Tag Archives: Thunderbirds

Thunderbirds and Blue Angels crash on the same day

In a weird coincidence, a US Air Force F-16 flying with the Thunderbirds and a US Navy F-18 flying with the Blue Angels, crashed on the same day on Thursday 2 June. The Thunderbird came down after a fly over for president Obama in Colorado Springs, Idaho. The pilot escaped by ejecting.

The Blue Angels F-18 Hornet came down near the town of Smyrna in Tennesse. Smoke was seen rising from the ground near the airport were the Blue Angels were practicing their show routine prior to an airshow. The pilot did not survive the crash.

Pics of the downed Thunderbird show the aircraft relatively intact on the ground. The pilot apparently attempted to land at nearby Petersen Air Force Base.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Forty Viper Years

USAF_F16tbirdssolo
No article about forty years of F-16 Fighting Falcon is complete without one of these guys.
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

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.

Phenomenal
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.

A Belgian F-16BM, seen here pulling Gs in its natural element; the blue yonder. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The four European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) purchased no less then 524 F-16s altogether. First up: Belgium. A F-16BM is seen here pulling Gs in its natural element; the blue yonder. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Champions of the special paint, that's what the Belgians are. Number 31 'smaldeel' at Kleine Brogel airbase keeps up the tradition of painting aircraft in tiger colours. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Champions of the special paint, that’s what the Belgians are. Number 31 Smaldeel at Kleine Brogel Airbase keeps up the tradition of painting aircraft in tiger colours. (Image © Robert van Zon)
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Since the eighties, hardened aircraft shelters are as much of a natural habitat for F-16s as the sky is. It’s where a lot of European Vipers spend much of their time, like this Danish F-16AM at Skrydstrup airbase.
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
This Bravo is called Orange Jumper, because of its large orange badge. It belongs to the test unit of the KLu. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Another F-16 takes shelter. This time, it’s an F-16BM, used by the Royal Netherlands Air Force for test purposes. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
But the Dutch also have had their share of special paints. Here, two Vipers with special tails are seen at Volkel airbase. (Image © Robert van Zon)
The Dutch also have had their share of special paints. Here, two Vipers with unique tails at Volkel Airbase. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Whereas most F-16 users choose the standard 3-tone grey livery, the Norwegians opted for overall light grey... and they didn't do special paints very often. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Whereas most F-16 users choose the standard 3-tone grey livery, the Norwegians opted for overall light grey… and they didn’t do special paints very often. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Versions
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.

Practice what you preach. It's no wonder the USAF equipped the Thunderbirds with F-16s in an early stage. Who needs marketeers? (Image © Robert van Zon)
Practice what you preach. It’s no wonder the USAF equipped the Thunderbirds with F-16s in an early stage. Who needs marketeers? (Image © Robert van Zon)
The F-16 has been used over hotspots for decades, one of those hotspots being the Korean peninsula. This USAF F-16C is based at Osan. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The F-16 has been used over hotspots for decades, one of those hotspots being the Korean peninsula. This USAF F-16C is part of the 51st Fighter Wing, based at Osan. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The US Air National Guard is by no means a stranger to the F-16.  (Image © Ralph Blok)
The US Air National Guard is by no means a stranger to the F-16. (Image © Ralph Blok)
US Navy F-16Ns weren't around for very long, although this specimen (serial 163576) remains preserved at NAS Fallon, NV. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
US Navy F-16Ns weren’t around for very long, although this specimen (serial 163576) remains preserved at NAS Fallon, Nevada (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Orders
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.

Turning more oriental now with this Samsung built, Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) F-16D, seen on approach to Seosan airbase. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Turning more oriental now with this Samsung built, Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) F-16D, seen on approach to Seosan airbase. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Pakistan_F16Atakeoff
Pakistan was an early adopter and ordered the F-16 as early as 1981. The aircraft above was part of that order. More recently, Pakistan received brand spankin’ new F-16C/D fighters. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
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Topside! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Cruzex 2013 marks the first time forces from Venezuela and the US are training together, after years of political and ideological arguments between the two countries. The death of former Venezuela president Hugo Chávez in March this year, clearly changed the mood. (Image © Ralph Blok)
Cruzex 2013 offered a good opportunity to see some of those rare F-16s from Venezuela. (Image © Ralph Blok)
Strike a pose! Portugal operates a few dozen F-16s, of which 15108 was delivered in the mid-nineties. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Strike a pose! Portugal operates a few dozen F-16s, of which 15108 was delivered in the mid-nineties. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Blue skies and not a storm in sight. Or is there? The Lockheed Martin F-16I is actually called 'Sufa' (Storm) in Israeli service. A perfect storm which makes for a nice picture. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Blue skies and not a storm in sight. Or is there? The Lockheed Martin F-16I is actually called ‘Sufa’ (Storm) in Israeli service. A perfect storm which makes for a nice picture. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
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Another topside, and this time it is the shiny upper surface of Solotürk, the demo aircraft of the Turkish Air Force. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Greece ordered several batches of Fighting Falcons over the years, totaling 170 aircraft. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Greece ordered several batches of Fighting Falcons over the years, totaling 170 aircraft.
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Poland operates some of the most advanced F-16s in Europe. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Poland operates some of the most advanced F-16s in Europe. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Second hand
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.

Italy used former US Vipers as a stop gap until enough Eurofighter EF2000 were delivered. These were of the F-16ADF kind, a specialized version for air defence. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Italy used former US Vipers as a stop gap until enough Eurofighter EF2000s were delivered. The AMI flew the F-16ADF, a specialized version for air defence. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Jordan flies former US Vipers as well, plus aircaft bought from the surplus inventories of Belgium and the Netherlands. This a former Belgian aircraft, now in Jordan service. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Jordan flies former US Vipers as well, plus aircraft bought from surplus inventories of Belgium and the Netherlands. This a former Belgian aircraft, now in Jordanian service. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Former Dutch F-16s also found their way to Chile although this aircraft is seen here on exercise in Brazil. (Image © Ralph Blok)
Former Dutch F-16s also found their way to Chile, although this Chilean aircraft is seen here on exercise in Brazil. (Image © Ralph Blok)

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!

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: No article about forty years of F-16 Fighting Falcon is complete without one of these guys.(Image © Elmer van Hest)

If there ever was a universal signal, it's thumbs up! This Turkish F-16 pilot shows his satisfaction after a successful mission. (Image
Thumbs up to the F-16! (Image © Elmer van Hest)