Belgium aims to have 34 new fighter jets in 2030, according to a long term defense strategy made public on Tuesday 22 December. The statement doesn’t mention the type, however the Lockheed Martin F-35 should be considered the most likely candidate. A decision is still some time away.
The number of 34 new jets is lower than anticipated, although Airheadsfly.com already predicted the number would be lower than the larger numbers that were rumoured earlier . These numbers went up to 55 aircraft.
The latest Belgian defense strategy also mentions an inquiry into the deployment of a tanker aircraft, again with no type mentioned. The Belgian could very well join the European tanker effort that is aimed at buying at least four Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft.
The strategy remarkably doesn’t mention the seven Airbus A400Ms on order, the first of which is due in 2018. Doubts were raised in Belgium about the necessity of this airlifters.
How’s that for a striking paint scheme? The Belgian Air Component painted this Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon in the exact colours of the F-16 prototype that first took to the sky 40 years ago. That’s reason to celebrate at Kleine Brogel, which houses dozens of Belgian Air Force F-16s. No doubt this aircraft will be one of the stars of the airshow next week at Kleine Brogel airbase. Enjoy!
Despite the calender showing 19 June, it’s a gloomy day in northern Germany. It’s perhaps illustrative of the current times of international turmoil. But, at the airbase of Schleswig-Jagel, another sign of the times is visible. French Rafale and German Typhoon fighters share the runway, with Swiss F/A-18C Hornets and Belgian F-16s doing the same. This international cooperation at its best, and it’s a NATO show of force at the same time. This is the NATO Tiger Association’s sharpening its claws during Tiger Meet 2014.
For Polish 6. Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (ELT) from Poznañ and Hungarian 59.1 squadron from Kecskemét, the current Tiger Meet is the first as full members of the Tiger Association and its ‘Tiger, Tiger, Tiger’-credo. The Polish fly the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D block 52, while the Hungarians fly the Saab JAS 39C/D Gripen. Both squadrons have been participating in the Tiger Meet for quite some years. On Monday 16 June, their full membership was announced.
The sight at Schlewig-Jagel was one that seemed futuristic 15 years ago: 3th, 4th and 4.5th generation fighter aircraft sharing the runway. In the past Rafale and Typhoon battled out their battles on the international defence market, now they fly together with the same cooperative purpose. As German Typhoons lift off, they immediately rocket straight into the vertical, with afterburner flames lighting up the gloom. French Dassault Rafales follow their lead.
Saab Gripens from the Czech Republic also take off for an dissimilar air combat training (DACT) mission against German Typhoons. Swiss Hornets team up with Belgian F-16s and German Tornados. All in all, over fifty fighter aircraft are involved in Tiger Meet 2014. Some of these war machines are adorned with truly beautiful artwork.
The Tiger Meet may be illustrative of joint operations by western air forces, its roots go back quite a long way. The very first unofficial Tiger Meet was held in 1960 in the UK, followed by the first full on Tiger Meet in 1961. The NATO Tiger Association now consists of 23 full member units, 16 of which where present at Schleswig-Jagel, representing Germany, Poland, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Turkey, Czech Republic, UK, the Netherlands, Norway, Hungary and Austria. The current Tiger Meet runs until Friday 27 June.
It’s extraordinary to think that back in the early seventies, an average computer was the size of an average refrigerator. But that probably wasn’t what was going on in the mind of test pilot Phil Oestricher when he – albeit unintended – took the YF-16 to the air for the first time forty years ago, on 20 January 1974. It was the soon to be first large scale mass produced fighter jet flying with microchips and fly-by-wire, and boy did it almost end in disaster. Eventually of course, it came out a winner – and the flying proof of a digital, computerized future.
Oestricher and the people at General Dynamics must have watched in horror as the prototype YF-16, stuffed with micro computer technology that was basically unheard of in those days, accidentally got airborne during a fast taxi test at Edwards Air Force Base. What followed was an almost comical struggle between a pilot – wanting not to fly – and his aircraft wanting to fly. In the end, Oestricher (read his story here) decided to take the aircraft up. He landed back at Edwards immediately after, safely ending what later became known as ‘flight zero’. Two weeks later, he took the YF-16 up for the official ‘first’ flight.
That wobbly ‘flight zero’ in no way illustrates the phenomenal success the General Dynamics F-16 Fighter Falcon – or Electric Jet or Viper – became soon afterwards. As small as the aircraft is – 14.8 meters long and 9.8 meters wide – as big was and still is its commercial success. The USAF was of course the first user, but in ‘The Sale Of The Century’ the F-16 was also sold by the hundreds to Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. The deal was signed following the 1975 Paris Le Bourget airshow, where pilot Neil Anderson demonstrated the previously unseen manoeuverability of the YF-16.
Nowadays, 24 countries use the various further developed versions of the original YF-16. The two prototypes were followed by several pre-production aircraft, after which serial production started on three lines, which eventually became five lines in as many countries. The A/B versions were followed by the C/D versions. More recently E/F and I versions entered service. More obscure Fighting Falcons are the delta winged F-16XL and the General Electric J-79 equipped F-16/79. The US Navy’s (T)F-16N aggressor aircraft were also relatively short-lived.
More than 4,540 F-16s have been produced, mostly at the Lockheed Martin production line at Fort Worth. Apart from the four first European customers, Israel, Venezuela and Pakistan were among the early adopters as well, ordering aircraft in the early eighties. More recent customers include Chile, Morocco and Iraq. Lockheed Martin took over General Dynamics in 1993 and now has 48 aircraft remaining on order, according to a statement released on Thursday. Among the remaining orders are aircraft for Oman and Iraq. When asked, the company wouldn’t comment on any special activities relating to the Vipers’ 40th birthday.
Many Vipers have changed ownership already, with the US selling or leasing lots of of their surplus aircraft to other countries. Early model F-16A and B aircraft soon found their way to Israel, and later on similar aircraft were also delivered to Jordan. A small number of US F-16Cs went to Indonesia.
Belgium and the Netherlands are also in the business of selling Vipers abroad, customers being Jordan and Chile. Some F-16s are third hand already, as Portugal sold second hand Vipers to Romania last year.
In the pocket
The whine of either the Pratt and Whitney PW220 or General Electric F110 that equips the F-16 will be heard for many years to come, as Vipers are started up at airfields around the world to fill and patrol the skies. The computerized F-16 paved the way for many military and commercial airplanes, and also for many technological applications that are now standard in every household, and possibly even in the pocket of your jeans – if that’s where you keep your cellphone.
It’s extraordinary to think what an impact this little agile fighter has had. It sure didn’t look that way on 20 January 1974. Cheers!