The General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon seems likely to be the most important fighter in the West for the last century. Yet it took to the air for the first time by accident. On 20 January 1974, pilot Phil Oestricher was having difficulty in taxi trials of the first YF-16 at Edwards AFB and, rather than make an abrupt and risky halt, took off and flew the aircraft for six minutes.
Designed in 1971 for the USAF's
lightweight fighter competition (LWF), the two YF-16 prototypes won out
over the Northrop YF-17 in a fly-off contest. If not as lightweight as
once envisaged, grossing the scales at 16057kg, the F-16A production
fighter and its two-seat F-16B derivative clearly had great stretching
potential for future development. On 7 June 1975, in what was called the
'deal of the century', it was announced that the F-16 had been chosen
by Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway to re-equip their air
forces. Though these NATO air arms were always seen as the prime
customers for the type, subsequent foreign purchasers have included
Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Pakistan, Thailand,
Turkey and Venezuela. First deliveries to the USAF
reached the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, on 6 January
1979 and its first overseas unit, the 8th TFW at Kunsan AB, South Korea,
on 1 November 1980. The first USAF unit in Europe to re-equip with
Fighting Falcons was the 50th TFW at Hahn
Characterized by a pointed nose and low-slung inlet for its 10814kg afterburning thrust Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200 turbofan, the F-16 has swept wings which are blended into the fuselage, saving weight, increasing lift at high angles of attack and reducing drag in the transonic speed range. Movable leading-and trailing-edge flaps, controlled automatically by the aircraft's speed and attitude, enable the wing to assume an optimum configuration for lift under all conditions of flight. All flying controls are operated by a 'fly-by-wire' electronic system.
Variants of the Fighting Falcon
include the F-16/79, a company-financed F-16 powered by a lower-cost
8165kg thrust General Electric J79-GE-119 afterburning turbojet engine.
First flown 29 October 1980 and extant in F-16/79A (single-seat) and
F-16/79B (two-seat) versions, the craft is intended as a reduced-cost
export machine. The F-16/101 was a similarly re-engined example powered
by a 12701kg thrust General Electric F101 turbojet of the same type as
that which powers the Rockwell B-1 bomber.
The F-16C (single-seat) and F-16D (two-seat) are improved versions of the F-16A and F-16B and have replaced them on General Dynamics' Fort Worth production line by early 1985. The F-16R is a reconnaissance version with an under fuselage pod, and the F-16N is an 'Aggressor' version for the US Navy.
Without doubt, the most exciting combat aircraft of the early twenty-first century is the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. In the late 1970s, the US Air Force identified a requirement for 750 examples of an Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) to replace the F-15 Eagle. Flown by a single pilot, it must be able to survive in an environment filled with people, both in the air and on the ground, whose sole purpose is to destroy it. To test the concepts that would eventually be combined in the ATF, the US AF initiated a series of parallel research programs. The first was the YF-16 control-configured vehicle (CCV) which flew in 1976-77 and demonstrated the decoupled control of aircraft flight path and attitude; in other words, the machine could skid sideways, turn without banking, climb or descend without changing its attitude, and point its nose left or right, or up or down, without changing its flight path. Other test vehicles involved in the ATF program included the Grumman X-29, which flew for the first time in December 1984 and which was designed to investigate forward-sweep technology, and an F-111 fitted with a mission adaptive wing (MAW) - in other words, a wing capable of reconfiguring itself automatically to mission requirements.
Flight testing of all these experimental aircraft came under the umbrella of the USAF's Advanced Fighter Technology Integration (AFTI) program. In September 1983, while the AFTI program was well under way, the USAF awarded ATF concept definition study contracts to six American aerospace companies and, of these, two - Lockheed and Northrop - were selected to build demonstrator prototypes of their respective proposals. Each company produced two prototypes, the Lockheed YF-22 and the Northrop YF-23, and all four aircraft flew in 1990. Two different power plants, the Pratt & Whitney YF1-19 and the General Electric YF-120, were evaluated, and in April 1991 it was announced that the F-22 and F119 were the winning combination. The F-119 advanced technology engine, two of which power the F-22, develops 155kN and is fitted with two-dimensional convergent/ divergent exhaust nozzles with thrust vectoring for enhanced performance and maneuverability. The F-22 passed milestone II in 1991. At that time, the Air Force planned to acquire 648 F-22 operational aircraft at a cost of $86.6 billion. After the Bottom Up Review, completed by DOD in September 1993, the planned quantity of F-22s was reduced to 442 at an estimated cost of $71.6 billion.
