With the international community focusing on both the Russian-Ukrainian stand-off and the missing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, one almost forgets loads of other things happen in the world of aviation. Take the famous Red Flag exercises in the Nevada dessert. At AIRheads↑Fly we published a much viewed feature on edition 14-01, but the second Red Flag of the year went by largely unnoticed. Until now 🙂
Even the media units of the Belgian and Danish ministries of Defence hardly paid any attention to their men and women being deployed to literately the Vegas of aerial combat. Maybe they took the nickname of the host city a bit to seriously: What happens there, stays there. Only when Belgian Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Aviator Gerard Van Caelenberge visited the operations at Nellis AFB, a little bit of news coverage followed but without any Belgian F-16s to show. From the Danish side, it was as quiet as it normally is from the Saudis who were also there this time.
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!
The announced sale negotiations of 28 ex-Czech Air Force L-159 ALCA advanced trainer aircraft to military subcontractor Draken International in the USA has brought new hopes to Czech aircraft manufacturer Aero Vodochody. With the American continent opening up to its aircraft, the company now starts developing a new and bigger trainer & light attack aircraft.
Czech media report that the new plane is designated L-169 and that it will be more Czech than the L-159, meaning less foreign components. According to an Aero spokesman the company intends to give the L-169 a bigger range than its predecessor, giving it a main fuel tank capable of 1,300 liters and innerwing storage for another 600 liters. A lot of times extended ranges are met by attaching underwing fuel pods, but they cause more drag and thus increasing the fuel consumption and decreasing the performance somewhat. The L-159 was able to cross 1,570 kilometres (845 nautical miles) on internal fuel and 2,530 km (1,365 nautical miles) with external fuel tanks.
The L-169 will primarily be designed as an advanced trainer, not like the L-159 that was meant to give the Czech Republic an affordable light combat capacity after the break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the limitation of military funds. With the combat role since 2005 taken over by the 14 much more capable Saab JAS 39C/D Gripen fighters, the L-159 has become less popular with its owner. Only 24 of 72 delivered planes are still in use, with the remainder mothballed.
For many of the decommissioned aircraft there seems to be a new life ahead across the Atlantic Ocean. Aero is talking to Florida based Draken International Inc to sell the subcontractor for the US military 28 L-159As from the Czech Air Force storage. “The successful conclusion of the sale and introduction of the aircraft in the USA would mark new phase in the life of L-159 and would bring significant benefits for Aero and other aerospace manufacturers in the Czech Republic, involved in the program”, according to a press release.
Draken International flies more than 50 military jets, including ex-Polish Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis, McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros and Alenia Aermacchi MB-339s. Draken is headquartered at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport and offers simulation of enemy aerial targets (aircraft, guided missiles), aerial training, tactical training, electronic warfare, in flight refueling and research and testing services to the US military.
Aero Vodochody has a good trainer reputation legacy to keep, with the historic L-29 Delfin and the still popular L-39 flying in both military and civilian roles worldwide.
According to international press agency Reuters on Wednesday September 18, 2013, experts of manufacturer Lockheed Martin have recently briefed Belgian government officials. Several US government senior officials seem to have confirmed this, and Belgian minister of Defence De Crem has confirmed to Belgium medium De Tijd he is interested.
Since Belgium is no high level partner in the early development of the new stealthy American fighter it is unclear when the first Belgian Air Component F-35s could land at Florennes and Kleine Brogel airbases, even if the planes would be procured tomorrow. However, a possible decision is not expected before the end of 2014.
Like the Royal Netherlands Air Force the Belgian Air Component flies the F-16AM and F-16BM Fighting Falcon. Some sources say the Belgians pursue to acquire 35 to 55 new fighter jets, but those numbers seem quite high and only based on the current force strength of 60 F-16s. It is much more likely Brussels will order 24 to 28 new aircraft if one considers the size of the Dutch order and compares the geographical size of Belgium to its northern neighbour.
This number might mean a squadron of 12 aircraft at both Kleine Brogel and Florennes, with four aircraft in reserve to replace machines lost in accidents, or go the Danish way and put all fighters on one airbase. In that case Kleine Brogel might hold the best cards. One of those is the B-61 nuclear bomb depot of the US Air Force there, a publicly well-known ‘secret’.
French manufacturer Dassault and the French government are expected to put their full weight in trying to win Belgian members of parliament to their side to choose the Dassault Rafale fighter instead. The oppositional Green party already seems reluctant to choose the F-35 – or a new fighter jet as such – and rather goes on the path of European co-operation or division of labour between the European countries.
So, no more Brazilian Mirages from December on. Well, that’s one reason less to go there, although we are pretty sure there are many reasons left. But that’s future stuff; over the past 25 years or so, Mirages have worked their magic pretty well on us. Let’s see a few.