F-16 Fighting Falcon


Preliminary work began in 1968 when the possibilities were studied for a low-cost FX influenced by the Vietnam war, in which heavy fighters such as the F-4 had great difficulty in combating small, maneuverable aircraft such as the MiG-17, MiG-19, and MiG-21, which proved to be difficult to detect visually. The intention was to develop a Mach 0.8 to 1.60 aircraft for altitudes of 30,000-40,000 feet, that would be small and highly maneuverable. Emphasis would be on turn rate, acceleration, and range, rather than on high speed.

Full-Scale Development model

A Light Weight Fighter (LWF) program was established and a Request For Proposals (RFP) was issued to the industry on January 16, 1971. Three objectives were set out in the RFP:

  • the aircraft should fully explore the advantages of emerging technologies;
  • reduce the risk and uncertainties involved in full-scale development and production;
  • provide a variety of technological options to meet future military hardware needs.

Five manufacturers submitted proposals: Boeing, Northrop, General Dynamics, Ling-Temco-Vought, and Lockheed. Eventually, the General Dynamics and Northrop designs were selected for further development, both with a mixture of off-the-shelf and experimental technologies. These designs were later designated YF-16 and YF-17 respectively.


Wind tunnel tests started in 1971 and in January 1972 the USAF Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright Patterson issued a Request For Proposal for a Light-Weight Fighter prototype aircraft.

The YF-16 (72-01567) LWF demonstrator made its first official flight February 2, 1974. Another prototype followed on May 9, 1974. Two YF-17 prototypes flew on June 9 and August 21, 1974. The US Air Force selected the YF-16 as the Air Combat Fighter because of its low cost, better performance and engine commonality with the F-15. The US Navy selected the YF-17 as the basis for the F/A-18. For the USAF the lower costs for the YF-16 were an important issue, since this fitted the plans to extend the number of wings from 22 to 26.

Production Started

The F-16A, a single-seat model, first flew in December 1976.

The first production F-16 (78-000) made its maiden flight on August 7, 1978. At the end of the year, five aircraft were delivered. One of the main differences between the production aircraft and the YF-16 from 1974 was the APG-66 radar.

European F-104 Replacement

The governments of Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway had begun to consider possible replacements for their Lockheed F-104 Starfighters. They formed the Multinational Fighter Program Group to select a successor. The most likely candidates were the Northrop YF-17, the Dassault Mirage F.1, the SAAB JA37 Viggen, and the General Dynamics YF-16. The winner of the Air Combat Fighter (ACF, as the LWF was later designated) contest would probably be the favored candidate, but the MFPG wanted to see if the USAF was going to be interested in the plane for itself before they made a decision. The European countries wanted a decision from the USAF by December of 1974.

On January 13, 1975, it was announced that the YF-16 had been selected as the winner of the ACF contest. The USAF then placed a contract for fifteen Full-Scale Development airframes.

Dutch Funds Available

The Netherlands was one of the four start-up European NATO customers for the F-16.

In the annual Dutch Defensie Nota (White Paper) of 1974 it was decided that the 1st and 2nd Groep Geleide Wapens (1GGW and 2GGW — Guided Weapons Group), together with support units were to be abandoned on May 14, 1975. Two squadrons of each group were to be transformed into one new group: 12th Guided Weapons Group (1 + 2). On July 1, 1975 the 4th Guided Weapons Group was abandoned and its Hawk missiles stationed in Germany were withdrawn to The Netherlands. With these freed funds becoming available a replacement for the F-104G could be financed.

Initial Dutch Order

On May 27, 1975 the Dutch administration announced the purchase of 84 General Dynamics F-16 fighters, with an option for 18 more. The option was transformed into an order and more aircraft would be purchased to compensate for losses (then estimated to be 30 aircraft).

On October 18, 1977, Maj Steef Heyboer made the first solo flight in an F-16 for the Royal Netherlands Air Force in a USAF aircraft from Edwards AFB, California. The aircraft involved was F-16A 75-0745.

The Dutch F-16s were assembled by Fokker. This line first opened up for business in April of 1978, and was the second of the European F-16 final assembly lines to open, SABCA in Belgium being the first. The first Dutch-built F-16 took off on its maiden flight on May 3, 1979, with test pilot Henk Temmen at the controls.

