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U.S. Air Force celebrates 50th anniversary of F-16 flight

  • Published
  • By Brian Brackens
  • Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Fifty years ago the F-16 Fighting Falcon took its first flight.

To mark the historic anniversary, senior Air Force leaders, 88th Air Base Wing leadership, members of the F-16 Program Office, representatives from Lockheed Martin, and pilots from the F-16 Viper Demo Team, 122nd Fighter Wing and 148th Fighter Wing, gathered in a hangar here on June 25, to celebrate, share stories, and recognize the team behind the aircraft’s success.

“Thank you all for coming here today,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Voorheis, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft. “This celebration really is a testament to the dedication and tireless effort from all the men and women who have worked in the program office, who have built, tested, maintained, supported or flown this aircraft at some point over the last 50 years. Your unwavering commitment to excellence and your tireless devotion to duty are the reason the F-16 is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year -- and with our FMS [foreign military sales] customers, will be around for another 50 [years] or more.”

Also, at the ceremony to provide a keynote address was retired Gen. Gary North, Vice President of Customer Requirements at Lockheed Martin, a former commander of Pacific Air Forces, and the first U.S. Air Force pilot to achieve an aerial kill in an F-16 during Operation Southern Watch.

North talked about his experience flying the F-16 and highlighted the aircraft’s importance to U.S. national security.

Over the years, more than 4,600 F-16s have been built, and between the U.S. Air Force and foreign military partners, approximately 2,600 are still in service today. 

“Our No. 1 priority is to make sure that F-16 pilots are able to fly, land, and carry out their mission successfully,” said Shanika Sims, Deputy Senior Materiel Leader for the Foreign Military Sales.  “Our foreign partners have been a key part of the journey from the beginning.”

The aircraft plays a key role for the U.S. Air Force, representing around 40 percent of the service’s fighter fleet. Last year alone, U.S. Air Force pilots flew more than 147,000 flight hours in the aircraft.

The F-16 Program Office has led numerous efforts to keep the aircraft operational, and in the fight including equipping the aircraft with the latest avionics, structural modifications, sensors, and electronic warfare systems to enhance its capabilities and extend its lifespan. More recently, the program has undertaken one of the largest modernization efforts in U.S. Air Force history.

“There’s a lot to look forward to with this aircraft,” said Jeremy Shock, Senior Materiel Leader for the U.S. Air Force F-16 fleet. “We are putting many modifications on the aircraft, to include new radars, computers, displays, comms, ethernet throughout the aircraft, and integrating new weapons. We currently have 100 personnel on contract to install these modifications at 10 bases today, in the European and Pacific theaters as well as CONUS [continental United States] bases with plans to double that by the end of 2025. This is a very capable aircraft and there’s a lot more capabilities coming.”

“Fifty years of flying is something to celebrate,” added Matthew Sukraw, Deputy System Program Manager for the F-16 Program Office. “Pound for pound the F-16 is the best fighter around, dominating the air in every conflict since Desert Storm. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this history and legacy then right here with members of this team.”