The F-16 is officially called the “Fighting Falcon,” but it is also known as the “Viper” by its pilots. It is often regarded as being the world’s most popular combat aircraft. Since becoming operational in 1979, more than 4,500 have been produced and are in service with twenty-six nations. Production still continues to this day, more than thirty-three years after its initial entry into the U.S. Air Force inventory. The F-16 design elements and light weight were influenced from the lessons of air combat during the Vietnam War, where America’s then frontline fighter, the F-4 “Phantom II” were often outmaneuvered by the lighter, more agile Russian-built MiG-21s.
After more than 30 years in service, the F-16 can still out maneuver most other fighter aircraft. Its performance regimen has expanded exponentially from the original design of a “light weight fighter”, to a true “multi-role fighter”. It represents one of the true success stories in American and European coproduction, with the F-16 constituting a large percentage of NATO Europe’s strike fighter forces.
The aircraft on display is a F-16B, which was the eighth pre-production and second B model to be built. It was delivered as a YF-16B, serial number 75-0752. The B model is essentially a two seat combat capable trainer with the second cockpit being added in place of internal fuel cells. The exterior dimensions of the single and two seat version are the same with the exception of the second cockpit and longer canopy of the F-16B.
In 1977, a change in the United States arms transfer policy was invoked as an attempt to reduce arms proliferation throughout the world. Under this policy change, American manufacturers could no longer sell to foreign air forces, with some exceptions, any combat aircraft that were the equal of those in the US inventory. As a result of this policy, a less capable export version of the F-16 was proposed and this specific aircraft, identified as the F-16/79 was the demonstrator aircraft fitted with a less powerful engine, the General Electric J-79 and other changes that increased its overall weight. This resulted in a less capable aircraft that foreign air forces did not embrace. The export sales for this version never materialized and over time, the constraints of the arms transfer policy was lifted..
This aircraft was later restored to its original engine configuration and was used by Lockheed-Martin for many years as a private-venture testbed (Technology Demonstrator) for close air support and night/bad weather attack systems.
General Dynamics’ late Chief Test pilot Bill Dryden was quoted as saying that the F-16B-2 flew with “bits and pieces of every F-16C/D ever made and a lot of pieces that have never been in another F-16”. Many of these were later evaluated in the “Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (ATFI) F-16.”
This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.