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.