The initial Dutch order for F-16A/B aircraft was for 102 examples. The F-16s were assigned the primary responsibility of close support within NATO's 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force (no longer in existence), with a secondary role of air support within the airspace allocated to The Netherlands within the NATO command structure. Initial delivery of the F-16A/B to the RNLAF took place in June of 1979. Initial training for the F-16 in the RNLAF began with the CAV at Leeuwarden AB in October of 1979. This unit handled conversion of Dutch pilots to the F-16 until it was deactivated in March of 1986. The first RNLAF F-16 unit to achieve operational capability was 322 Squadron, based at Leeuwarden, which was declared operational in December of 1979.

A total of 348 F-16s was initially ordered by the European air forces.

On June 6, 1979, Fokker handed over the first two F-16s for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (F-16B J-259 and F-16A J-212). This F-16B was flown to Leeuwarden Air Base next day by Major Willem Sneek, who later returned to Leeuwarden as the commander of the base.

Additional Order

In March of 1980, The Netherlands announced plans (finally approved by the Dutch Parliament in December 1983) to increase its purchase of F-16s from 102 to 213 aircraft. In 1989, The Netherlands ordered an attrition replacement batch of 10 F-16As (understood to be manufactured by General Dynamics rather then by Fokker).

The last F-16 rolled of the line at Fokker's Schiphol plant on February 27, 1990. It was aircraft J-021 (89-0021), and was the last of 213 examples delivered to the RNLAF, thirteen years after delivery of the first aircraft.

European Participating Air Forces

The F-16 is being built under an unusual agreement creating a consortium between the United States and four NATO countries: Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands and Norway, also referred to as the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF). These countries jointly produced with the United States an initial 348 F-16s for their air forces. Final airframe assembly lines were located in Belgium and the Netherlands. The consortium's F-16s are assembled from components manufactured in all five countries. Belgium also provides final assembly of the F100 engine used in the European F-16s. The long-term benefits of this program will be technology transfer among the nations producing the F-16, and a common-use aircraft for NATO nations. Through this program the supply and availability of repair parts in Europe is increased and improves the F-16's combat readiness.

Assembly In Europe

A complex network of manufacturers was selected to build the F-16 under license in Europe.

Final assembly of the F-16 took place at SABCA (Gosselies, Belgium), Fokker (Schiphol, the Netherlands), as well as General Dynamics (Fort Worth, Texas). SONACA in Belgium was responsible for the aft fuselage. SABCA was responsible for the wings for the Belgian and Danish Air Forces. Fokker built the center section of the fuselage, leading edge flap, trailing edge and flaperon and other assemblies for US production, and was to carry out final assembly of the complete wing for the Dutch and Norwegians. DAF (Netherlands) built the undercarriage and Raufoss in Norway the wheels. Per Udsen in Denmark was responsible for the vertical fin box and the wing and centerline pylons.

The Belgian Fabrique national (FN) was responsible for the final assembly of the F100 engine for the European aircraft. Kongsberg, Norway, built the fan drive turbine and Philips, Netherlands, built the augmentor nozzle module.

MBLE, Belgium, was assigned the overall responsibility for the APG-66 radar, with Signaal and Oldelft of the Netherlands being responsible for the radar antenna and the HUD display. Neselco and LK-NES of Denmark were responsible for the fire control computer, and the radar displays were to be built by the Danish company Nea Linberg, and Kongsberg of Norway was to handle the inertial navigation system.

The Belgian production line opened in February of 1978, with the Dutch line opening in April of 1978.

Training At Tucson

Ten RNLAF F-16s were based in Tucson, Arizona beginning in 1989, where the 148th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron of the Arizona ANG used them for the training of new Dutch pilots. This activity was ceased in 1994, and the 148th TFTS was itself scheduled for deactivation sometime during 1995.

In a 1993 Defense White Paper, the Dutch government announced plans to cut the force of F-16s to 108, with as many as 36 F-16s being sold. Squadrons 306, 315, and 322 would be earmarked for peacekeeping operations, and two other squadrons, at Gilze-Rijen and Twenthe, will be deactivated by 1996. The training unit, 316 Squadron, at Eindhoven was deactivated in April 1994 and its operational conversion task was turned over to 313 Squadron at Twenthe. No 314 Squadron was scheduled for disbandment sometime in 1996. However, the proposed sale of KLu F-16s may be reviewed due to increasing attrition losses.

Operational Use

The F-16s of the RNLAF operate from the three Main Operating Bases:

Leeuwarden Air Base 322 Squadron Swing-role
323/TACTESS Limited operational capability
Twenthe Air Base 313 Squadron Training
315 Squadron Swing-role
Volkel Air Base 306 Squadron Swing-role (also recce)
311 Squadron Dual capable
312 Squadron Dual capable

There are 3 swing-role units, while the 2 dual capable units 311 Squadron and 312 Squadron form the contribution to NATO's sub-strategic nuclear power. 323/TACTESS has a limited operational capability.


