The F-16 Fighting Falcon

To mark the launch of the Peregrine pilot watch, named after the Peregrine falcon, I thought it would be fitting to write an article about the F-16 Falcon fighter jet.

As mentioned in my Draken Origins series, I had an acute fascination with fighter jets growing up. The F-14 Tomcat was my favourite with its sweeping back wings, but the F-16 was a close second in my opinion. It is a much smaller, agile fighter, with some incredible abilities, and thus became an excellent all-weather, multi-role fighter that is now the most popular fighter jet in the world.

The F-16 development stemmed from a new way of measuring the performance of an aircraft using the  Energy-maneuverability theory. In the 1960s a group of vocal pilots and mathematicians were pushing for a more efficient, affordable fighter jet, and so the seed was sown to develop a new kind of fighter.

The f-16, developed by General Dynamics, was first introduced in 1974 and is still in production today by Lockheed Martin. In fact, the US has just authorised the training of Ukrainian Air Force pilots to fly the F-16, proving that it is still a very relevant. It is the first fighter plane to use a ‘fly-by-wire’ control system, meaning that instead of cables and direct hydraulics, the F-16 uses servos wired to a computer system to transmit the pilot’s inputs to the plane’s control surfaces. This made the jet way more responsive and maneuverable, requiring pilots to learn a whole new way of testing and flying. Its design meant that it could withstand many more G-forces than its pilots (9 G’s with a max load of internal fuel), so it upped the ante for pilots forcing them to train harder and withstand more.

The F-16’s first flight was actually not meant to be a flight but rather a high-speed taxi test, but due to the new fly-by-wire system and the exaggerated inputs measured electronically, the plane took off! Rather than risking crashing the newly created prototype, pilot Phil Oestricher took off, did a quick flight, and then landed the plane safely. The actual first flight of the F-16 was recorded on the 2nd of Feb, 1974, just over 50 years ago!

Along with the US, the first four countries to adopt the F-16 Fighting Falcon were Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Norway. It was at the Paris Air Show on June 7, 1975, that these European partners signed up for a total of 348 aircraft, becoming what was known as the European Participating Air Forces group (EPAF). Today the F-16 serves 25 countries.

The f-16 has seen constant evolution over those 50 years, with upgrades made to the avionics systems and radar capabilities. The Block 70 version in current production also called the F-16V, incorporates new mission computers APG-83 AESA radar and cockpit with three multi-function screens, in addition to other upgrades.

The first version F-16 cockpit vs the current version F-16V (Block 70)

To date, more than 4600 F-16s have been produced, with currently 2184 still in active service. Some of these planes are seeing an interesting second life, being adopted as drone fighters by the USAF. These are being designated QF-16, and are mainly used as targets. The idea is that weapons manufacturers can get more accurate tests, creating real-world scenarios with a highly agile and capable fighter jet. These weapons would then be used themselves by current production F-16s.

A QF-16 drone fighter

Ever dreamed of owning your own F-16 and living the Top Gun life? Don’t get too excited. The US government has to sign off on any resales of F-16 fighters. That being said, a Canadian civilian firm called Top Aces was recently allowed to procure some F-16s from the Israeli Air Force, flying them in adversary roles against Air Forces for training purposes. Coincidentally, there is another well know adversiarry dog-fighting company called Draken International which also purchased F-16s from the Netherlands and Norway. Check out this video of a dogfighting flight by a couple of pilots at Top Aces:

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this article. If you would like to see more posts like this, please leave a comment below!

Kia kaha






  1. Andrew JK Tan

    An awesome article Mike & just like you my fav is still the F-14 Tomcat.
    Keep up the great work

    Cheers, Andrew (greetings from Singapore)

    1. Yep. It’s pretty old now as shown in the latest Top Gun movie, but still has a lot of charm.

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