From YF-16 To F-16 Viper: US Unveils ‘Iconic’ 1974 Paint Scheme To Celebrate 50 Years Of Fighter Jet

The US Air Force (USAF) F-16 Viper demonstration team paid homage to the first flight undertaken by the prototype of the F-16 by unveiling a paint scheme worn by that aircraft when it took to the skies five decades ago.

The paint scheme is a tribute to the original YF-16 prototype in honor of the F-16 Fighting Falcon’s 50th anniversary. The scheme was finished in less than two months by the 412th Test Wing, just in time for its debut at the Edwards Air Force Base (AFB).

The demo jet is painted in the same red, white, and blue livery as the YF-16. However, it has a few modifications, such as “Viper Demo” and the team’s home unit, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, emblazoned on the tail of the aircraft.

“Everyone at Edwards has a big sense of pride for not only supporting the Viper Demo Team but also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the F-16, which began right here at Edwards in 1974,” said Tony Accurso, 416th Flight Test Squadron logistics manager, Air Force veteran, and director for the Edwards AFB F-16 50th Anniversary event.

About four months ago, Edwards painted the tail of one of its F-16s in the same colors as the new F-16 demo team aircraft paint job. The Edwards AFB hosted a celebration of the F-16 Fighting Falcon in January this year, marking 50 years since the debut flight. USAF Materiel Command published recent photos of an F-16V paint scheme on May 24 on its official account on X (previously Twitter).

Additionally, Capt. Taylor Hiester, the demo team leader, said in the release: “When I was hired to be the commander and pilot in the summer of last year, I had made it known that I hoped to find a way to get our airplane painted in the prototype scheme to take America back to the beginning of the story that started 50 years ago.”

While the maiden flight is being celebrated, it is interesting to note that it was an accidental flight. Piloted by test pilot Phil Oestricher, the General Dynamics YF-16 made its first flight when it unintentionally took off from Edwards AFB on January 20, 1974.

According to Oestricher, he was conducting high-speed taxi tests when the plane took off from the runway. The aircraft accelerated to a point where it lost stability, sparking as its wingtips struck the tarmac. Oestricher determined that it would be safest to launch the jet and make a six-minute round before coming to a stop. He chose to take off and return for a typical landing, even though there was a chance he would damage the plane.

The jet made its official debut on February 2, 1974, following a tune-up. According to Edwards AFB, an inquiry praised Oestricher for preserving the prototype.

The pilot stated that he had always planned “to put a little bit of daylight under the wheels, maybe a foot or two, fly it about a thousand feet down the runway, and land it, and in the meantime checking out the lateral or the roll response sensitivity” in a 2012 interview with Lockheed Martin.

Fifty years later, the air remains festive at Edwards AFB with a host of events planned to celebrate the legacy of an aircraft with an excellent combat reputation. The F-16V demo group is expected to commemorate the milestone with 25 performances in four nations.

YF-16 Fighting Falcon-Wikimedia Commons

All Eyes On The F-16 — Once Again!

The F-16 fighter jet remains popular more than five decades after its maiden flight. Its superior combat record has made it a formidable weapon. The Fighting Falcon has participated in over 400,000 combat sorties — with 19 million flying hours — since it went into service in 1979.

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 said: “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.”

The aircraft is in focus once again as Taiwan recently scrambled its F-16 Vipers — the most advanced iteration of the Fighting Falcon — in response to a dangerous two-day Chinese drill that simulated an invasion of the self-ruled island state.

The Taiwanese Air Force also released two videos showing how the F-16s monitored the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s J-16s and a H-6 bomber when they entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone.

The F-16s have remained in the headlines for several months now, especially as Ukraine awaits the delivery of these combat-hardened jets to take on the Russian Air Force. Ukrainian fighter pilots are currently undergoing the last leg of their training. The jets are expected to arrive in Kyiv in the next few weeks.

F-16 Fighting Falcon from the Royal Danish Air Force – Wikimedia Commons

Even the older iterations of the jet remain in popular demand. For instance, Argentina recently signed an agreement to purchase two dozen used F-16s from Denmark despite options such as JF-17s at its disposal.

It is safe to say that fifty years on, the F-16 remains as relevant as ever and refuses to leave the spotlight.