The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multi-role fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack.


In an air combat role, the F-16's maneuverability and combat radius exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter. In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 850 kilometers, deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.

In designing the F-16, advanced aerospace science and proven reliable systems from other aircraft such as the F-15 and F-111 were selected. These were combined to simplify the airplane and reduce its size, purchase price, maintenance costs and weight. The light weight of the fuselage is achieved without reducing its strength. The F-16 can withstand up to nine G's with internal fuel tanks filled -- more than any other current fighter aircraft. (At maximum weight this is reduced to six G.)

Differences F-16 / YF-16

The production F-16A differed from the YF-16 on several points:

  • The fuselage was extended by 13 inch fuselage to accommodate more fuel and the Westinghouse APG-66 radar.
  • The wing area was increased by 20 square feet.
  • An additional underwing hardpoint was fitted. A total of nine external points were now available.
  • The horizontal tailplane was increased in size.
  • A jet starter was added to the F100 turbofan.


Eighty percent of the airframe structure of the F-16 is of conventional aluminum alloy, and about 60 percent of the structural parts are made from sheet metal. An attempt was made to minimize the amount of exotic material used in the construction of the F-16 in the interest of saving cost. About 8 percent is steel, composites are 3 percent and titanium is 1.5 percent.

The F-16 is built in 3 major subsections: nose, center and aft. In order to save money, the fuselage structure is fairly conventional in overall configuration, being based on conventional frames and longerons. The forward manufacturing break point is just aft of the cockpit, while the second is forward of the vertical fin.

The aircraft comprises a blended wing-body combination, sharp edged forebody strakes for controlled vortex lift, a cropped delta wing with a 40-degree leading edge sweep with automatically activated leading edge flaps, and a single vertical tail. The F-16 uses relaxed longitudinal static stability with the wing's Center of Lift in front of the plane's Center of Gravity and the tail's lifting moment in the same direction as the wing's. This resulted in a 4-15% increase in lift and reduced trim drag over a conventional design.

The wing is mainly of light alloy and has single-piece upper and lower skins. They are attached to the fuselage by machined aluminum fittings. The leading-edge flaps are made of a one-piece bonded aluminum honeycomb structure and are driven by rotary actuators. The fin is multispar, multirib with graphite epoxy skins. The horizontal tails have graphite epoxy laminate skins attached to corrugated aluminium pivot shaft and removable aluminum honeycomb leading-edge. The two ventral fins -- below wing trailing-edge -- are made of aluminum honeycomb structure. The split speedbrakes are located in the aft fuselage extensions -- inboard of tailerons -- can open to 60 degrees.

At high angles of attack, the forbody strakes create vortexes which maintain the energy of the boundary air layer flowing over the inner section of the wing. This delays wing root stalling and maintains directional stability at low speeds and high angles of attack. Vortex energy also provides a measure of forebody lift, reducing the need for drag-inducing tail trim. By keeping the inner-wing boundary layer energized, the strakes allowed the wing area to be kept smaller

In the interest of saving in cost, a number of parts are interchangeable between port and starboard. These include the horizontal tail surfaces, wing flaperons, 80 percent of the main landing gear components, and many of the actuator units.

Air Intake

The single engine is mounted in a simple fixed geometry, underslung air intake. A fixed-geometry boundary-layer splitter plate separates the upper lip of the intake from the lower fuselage. In the preliminary design twin-engined design was also considered, but rejected on the basis that it would give a 20% increase in start combat weight.


The cockpit and its polycarbonate bubble canopy give the pilot unobstructed forward and upward vision, and greatly improved vision over the side and to the rear (360 deg all-round view, 195 deg fore and aft, 40 deg down over the side, and 15 deg down over the nose). The canopy is 0.5 inches thick and was designed to resist the impact of a 4-pound bird at 350 knots. The Head-Up Display is sufficiently robust to provide additional back-up protection for the pilot. The seat-back angle was expanded from the usual 13 degrees to 30 degrees, increasing pilot comfort and gravity force tolerance. The cockpit instrument layout is neat, with the absence of a central control column.

The F-16B has tandem cockpits that are about the same size as the one in the A model. Its bubble canopy extends to cover the second cockpit. To make room for the second cockpit, the forward fuselage fuel tank and avionics growth space were reduced. During training, the forward cockpit is used by a student pilot with an instructor pilot in the rear cockpit.

