The beauty of the sky for fighter pilots, the terror of the sky for the enemy. Where have the legendary F-16 and F/A-18 gone? Are they still in service today? And who are the successors?
In addition to a large number of commercial airline pilots, we also count many military pilots among the users of CrewLounge AERO. Some of them fly in the Air Force, others serve in the Navy. That brings us to the legendary F-16 and F/A-18.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon
The General Dynamics F-16 “Fighting Falcon”, often referred to as the “Viper” by pilots, was introduced in 1978 as the successor to the F-104 Starfighter. The fighter is available in single seat and dual seat versions.
The F-16 is a so-called “fourth-generation” aircraft, and innovative in many aspects. It was the first fly-by-wire combat aircraft. The aircraft could withstand up to 9G of gravity with a full fuel tank. The F-16 was not the fastest jet of its time, but it was very maneuverable. Standard equipped with an internal M61 fire cannon with 500 cartridges and a maximum fire rate of 6000 bullets per minute. There are 11 locations for mounting weapons and other mission equipment.
The US Air Force took delivery of the first aircraft in 1978. Europe followed in 1979, and Israel in 1980. The latter immediately deployed its aircraft during military operations in 1981 in Iraq and in 1982 in the Lebanese war. The US first used the F-16 in enemy operations during the Gulf War in 1991.
In total, more than 4,500 aircraft have been produced and sold to 24 countries. Of these, about 500 aircraft were lost. The US Air Force has taken delivery of about 1,000 aircraft. Manufacturer Lockheed delivered the last F-16 to the Iraqi Air Force in 2017, ending 40 years of F-16 production. Today the F-16 still has an important position in the air force fleet of several countries. But there is a visible transition to “fifth-generation” fighter jets.
The F/A-18 Hornet
The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 “Hornet” is an all-weather multirole combat jet. Although the F/A-18 is based on its predecessor, the Northrop F-17, it has many similarities with the F-16. Both aircraft come from the same development program.
The Hornet was among the first aircraft to mainly use multifunction displays in the cockpit. Despite its relatively limited range and lower maximum payload, the Hornet was a very versatile jet. The F/A-18 was used as an interceptor fighter, air defense fighter, an attack aircraft and other roles.
McDonnell Douglas rolled out the first F/A-18 in 1978 to the US Navy. The Hornet was first used in combat operations by the United States during the 1986 bombing of Libya. It also participated in the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War.
Other countries such as Australia, Canada, Finland and Spain also bought the Hornet for their air forces and navies. In total, almost 1500 aircraft have been built, with an extensive list of different variants. The US Navy ended operational deployment of the F/A-18 in 2018. But today, the Hornet is still in service with military air forces and navies in other countries.
At the Movies
The F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet are both “lightweight” fighters. However, there are some clear differences. First of all, the F-16 has only one engine, while the F/A-18 is equipped with two engines. This is mainly due to the fact that the F-16 was mainly designed for overland operations, while the F/A-18 mostly operates from aircraft sea carriers. The F/A-18 is slightly slower than the F-16, the latter has a maximum speed of just over Mach 2.
Both aircraft also feature in various films on the silver screen. The F-16 shines in the “Iron Eagle” and the F/A-18 is the hero in “Independence Day“. Neither appear in “Top Gun”, it’s the F-14 Tomcat playing the leading role in this movie.
There are numerous display teams that steal the airshow with F-16 and F/A-18. Perhaps the most famous are the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds with white painted F-16s, and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels with blue-yellow colored F/A-18.
The Past, the Future
The F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet used to be among the best fighter jets in the world. But that success was decades ago. Today, they do no longer appear in the Top 10.
The F-16 and F/A-18 belong to the 4th generation. Meanwhile, air forces are transitioning to 5th generation combat jets, that have new features such as all-aspect stealth, improved radar detection avoidance, high performance airframes and advanced avionics. In the Top 3 today you find the American Lockheed Martin F-35, the Russian Sukhoi SU-57 and the Chinese Chengdu J-20.
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