Origins of the Apex predators of the Sky

The original F-16 was designed as a lightweight air-to-air day fighter. Air-to-ground missions immediately transformed the first production F-16s into multirole fighters.

The F-16s that followed expanded and refined these roles with beyond-visual-range missiles, infrared sensors, precision-guided munitions, and many other capabilities.

Current and planned versions of the F-16 build on these refinements, enhancing capabilities even further.

But the fundamental strengths of the original design remain. At the heart of every Fighting Falcon is the lightweight fighter concept championed by Col. John Boyd and the other members of what came to be known as the Lightweight Fighter Mafia in the US Air Force and Department of Defense.

This group favored simple and small fighter designs that could change direction and speed faster than their potential adversaries—designs that were harder to detect; designs that were inexpensive to produce, operate and maintain.

The Fighter Mafia advocated using technology to increase effectiveness or reduce cost. They went so far as to question and thoroughly analyze the basic assumptions of how fighters were judged and compared.

Showdown in the desert

The F-16’s new versatility was put on full display in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm; more missions were flown by the F-16s than any other aircraft. Pilots bombed airfields, military production facilities, and missile sites and then shot down a Iraqi Mig-25 in the tense months that followed the campaign.

Since its first production order in 1975, more than 4,500 F-16s have been produced for 26 nations around the globe. Although scheduled to remain in service with U.S. forces until at least 2025, when the fifth-generation F-35 will shoulder much of the Falcon’s workload, Lockheed Martin continues to produce new versions of the F-16 with a backlog of international orders from Morocco, Turkey, and Iraq.

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