Flight Control

The pilot has flight control of the F-16 through an all-electronic four-channel Fly-By-Wire system, of which the heart is formed by the Flight Control Computer. The flight control system of the F-16A/B is analog, that of the later F-16C/D is digital. Pitch control is accomplished by all moving, mono bloc horizontal tails and flaperons with automatic wing leading-edge maneuvering flaps programmed for Mach number and angle of attack. For easy and accurate control of the aircraft during high G-force combat maneuvers, a side stick controller is used instead of the conventional center-mounted stick. Hand pressure on the side stick controller sends electrical signals to actuators of flight control surfaces such as ailerons and rudder.

The F-16 was the first fighter with an electronic FBW system. Experience with a triplex digital system on the AFTI/F-16 gave General Dynamics the confidence to abandon the proven analog FBW system of the earlier Fighting Falcon and adopt the quadruple digital FBW system for the Block 25 and beyond F-16C/D.


Avionics systems include a highly accurate Ring Laser Gyro navigation system in which a computer provides steering information to the pilot. The plane has UHF and VHF radios, a threat warning system and modular countermeasure pods to be used against airborne or surface electronic threats. The fuselage has room for additional avionics systems.

All F-16s delivered since November 1981 have built-in structural and wiring provisions and systems architecture that permit expansion of the multi-role flexibility to perform precision strike, night attack and beyond-visual-range interception missions. This improvement program led to the F-16C and F-16D aircraft, which are the single- and two-place counterparts to the F-16A/B, and incorporate the latest cockpit control and display technology.

Production Blocks

The RNLAF F-16s are not all the same. F-16s are produced in batches or blocks, each of them containing new modifications. A block is a numerical milestone during production. The block number increases whenever a new production configuration for the aircraft is established. The first blocks were 1 and 5. The latest ones are 50/52. The block numbers operated by the RNLAF are Block-10 and -15. Some of the earliest F-16s for the RNLAF were Block-1 and -5, and were later upgraded to Block-10 standard during the Pacer Loft modification in 1982.

Block-10 aircraft have a single UHF antenna under the air intake.

The F-16 has 9 hardpoints, numbered 1 through 9 (left to right). The center hardpoint is station number 5. Block-15 aircraft have two hardpoints added to the chin of the air intake, designated stations 5L and 5R. Some early Block-15 models had smaller horizontal tails originally, but those were retrofitted with 30% larger horizontal stabilizers, in order to offset the shift in Center of Gravity brought on by the weight of the 2 added hardpoints. It also provided better stability and control authority, especially at higher angles of attack. Block-15 aircraft have an increased wing tip capacity of 425 lbs (compared to 250 lbs for Block- 10).


During the past years the F-16 has gone through numerous modification programs. Some modifications are flight safety issues, other modifications enhance system performance. Some of the most important modifications were

  • Operational Capability Upgrade (ECP 1085)
  • Incorporation of the Altitude Warning System (ECP 1147)
  • Introduction of the Voice Message Unit (ECP 1203)
  • Adding a drag chute (ECP 1315)
  • Introduction of the Have Quick radio (ECP 1641)
  • Replacement of the original small horizontal tails with bigger models (ECP 4003)
  • Replacement of the F-100-PW-200 engines with upgraded -220E models (ECP 4021)
  • Replacement of the original inertial nav unit with a LN-93 ring laser gyro (ECP H026)
  • The extensive Falcon Up program (ECP 1910)

Some of the earliest F-16s for the RNLAF were Block-1 and Block-5, and were later upgraded to Block-10 standard during the Pacer Loft modification in 1982.

Recce Version, F-16A(R)

Fokker built an initial batch of 40 F-16As for the Netherlands Air Force, with an additional batch up to a total of 167. The last 20 on the order were designated F-16A(R) and were capable of carrying an Oude Delft Orpheus sensor pod on the fuselage centerline station. This variant was first flown on January 27, 1983. Two of the original batch for the Netherlands were completed as F-16B(R) and were capable of carrying the underfuselage Orpheus reconnaissance pod.

Pacer Loft

Some of the earliest F-16s for the RNLAF were Block-1 and -5, and were later upgraded to Block-10
standard during the Pacer Loft modification in 1982. A second Pacer Loft upgrade program was started in December of 1983.

