Plane of the Week: F-16 Fighter Falcon

Plane of the Week: F-16 Fighter Falcon

By on Jul 20th 2017

The Lightweight Fighter Mafia contributed to the F-16 Fighter Falcon design used today.

As founding members of the Fighter Mafia, John Boyd and Tom Christie did more than attract controversy by advocating for a new US air combat doctrine.

The informal group wanted military reform in one way-do more with less.

Boyd made his mark on the United States Air Force in several ways. He developed the OODA Loop and applied it to the combat operations project. Standing for "observe, orient, decide, act," the concept explained how processing a situation quickly will result in an advantage over an opponent. Areas such as litigation, business, and law enforcement also adopted OODA as a central strategy.

Boyd's other contributions to the military were plenty and did not come single-handedly.

During the Vietnam War, Boyd met Christie at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Together they pursued a new test of aircraft performance known as the Energy Maneuverability Theory, or "EM."

The theory models an aircraft's performance. It states, "an aircraft's energy state and energy rate capabilities are directly related to operational maneuverability and efficiency in terms of energy." The EM theory became the world standard for fighter aircraft design.

A Lightweight Fighter Jet

“You don’t fly an F-16, it flies you.”

Engineers originally designed the F-16 as a lightweight air-to-air day fighter; however, air-to-ground missions changed the jet into multi-role fighters. The Air Force considered the F-16 an affordable alternative to the F-15.

The Fighter Mafia’s design proved to be both simple and unconventional.

General Dynamics engineers, now under Lockheed Martin, transformed the F-16 into one of the most advanced aircraft of that time. The F-16 displayed a smooth blended wing-body and a fly-by-wire system granting improved response time.

An enhanced cockpit provided pilots with a tilted back ejection seat to reduce effect of g-forces on pilot. The side-mounted throttle control stick was a first for fighter jets, and gave pilots an arm rest and more control. Pilots excitedly utilized the bubble canopy because it improved visibility and control. The plane also featured the AN/APG-66 radar and ground-attack capability.

F-16 production peaked in 1987 when Fort Worth manufacturers built 30 planes in 30 days.

Slightly Unstable

The Fighter Falcon is a single-engine, multi-role fighter jet. Engineers designed it to be slightly aerodynamically unstable–formally called relaxed static stability (RSS).

As the F-16 travels faster, stability increases. The plane’s flight control computer (FLCC) incorporates limiters based on altitude, airspeed, and angle-of-attack. The limiters also prevent maneuvers exerting more than a 9 g-force load condition.

A Worldwide Military Sensation

The F-16 took its first flight over 40 years ago and more than 4,500 have been produced.

Today, the jet is still popular internationally. The Fighter Falcon, also called the Viper, carries the same fundamental strength of the original design. 138 configurations have been made to the jet's design and new technology for avionics, sensors, and weapons has been implemented.

Evolution over the past 40 years include increased range, infrared laser targeting devices, advanced warfare sensors, and improved data-links.

Consumers and the military are attracted to the aircraft because it is affordable and relatively easy to service, with 80% of panels reachable from the ground. It also utilizes vortex lift at high angles-of-attack. The fuselage flares out ahead of the wing to create lift.

The F-16 Fighter Falcon will be in service beyond 2030.


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