The combat aircraft is powered by a single jet engine and accommodates a crew of one. It can attain heights of 50,000 feet and features shoulder-mounted swept wings, twin fins and internal weapons carriage. A transparent bubble canopy over the cockpit gives the pilot a near-panoramic view of the sky in order to more easily spot potential targets and attackers. The aircraft is equipped with radar systems that can home in on a target under any weather conditions.
The Fighting Falcon’s combat radius -- the distance to which it can deliver weapons while defending itself and then fly back to base -- is more than 500 miles. Its ordinary range is more than 2,000 miles. It is about 50 feet long with a wingspan of more than 32 feet. It is supersonic, able to fly at an altitude of 50,000 feet with a top speed of 1,500 miles per hour (Mach 2).
The U.S. military has around 1,300 F-16s. The original model, the single-seat F-16A, first flew in December 1976. The most recent model, the F-16D, accommodates a crew of two.
The F-16 was developed by a consortium comprising the United States and four NATO countries -- Norway, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands -- which jointly produced an initial 348 F-16s for their air forces. The consortium was recently joined by Portugal. The program allows for technology transfer among the participating countries and ensures a steady supply of repair parts in Europe, which in turn enhances the F-16's combat readiness.
The plane provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system and can carry both nuclear and non-nuclear weapons. Its other nicknames include the Electric Jet, the Viper and the Lawn Dart.
F-16 fighters saw plenty of action in the Persian Gulf in 1991 as part of numerous sorties flown in support of Operation Desert Storm.
The F-16 is a centerpiece of combat operations in the U.S. war on terror launched in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, flying thousands of sorties in support of operations Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom.
The plane is built by Lockheed Martin Corp., with armaments including an M-61A1 20mm multibarrel cannon equipped with 500 rounds, as well as external stations for carrying air-to-air missiles and conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions.