The F-16: Then and Now

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Forty years and more than 4,500 planes later, the F-16 continues to build upon the fundamental strengths of its original design. With four decades of technological advancements and 138 different configurations, the famed F-16 fighter continues its reign as the world’s most successful 4th Generation multi-role fighter aircraft. There is, however, one thing that has remained constant over the years – the ongoing debate over the F-16’s real name.

Some call it the ‘Viper.’ Others refer to it as the ‘Fighting Falcon.’ And, although they are both a fundamental part of the F-16’s iconic history, there is really only one nickname that stuck.

To dispel the rumors, the ‘Fighting Falcon’ is the official name granted by the Tactical Air Command (now the Air Combat Command). However, the name never really caught on, and the F-16 is more commonly referred to as the ‘Viper’ among pilots and maintainers.

For the first time in 2012, the well-known ‘Viper’ nickname became an official part of the F-16 program as the designation for the aircraft’s latest configuration – the F-16V.

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In the simplest terms, the F-16V, or Viper, represents the next step in the evolution of the F-16. With new enhancements, including an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, an upgraded mission computer and architecture, and improvements to the cockpit, the F-16V configuration is an innovative solution for new jets and affordable retrofits for most earlier-model F-16s.

To understand how the Fighting Falcon has evolved over the past 40 years, we are taking a look back at how it all started:

Then:

The brainchild of a notorious group of engineers and defense analysts known as the Lightweight Fighter Mafia, the F-16 was originally conceived in the early 1970s as a lightweight air-to-air day fighter. Their goal was to create a simpler and smaller alternative to the heavy and unmaneuverable fighter aircraft of the time. Their ideas challenged what everyone thought a fighter should look like and how it should fly.

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Their unconventional designs were then translated by the engineers at our Fort Worth, Texas, plant (at the time General Dynamics) into the most advanced combat aircraft of the time. And, it took a village. The F-16 production team was truly remarkable, meeting every challenge and production schedule. The result:

  • A smooth blended-wing body with extra lift and control
  • A critical fly-by-wire system that kept the design stable, improved response time and increased its agility
  • An enhanced cockpit – including a tilted back ejection seat, side-mounted throttle and control stick, head-up display, and bubble canopy – improved pilot survivability, visibility and control.
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The F-16 has made history since it first rolled onto the flight line. In fact, the original F-16 prototype, or YF-16, was the first to combine all of these advanced technologies into one aircraft.

YF-16 Test Pilot Jim Rider described his favorite part of the YF-16 when it was first introduced: “It had the most remarkable bubble canopy – you could actually see,” he said. “It was like being out on the edge of a pole in a big clear bubble.”

And, at its peak in 1987, the F-16 production team in Fort Worth was also making history – producing 30 F-16s in just 30 days. These rapid fire deliveries are a testament to the teamwork and dedication that F-16 employees have shown across two generations and the past four decades. 

Now:

Today’s Fighting Falcon is the cumulative result of the F-16 pilots’ combat experience and customer needs, all built on the fundamental strengths of the original Fighting Falcon design.

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With 138 configurations to date, the F-16 has evolved from its prototype design to become the advanced 4th Generation fighter of choice for 28 customers worldwide. By consistently improving and incorporating new technologies into the cockpit, avionics, sensors and weapons, the aircraft has become more reliable, more maintainable and more supportable.

Some of the F-16’s evolutions over the past four decades include:

  • Increase in range and payload 
  • Infrared sensors and laser targeting devices
  • Enhanced survivability with more advanced warfare sensors and sophisticated decoys
  • Increased engine thrust to retain aerodynamic performance
  • Conformal fuel tanks
  • All-glass cockpits with large color displays, hands-on throttle and sidestick switch controls, night vision goggle-compatible lighting, a color moving map, and a large head-up display
  • Improved Datalinks, satellite phones and helmet-mounted cueing systems
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The new Viper configuration provides additional features as part of an upgrade package that satisfy the customers’ emerging requirements and better prepare the F-16s to interoperate with 5th generation fighters, such as the F-35 and the F-22, including:

  • An active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar
  • Upgraded mission computer and architecture
  • Updated avionics systems  
  • Embedded global positioning system
  • Upgraded electronic warfare equipment

For more on the full F-16 evolution, visit the Code One website.

February 2, 2014

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highlights
  • Forty years and more than 4,500 planes later, the F-16 continues to build upon the fundamental strengths of its original design.
  • With four decades of technological advancements and 138 different configurations, the famed F-16 fighter continues its reign as the world’s most successful 4th Generation multi-role fighter aircraft.
  • The F-16V, or Viper, represents the next step in the evolution of the F-16. With new enhancements, including an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, an upgraded mission computer and architecture, and improvements to the cockpit.

F-16 Told by Vipers

Employees discuss the legacy of the F-16