A single-seat jet developed by the US, F-16 Falcons have the unfortunate nickname "Lawn Dart" because they only have one, albiet huge, turbojet engine. The F-16 is smaller and lighter (and thus more manuverable; has about half the turn radius of an F-15 at similar speeds) than twin-engine fighters such as the F-15 and F-14 to make up for this. It's also much less expensive than the two previously mentioned: 16's cost about 15 million, while the other two run around 50 million. It can be configured for both air superiority and as a bomber. The two-seaters are the training version.

The 16 is not the only fighter that produces more thrust than weight and thus can accelerate straight up. The F-15 and F/A-18 are also capable of this, and possibly some others, not necessarily of US origin. Neither the 16 nor 15 are capable of vertical acceleration when fully loaded with weapons and fuel.

The F-16 is one of the only fighter aircraft in the world to produce more thrust than the weight of the aircraft. This allows the aircraft to do really nifty things like accelerate while going straight up. This maneuver is commonly demonstrated at air shows. The pilot will "walk" his aircraft at very low speed down the runway while standing it on its tail. The force of the exhaust keeps the plane in the air in the absense of lift. When the pilot finishes his pass the only way out of this nose-up position is to accelerate straight up. This returns the flow of air over the wing to normal, allowing the F-16 to resume normal flight. If it were not for the huge jet engine, the plane would stall and crash.

Some additional F-16 trivia...

The F-16 was the first production operational aircraft to be completely fly-by-wire. As a result, given the single engine, an extra-large APU is installed in the aircraft so that in the event of flameout or other Bad Thing happening, the pilot retains control of all flight surfaces as well as critical instrumentation. One other consequence of this characteristic of the aircraft is an early nickname: The Electric Jet.

U.S. F-16s were, indeed, originally intended as lightweight interceptors and 'day fighters,' designed to be cheap enough to produce in the large numbers required to stem the feared massive Soviet bomber incursion. They lacked the radar and avionics necessary to perform search and fire-control at long (BVR) ranges. They were strictly an air-to-air platform. The first users to modify the original F-16A were the U.S.'s favorite combat aircraft testers the IAF. The Israelis, necessity being the mother of invention, had discovered that the airplane had sufficient payload and clean enough aerodynamics to sling bombs under the wings and fuselage. Initially, they were used as seat-of-the-pants dive bombers, because their avionics lacked an air-to-ground mode. This was swiftly corrected in later versions of the fighter, however, and ground-attack is now one of the F-16's primary roles with all aircraft built since 1981 sporting strengthened airframes and hardpoints for ordnance. These later aircraft also have full support for ground-attack and (in newer versions) SEAD missions in their combat systems, making the F-16 possibly the U.S. Air Force's most versatile aircraft.

It also retains its secondary original design purpose - to be a 'pilot's airplane.' Even fully loaded, the F-16 can pull 9 Gs, in excess of many pilots. The pilot is seated at a rearward tilt to compensate for these forces. In order to retain field of view, the pilot's seat - known colloquially to F-16 pilots as the 'Easy Chair' - is set high in the cockpit. This, along with the F-16's distinctive 'bubble' canopy, combine to give the pilot maximum visibility for dogfighting situations.

To further allow the pilot to remain in a G-protected position, the F-16 is controlled not by a centerline 'stick' or 'yoke' but by a side hand controller, mounted on the right side of the cockpit, with the throttle on the left. This allows the pilot's arms to rest on supports during flight. As originally designed, this controller was completely immobile, reacting to the pressure against it. This was swiftly changed, however, as the lack of motion feedback led pilots to complain that the airplane was 'too sensitive' as they overcontrolled the stick. Subsequently, the controller (while retaining its pressure-sensitivity) was given 1/4" of radial travel out from center, which was enough to assuage the pilots' reflexes.

The F-16 was built (initially) by the U.S. in consortium with four other NATO nations. This allowed the other members of the group to acquire their F-16s concurrently with the U.S., rather than to wait for the line to clear for foreign military sales production. In addition, Belgium was selected to assemble the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine used in the aircraft. As a result, F-16s are in widespread use throughout NATO, controlling the cost of maintenance and allowing commonality between different nations' aircraft. All U.S. active and reserve forces have converted to the F-16 C/D (the latter being a two-seat trainer version), with earlier aircraft either retired, sold off or in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB for conversion or destruction.

In reference to the nickname mentioned above by Tsarren, I find my favorite bit of trivia comes from the estimable Mark Bowden, who wrote Black Hawk Down. He was with an F-15 squadron during operations in Afghanistan in late 2001/early 2002, and was looking for female combat personnel. He found that the only female WSO in the squadron was nicknamed "Baldy" for her callsign. As the lady in question had a lustrous head of hair, he made inquiries, and discovered two things - the nickname was actually BALDD, pronounced "Baldy," and that the lady was married to an F-16 pilot.

BALDD, it turns out, is an acronym helpfully thought up by the lady's squadron mates. It stands for "Bangs A Lawn Dart Driver."

Finally, courtesy of the USAF, here are some stats for us whacko warmongering numbercrunchers:

  • Primary Function: Multirole fighter
  • Builder: Lockheed Martin Corp.
  • Power Plant: F-16C/D: one Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-200/220/229 or General Electric F110-GE-100/129
  • Thrust: F-16C/D, 27,000 pounds
  • Length: 49 feet, 5 inches (14.8 meters)
  • Height: 16 feet (4.8 meters)
  • Wingspan: 32 feet, 8 inches (9.8 meters)
  • Speed: 1,500 mph (Mach 2 at altitude)
  • Ceiling: Above 50,000 feet (15 kilometers)
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 37,500 pounds (16,875 kilograms)
  • Range: More than 2,000 miles ferry range (1,740 nautical miles); 500 miles combat radius in air-to-ground configuration, fully loaded.
  • Armament: One M-61A1 20mm multibarrel cannon with 500 rounds; external stations can carry up to six air-to-air missiles, conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions and electronic countermeasure pods
  • Unit cost: F-16A/B , $30.1 million; F-16C/D, $34.3 million (2000 dollars)
  • Crew: F-16C, one; F-16D, one or two
  • Date Deployed: January 1979

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