PM meets the F-16, the fighter plane everyone wants

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Hulton Deutsch

After the YF-16 and YF-17 clashed to become America’s next fighter jet, the winner, General Dynamics’ YF-16, which would become the F-16, made its debut in the pages of Popular Mechanics in November 1975. Described as an aircraft that “sparked so much interest around the world,” the F-16 continued to generate that enthusiasm for decades and remains in use by air forces around the world.


Never before has a single military aircraft generated so much interest around the world. It’s the F-16, the newest and most popular addition to American air power and an aircraft that may well become the most wanted of all time, barely off the drawing board the fighter has not only been adopted, by our own air force, but has become the popular choice of four other NATO nations, beating as fierce competition as the famous French Mirage and the radically new Swedish duck-winged Viggen.

Belgium, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have jointly pledged to purchase 350 stylish and versatile supersonic jets, and other countries, including Canada, may follow suit. The US Air Force has ordered 650, and the Navy is expected to purchase 800 more for carrier use, bringing the initial total to 1,800. With the additional purchases planned, production runs could eventually reach 3,000 in 4,000, probably the most of an airplane type ever made.

Airplanes
The needle nose F-16 is a small, light fighter, very maneuverable, capable of speeds of Mach 2.

Popular Mechanics / Ed Valigursky

What explains the incredible appeal of the F-16? It is not the biggest, nor the fastest, nor the most powerful. In fact, by the standards of modern fighters, he’s a relative baby. Developed by General Dynamics, the single-seater represents a new concept of lightweight, low-cost, high-performance fighters designed to offer both air superiority and economy.

It’s fast, rugged, deadly, and versatile, all for what is considered the remarkable price tag of $ 4.6 million per plane. It may not seem “cheap” to those of us grinding our teeth at a $ 50 grocery bill, but in the world of military hardware, it’s a good deal – other comparable fighters do. sell for between $ 8 million and $ 12 million each.

With an overall length of 47 1⁄2 feet and a wingspan of 31, the F-16 is considerably smaller than previous fighters like the F-14 Grumman Tomcat (62 by 64 feet) and the F-15 McDonnell Douglas Eagle ( 64 by 43 feet). It is also much lighter, with 22,500 pounds gross compared to 57,300 for the F-14 and 40,000 for the F-15. Its small size and low weight are in fact the secret to the F-16’s phenomenal performance. Compared to other typical fighters, it has three times the combat range, nearly double the acceleration rate, and less than two-thirds the turning radius at supersonic speeds, meaning it can fly and fight at just about everything that surrounds it.

Mach 2 speed at combat height

original caption edwards afb, ca general dynamics f 16 air combat fighter prototype shows its classic lines during a recent test flight at edwards airbase, ca the f 16 was chosen by the air force America for full-scale development as this country's new air combat fighter, following an intensive 10-month assessment and selection process that included more than 330 flights. Print shows the profile of the F 16 in flight

BettmannGetty Images

Powered by a Pratt & Whitney F100 turbojet engine with a thrust of 25,000 pounds, the F-16 is capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 2 times the speed of sound, or nearly 1,500 mph at altitudes of fight. He is indeed one of the few fighters who can continue to accelerate while climbing straight up.

The F-16’s short turning radius and high acceleration allow it to “get close” to an enemy aircraft and impose itself, the key to fighting superiority in one-on-one aerial combat situations. head. The standard armament consists of two Sidewinder missiles mounted on the wing tips and a 20mm Vulcan cannon capable of an impressive rate of fire of 6000 rounds per minute. Up to 11,000 pounds of additional weaponry can be carried on pylons under the wings – additional missiles, bombs, napalm, special weapons – whatever is required for the mission.

For long-range operation, in-flight refueling or external auxiliary fuel tanks are provided. It is this kind of flexibility that makes the F-16 a versatile and versatile aircraft – it can perform air-to-air, air-to-ground, ground support, long-range bombardment, fighter escort and aircraft carrier operations. operations.

rod jamieson and the jet he built, the f 16
A model of the YF-16.

Fairfax Media ArchiveGetty Images

The F-16 is both complex and simple, highly sophisticated in design, but ingeniously simple in construction. Elevator panels, wing flaps, and most of its main landing gears are interchangeable – a repair center only needs half the stock of parts as usual. The servo-actuators operating the controls are identical and interchangeable. The fuselage is designed in three modular sections: nose, mid section and tail. Modules can be built in different factories, even in different countries, and then assembled when needed. If a module is damaged, it can be replaced with a double wing change on a car, without taking a valuable aircraft out of service for time-consuming repairs.

The P&W F100 engine is the same one proven in the F-15, so engine inventories, spare parts and maintenance know-how are well established. Of the 373 equipment components of the F-16, 257 are inventory items. Only 50 types of attachments are used, all standard, against up to 250 for other fighters.

Now you can begin to understand why so many countries are intrigued by the F-16: its economy and simplification is an air force’s dream. The advantages of having a number of NATO countries operating the same aircraft are obvious: parts, training and manufacturing facilities can be pooled, urgent items can be shared, storage of many components is reduced and repair and maintenance are greatly simplified.

Whole plane a “lifting body”

american f16 military plane at the paris air show june 8, 1975, france photo by gilbert uzangamma rapho via getty images

Gilbert UZANGetty Images

Aerodynamically, the F-16 is a masterpiece of technical ingenuity. The flattened oval fuselage blends into the wings so that the entire aircraft becomes, in effect, a “lift body”. The fore-body strakes (narrow, flared bands in front of the wings) help prevent wing root stalling at high angles of attack, thereby increasing lift and improving handling. speed and attitude – the pilot can concentrate on the fight without thinking about it. The trailing edge flaps and ailerons are combined into “flaperons” which function independently as ailerons, collectively as flaps – another simplification.

All the controls are electrically operated by what is called “fly-by-wire”. This eliminates mechanical linkages that are more prone to failure, provides more responsive and responsive handling, and increases rider safety. The back-up control wires continue to function even if other wires are far apart, which is not possible with cable links.

The special “high G” cockpit incorporates a seat tilted strongly backwards – 30 ° compared to the usual 13 ° – to help the pilot to withstand the forces of high G in combat. A side-stick controller, which produces more precise maneuvers, replaces the old control lever between the knees. Airbrakes that open like a book near the tail allow the pilot to slow down quickly for emergency maneuvers or short-field landings.

All in all, the F-16 is a lot of aircraft for the money. It should give NATO countries air superiority in the 1980s and 1990s. Its purchase by so many other countries has already been hailed as “the sale of the century.” In fact, the F-16 may well turn out to be the buy of the century.

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