The first definitive F-22 prototype was rolled out at the Lockheed Martin plant at Marietta, Georgia, on 9 April 1997. There were numerous problems with this aircraft, including software troubles and fuel leaks, and the first flight was delayed to 7 September 1997. The second prototype first flew on 29 June 1998. By late 2001, there were eight F-22s flying. The F-22 combines many stealth features. Its air-to-air weapons, for example, are stored internally; three internal bays house advanced short-range, medium-range and beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles. Following an assessment of the aircraft's combat role in 1993, it was decided to add a ground-attack capability, and the internal weapons bay is also capable of accommodating 454kg GBU-32 precisionguided missiles.
The F-22 is designed for a high
sortie rate, with a turnaround time of less than 20 minutes, and its
avionics are highly integrated to provide rapid reaction in air combat,
much of its survivability depending on the pilot's ability to locate a
target very early and take it out with a first shot. The F-22 was
designed to meet a specific threat, which at that time was presented by
large numbers of highly agile Soviet combat aircraft, its task being to
engage them in their own airspace with beyond-visual-range weaponry.
The X-35 Joint Strike Fighter project originated in a 1980s requirement by the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy that a replacement for the Sea Harrier and AV-8B would be needed early in the twenty-first century. Various research studies were undertaken on both sides of the Atlantic into advanced short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) concepts, the most promising of which appeared to involve the use of a dedicated lift-fan located behind the cockpit. In 1989, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) took over leadership of the advanced STOVL project and focused the on-going effort into a phased development program leading to a flying demonstrator aircraft using the powerful new engines developed for the YF-22 and YF-23 Advanced Tactical Fighter.
As the studies progressed, it was realized that a STOVL aircraft with the lift-fan removed and replaced by a large fuel tank would result in a fighter with excellent long-range capability. Such a fighter would fulfill the needs of the US Air Force, which was looking for a longer-ranged fighter capability in the light of Gulf War operations. So was born the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) project, aimed at producing a single aircraft design with both STOVL and conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variants. In March 1993, study contracts were issued to Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas under the CALF project. In addition, Boeing and Northrop Grumman initiated private venture design studies.
In 1995, CALF was absorbed into the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program, which was originally intended to focus on technology studies and demonstration of various equipment for next-generation strike aircraft. In fact, JAST soon evolved into a firm requirement for an advanced single-seat, single-engined lightweight multi-role fighter which could be operated by the USAF, US Navy and US Marine Corps in closely similar variants. In 1996, JAST was renamed JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), and in November that year Boeing and Lockheed Martin were awarded contracts to build two Concept Demonstrator Aircraft (CDA) -one CTOL version and one STOVL version - each. The aircraft were not intended to be fighter prototypes, but rather to prove that the selected design concepts would work, hence the use of X-series designations. The Boeing design received the designation , while the Lockheed Martin design was given the designation X-35. For the two Concept Demonstrator Aircraft, the designation X-35A was allocated to the CTOL version and X-35B to the STOVL version.
Unlike Boeing, Lockheed Martin
introduced a third version, the X-35C, to undertake simulated
aircraft carrier (CV/CTOL) testing. This aircraft was produced by
converting the existing X-35A after it had completed its planned flight
trials. The Lockheed Martin X-35A and X-35B possess very similar
airframes, including the aft cockpit bulge and associated doors for the
lift-fan, which is only fitted to the X-35B. The Lockheed Martin X-35A made its
first flight on 24 October 2000 from Palmdale, California.