Operational Capabilities Upgrade

In 1988 Block-15 aircraft received the Operational Capability Upgrade (incorporation of ECP
1085/1172), in which the following modifications were incorporated:

  • Voice message unit added.
  • Combined Altitude Radar Altimeter (CARA) added.
    • Receiver/transmitter (Group I).
    • Two antennas
    • Signal data converter
    • Cable assy, mount (Group II)
    • Features: +-30 deg at 50,000 ft, +-60 deg up to 5,000 ft.
    • Block-15S mechanization to display radar altitude in HUD.
  • Data Transfer Equipment added.
    • Data Transfer Cartridge and Data Transfer Unit in aircraft.
    • Mission Planning and Support System for programming DTC (mission data load capability).
  • LAU-129 launcher / dual launcher capability AIM-9 / AMRAAM added.
  • Existing MRIU upgraded to Advanced MRIU.
  • AIM-120
    • Level II capacity
    • MIL-STD-1760 (1553) twisted shielded pair audio converted to single shielded audio for the F-16.
    • Wing wiring
    • Launchers
    • Adapters
  • Existing Stores Management System upgraded to Expanded SMS (XSMS).
    • The SMS will select the first AIM-120 if AIM-120s are present/available.
  • Existing Fire Control Computer upgraded to Expanded FCC (XFCC).
    • 32 kb Core memory replaced by 128 kb battery backed RAM.
    • Added dual mux bus protocol BCI.
    • Improved microprocessor throughput.
  • Existing Central Interface Unit upgraded to Expanded CIU (XCIU).
    • 40 kb EPROM replaced by 64 kb EEPROM.
    • Memory capacity later expanded to 128 kb EEPROM.
  • Software upgrade to 15S standard (including features for Penguin missile, DTU, SMS restructure).
  • APG-66 Block-15S radar and data link.

It became possible to fire the Penguin, AGM-65 Maverick, and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles.

Pacer Bond

On September 5, 1986 the first F-16 (J-358) with Stealth modifications was delivered at Twenthe Air Base. The most striking exterior difference after the so called Pacer Bond modification was the gold/brown colored canopy. The thin layer of 400 Å of a special material (believed to be Indium Tinoxyde of the US company PPG Industries) causes the aircraft's Radar Cross Section to be reduced which is important with Beyond Visual Range weapons. It is effective in the 1 GHz range and also helps in protecting the avionics from Electromagnetic Interference (EMI). Radar Absorbing Materials were fitted on the front of the air intake and parts surrounding the radar antenna.

Mid-Life Update

Currently the F-16 is in the process of undergoing an extensive Mid-Life Update program. In this extensive update, most if not all of the aircraft's avionics will be upgraded and will prepare the aircraft of the Royal Netherlands Air Force for Beyond Visual Range weapons, night vision equipment and tactical enhancements. More information regarding the Mid-Life Update of the F-16 can be found on the page F-16 Mid-Life Update.

After the Mid-Life Update, 122 aircraft of the 213 originally purchased will be left. Of these, 108 will have an operational status.

Modifications of the first RNLAF aircraft (J-251) were completed July 4, 1996 at Woensdrecht Air Base.

General Characteristics

Primary Function Multi-role fighter
Length 49 ft 5 inch (14.8 m)
Height 16 ft (4.8 m)
Wingspan 32 ft, 8 inch (9.8 m)
  Wing loading 398 kg/m2
Speed 1,500 mph (Mach 2 @ sea level)
Initial climb rate 62,000 ft/min
Turn rate 10.7 deg/sec @ 20,000 ft (with full internal fuel and 2x AIM-9)
Ground roll 800 m ( with 1,815 kg internal load)
Ceiling >50,000 ft (15 km)
Radius of action >2,000 miles ferry range (1,740 nm)
Lo-Lo radius of action 545 km (with 6x Mk.82)
Empty weight 15,586 lbs (A); 16,258 lbs (B)
Maximum takeoff weight 37,500 lbs (16,875 kg)
Typical takeoff weight 22,500 lbs (A); 22,000 lbs (B)
Internal fuel 6,972 lbs (A); 5,785 lbs (B)
Power Plant Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-200 or -220 turbofan with afterburner
  Thrust 24,000 lbs (10,800 kg)
  Thrust-to-weight ratio 1.10 ("clean" configuration)
  Engine stall rate 4.1 ('77)
  Stagnation rate 2.3 per 1,000 hrs ('77)
  Loss rate 16 per 100,000 hrs ('77)
Armament 1x M-61A1 20 mm multibarrel cannon with 511 rounds;
external stations can carry up to six AIM-9 infrared missiles,
conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions and
electronic countermeasure pods.
Unit cost US$ 9.5 million
Crew 1 (A); 2(B)
Source: RNLAF, LMTAS, Jane's, FAS