfortable do you get flying in a fighter jet for long periods?

‘Modern fighters really aren’t that bad,’ says Rick Scheff, US Air Force (USAF) F-16 Viper pilot, on Quora.

‘I’m going to fly one ~2500 miles (Shaw SC to Las Vegas) tomorrow morning and I’m looking forward to it. They’re certainly nicer than flying commercial.

‘While the space down next to the seat isn’t super plentiful, you’ll notice that once the canopy is closed there’s plenty of space behind and around to toss stuff. The worst part of long trips in an F-16 is actually getting strapped in and started with all the stuff, after that it’s easy.

‘Once the jet is running and the canopy is closed I throw a bag with snacks and electronics behind the seat so I can reach back and grab things. I also put a camelbak bladder in the bag with the nozzle out the top so I have water whenever. There’s a shelf looking thing back there so that leaves the space around my arms and legs clear, just like a regular, short, daily training mission.’

Scheff continues;

‘For sitting position, the F-16 seat is reclined 30 degrees, so you can lean back and relax while flying. Additionally, the rudder pedals are unnecessary, so they can be adjusted as far back as my legs will reach, meaning that not only am I reclined, I can stretch my legs all the way out. Good luck doing that on a commercial airplane, even in first class. Additionally, the F-16 seat really only has a lap belt. There are two shoulder straps, but they’re there primarily to attach you to the parachute if you eject, not keep you in the seat, so they’re loose and don’t interfere with motion. The F-16 has no leg restraints.

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‘The next great thing about the F-16 is that the climate control actually works pretty well. There’s a vent right in front of the pilot, and the control panel can be set to either automatically maintain a certain temperature, or just continuously blow air that can range from “hot” to “cold” just like a car’s temperature knob. The hot and cold are obviously limited to reasonable values, but sitting on top of a jet engine flying through sub-zero air there’s no problem getting very hot or very cold air to come out.

‘As far as personal needs go, you can literally just urinate in a bag without even getting up, and then toss the bag back behind you. That’s infinitely more convenient than getting up, crawling across your seatmate, waiting in line, and then navigating a tiny commercial airplane bathroom. There’s also no fasten seatbelt sign or any other restrictions on when or how, you can go.

‘When I fly I wear custom molded earpieces which can be plugged into the helmet for comfortable and easy radio communication, or a phone for music. Between them and the helmet’s built in ear protection the volume in the cockpit is actually surprisingly civilized. It’s certainly quieter than a normal car down the road at highway speeds. For the rest of the personal equipment, flight suits are actually very comfortable, and there’s no reason to tighten down a G-suit on a long flight, so that isn’t a factor either.’

Scheff concludes;

‘All that actual comfort comes in addition to the fact that the convenience is unmatched. Tomorrow morning I’m literally going to walk out of the door of my “office”, put my bag in the travel pod hanging under the wing, start the jet, and go. No TSA, no security, no ticketing, no boarding group, no fighting for space, no restrictions on liquids or weapons or snacks or shampoo or whatever else I want to fly with. Then I’m going to land at Nellis AFB, where I’m going for my work trip, hop out, and be done. No baggage claim, no uber, no traffic, no nonsense.

‘Leaving aside the whole miserable 3 year process of becoming a fast jet pilot for a second, I’d actually say that flying fighters around the world is one of my most comfortable and convenient ways to travel!’

Photo credit: 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.

View Comments

  • Fun stuff! I think most folks reading this article would also gladly fly an F-16 instead of commercial-economy anytime (so long as they too didn't have to pay the $22,000 per hour F-16 operating cost....)

  • As a maintenance engineer I am hopeful that he isn't "tossing" items behind him, placing yes, tossing no. Even though there is no TSA, USAF members are still restricted as to bringing weapons into an USAF installation during non-combat operations. I know it may sound odd, but for at least a few years after it's operational beginning the F-16As we're described as having poor or non-existent auto-pilots. Apparently with all the military avionics, it wasn't considered important. Has that changed with the latest F-16 versions?

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