F-16 Fighters: ‘Shot To Fame’ By Downing MiG-25, US To Celebrate 50 Years Of Fighting Falcons

The air is festive at the Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) of the United States Air Force (USAF) as it prepares to host the 50th anniversary of the F-16 Fighting Falcon’s first flight later this month.

The Edwards AFB announced on January 16. “Edwards Air Force Base is pleased to announce that they will host the 50th anniversary celebration of the F-16’s first flight. The event will occur on Thursday, January 25, 2024, from 8 am-8 pm.”

On January 20, 1974, the General Dynamics YF-16 made its maiden flight when it took off accidentally from Edwards AFB. On that day, it was being piloted by test pilot Phil Oestricher.

As he recalled, the aircraft lifted off the runway when Oestricher was performing high-speed taxi tests. Despite running the danger of damaging the aircraft, Oestricher decided to lift off and return for a standard landing. However, the first official flight took place on February 2.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is an American single-engine supersonic aircraft initially designed as an air superiority fighter for the USAF. It started as a day air superiority fighter but eventually developed into an all-weather multirole aircraft. 

The event marking the 50th anniversary of its first flight would see an array of events, including speeches by several F-16 operating veterans, two Desert Storm POWs, and retired General Gary “Nordo” North, who piloted the first F-16 Air to Air Kill. The event will also feature the ACC F-16 Demo Team/Tribute Formations.

In addition to the planned activities, the F-16 celebration will include a static display of the F-16 XL, the first F-16B, the X-62A Vista, the Thunderbirds, Navy Aggressors, and over forty F-16s that will be arriving from throughout the country to take part in the festivities.

More than 50 years after its maiden flight, the Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jet remains famous. Even though the US Air Force no longer purchases them, upgraded models are being manufactured for international markets. 

The aircraft remains one of the most combat-tested aircraft in the world and has held the reputation of being the most widely purchased fixed-wing aircraft worldwide by global customers. It is a no-brainer then that Ukraine lobbied for an entire year to bag approval for the F-16 fighter jets.

After vigorously pleading for F-16 fighters from its partners in NATO, Ukraine is currently training its F-16 pilots while the invaded nation waits for the planes to arrive from Europe. By the end of 2023, Ukrainian pilots had graduated from learning the fundamentals of flight in the UK to receiving advanced training in flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon in Denmark.

Some countries are still relentlessly making efforts to acquire the aircraft. The ongoing impasse between the United States and Turkey over 40 F-16 Block 70/72 fighters is a case in point. According to observations made by military analysts over the last several months, Ankara’s dedication to the aircraft has also served as a reminder of the jet’s value.

On July 10, 2023, US President Joe Biden announced that his administration would proceed with the fresh jet transfer, one day after Ankara approved Sweden’s NATO membership. Although things have not drastically moved, Turkey has not let go of the hope.

The F-16, despite being combat operational for decades now, visibly continues to be a popular choice worldwide. It has been argued that not all countries have the need or the resources to purchase and maintain advanced fighter jets of the latest generations. This has allowed the F-16, which has left an indelible mark owing to its successful combat record, to stay relevant and in demand.

In a detailed article written for EurAsian Times, Associate Professor of Indo-Pacific Studies at the USAF Air University Culture and Language Center Amit Gupta explained, “If we look around the world, the airpower requirements of most nations are not centered around the expensive fifth or 4.5-generation fighters like the F-35 Lightning, the French Rafale, or the Typhoon Eurofighter.” This is where the F-16 comes into the picture.

Several aircraft users have signed agreements to carry out upgrades to their existing F-16 fighter fleet or purchase the new upgraded variants. For instance, Taiwan is converting several of its F-16s to the most advanced Viper variant as it bolsters its combat capability to counter a potential Chinese invasion attempt.

F-16 Have A Legacy That Lives On!

According to the US Air Force, “In an air combat role, the F-16’s maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) 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.”

As for the air-to-surface role, the USAF says that “the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 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 deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions accurately.”

F-16 Wolf Pack
File Image: F-16 Wolf Pack

The F-16 boasts a stellar combat record, a high degree of battlefield success throughout operation and deployment, and a tendency to tip the odds in favor of its operators in high-stakes air-to-air encounters.

The United States produced the F-16, which has been involved in most of the US military’s primary global combat operations. The F-16 saw combat duty in the Balkans during that decade and Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

On April 5, 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 688 (UNSCR 688) prohibiting fixed and rotary-wing aircraft from operating in airspace south of the 33rd parallel. Operation Southern Watch (OSW) was launched on August 27, 1992, to ensure Iraqi compliance with this resolution.

On December 27, 1992, an F-16 patrolled the post-war Iraqi no-fly zone. One of the most famous clashes took place when an Iraqi MiG-25 fighter violated the no-fly zone and entered airspace south of the 33rd parallel. The F-16 shot down the MiG-25 with the first-ever air-to-air kill for both an F-16 and an AMRAAM. 

This pilot scored both the first U.S. F-16 kill and the first kill for the AIM 120 AMRAAM
General Gary “Nordo” North scored both the first U.S. F-16 kill and the first kill for the AIM 120 AMRAAM.

The pilot who was credited with this first-ever kill, General Gary “Nordo” North, later told Col. Paul “PK” White on October 28, 1998, in an interview, “I saw three separate detonations, the nose and left wing broke instantly, and the tail section continued into the main body of the jet, and finally one huge fireball.” Interestingly, Nordo is slated to attend the upcoming F-16 event.

Furthermore, the F-16s participated in both the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq from 2001 to 2003, patrolling the no-fly zones during Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch. These deployments occurred during the early years of the twenty-first century when combat was evolving. F-16s also took part in the 2011 operation in Libya, which altered the landscape of the region for years to come.

Several other states have used the F-16 in conflicts globally. Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and other nations have all sent F-16 Fighting Falcons in ongoing hostilities. A Dutch F-16 AM shot down a Yugoslavian MiG-29 aircraft of Soviet origin during the Kosovo War in the late 1990s. You can read a detailed EurAsian Times article on the incident here.

One particular F-16 operator and US ally is Israel, which also carried out the mission that is still regarded as one of the biggest air fights in modern history. Israeli F-16s are credited with 44 air-to-air kills in the Lebanon war of 1982 with zero losses. During the fighting, one aircraft is said to have shot down four Syrian fighters in a single sortie.

The F-16s have continued to be deployed in times of contingencies until very recently. Late last month, the Polish government announced that it scrambled F-16 fighter jets in response to a Russian missile trespassing Poland’s airspace during a large-scale attack on Ukraine.

As Ukraine readies to receive the F-16s sometime later this year, the aircraft will likely be facing off against the cutting-edge fighter jets of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). The 50th anniversary of the aircraft’s first flight will be a massive celebration at Anderson next week.