Fighting Falcon

The planes that visited our base belonged to two squadrons – 510 FS „Buzzards” and 555 FS „Triple Nickel” which are part of the 31st USAFE Fighter Wing stationed in Aviano, Italy. There were two F-16D Block 40H (Bu No 90 0777) and Block 40K (Bu No 90 0800) and the single-seater F-16C Block 40E (Bu No 89 2049). The F-16 arrived as part of the stay in our country of the AIRNORTH commander, General Foglesong.

F-16C / D Block 40

Aircraft of this version began entering USAF equipment in December 1988. Built according to the full MSIP modernization program, Block 40 aircraft were a new quality in the F-16 family, as they were adapted to attack ground targets in all weather conditions, day and night. The changes affected practically all the most important elements of the aircraft’s navigation, targeting and radio equipment. The radar station was upgraded to the AN / APG-68 (V) version, enabling the launch of AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles simultaneously at four targets (two at short intervals). The AN / APG-68 (V) had been mounted earlier – on the F-16C-30B, but Block 40 planes were the first to be equipped with AIM-120 missiles and they were the first to take full advantage of the new possibilities.

The most important change that allows attacking ground targets in all conditions was the use of LANTIRN – Low Level Navigation and Targeting by Infra Red for Night containers, developed since the early 1980s . The hopper trials began in 1983 and lasted four years – until 1988. Initially, due to the high price and priority of deliveries, they were used on the F-15E Strike Eagle , and at the end of 1988, the LANTIRNs went to the F-16C / D.

The set consists of two trays: the AN / AAQ-13 navigation and the AN / AAQ-14 sight. The navigation tray houses the TFR ( Terrain Following Radar ) radar, which, when coupled with the aircraft control system, enables flight according to the sculpture the terrain at an altitude of 300 to 30 m. In addition to the TFR radar, the navigation tray contains a thermal imaging camera for observing the space in front of the aircraft, from which the imaging is displayed on the HUD translucent indicator (in the rear cabin of the F-16D it is repeated on one of the CRT monitors – the imaging repeater HUD indicator). The new GEC Marconi translucent indicator was used, with a much larger field of view of 30 o x 20 o. Block 40 and 42 planes are the only variant equipped with HUD indicators of this type. In the AN / AAQ-14 targeting container – in its rotating head there is also a thermal imaging camera with a variable field of view but with a higher resolution. There is also a laser rangefinder / target marker coupled with the camera. On the F-16C and F-16D, the navigation pod is hung on the node on the left side of the air inlet, and the targeting pod on the right side (5L and 5R nodes), unlike on the F-15E. The use of the LANTIRN system made it possible to fully use the capabilities of the AGM-65D / G missiles – targets detected and recognized with the use of LANTIRN may be indicated for the AGM-65 missiles. Thanks to the LANTIRN system, the range of weapons to be taken was also extended to the guided bombs of the Paveway family – GBU-10/12/24.

The changes also affected the airframe. Due to the increased maximum take-off weight – up to 19,187 kg, the airframe and the undercarriage were appropriately strengthened. The wheels were slightly enlarged, as a result of which characteristic „bubbles” appeared on the main undercarriage covers. In addition, it turned out that the LANTIRN containers partially obscured the taxiing reflector located on the main landing gear leg. So it was transferred to the front undercarriage cover. Despite the increased mass, the operating limits of the F-16 have not changed so far.

A new element that facilitated the piloting of the aircraft was the digital control system. In contrast to the previously used analog system, the digital system ensured faster response and thus allowed the stabilization of the aircraft in a wider range of flight parameters. As a result, the previously used safety stocks were changed and the operational ranges were extended, practically to the limit of pilotage possibilities. This improved the maneuverability of the aircraft, although new elements of the avionics system increased the weight of the aircraft. The digital control system was designed in accordance with the care-free philosophy, which allowed to eliminate the possibility of exceeding the operating limits while piloting the aircraft in strenuous maneuvers – e.g. during air combat. During the maneuver, the pilot can focus on following the enemy’s actions, pulling the stick as much as possible „on himself”. The control system selects the necessary rudder deflection itself, and the maneuver is performed close to the critical angles of attack without the risk of stalling. For safety in the digital version, the control system is doubled – three systems operate on the plane.

The first F-16C Block 40 (87-0350) was flown in Fort Worth on December 23, 1988, and the F-16D Block 40 on February 8, 1989. Until 1991, 234 F-16Cs and 31 F-16Ds were produced in total. for USAF. The recipient of this version was also Bahrain, receiving 18 F-16C and 4 F-16D Block 40, Egypt – 35 F-16C and 7 F-16D Block 40 and Israel – 30 F-16C and 30 F-16D Block 40. years, an additional 12 F-16C and 12 F-16D Block 40 were produced for Egypt. A total of 329 F-16C and 84 F-16D Block 40 were produced in Fort Worth. The Turkish TAI plant built an additional 136 F-16C and 27 F-16D Block 40, of which 34 F-16C and 12 F-16D Block 40 were built. were delivered to Egypt and the rest to the Turkish Air Force. Total Block 40 production was 465 F-16C and 111 F-16D Block 40 (576 machines in total).

In the 1990s, in the USAF, Block 40 and 42 planes began to be unofficially called the F-16CG and F-16DG in order to distinguish their combat capabilities from other F-16C / D versions. In addition, the name Night Falcon is also used to reflect the purpose of the aircraft.

In the second half of the 1990s, the Block 40 and 42 planes underwent several subsequent modernizations, which increased their combat capabilities even more. The main change was the modernization of the EW equipment – the radiation warning device as well as the flares and dipoles launchers. The former was replaced with the AN / ALR-56M – a slightly simplified version of the device used on the F-15 and also used from the beginning on the F-16 Block 50/52. AN / ALR-56M operates in a much wider frequency range than the devices used so far, incl. also covers the „K” range (20 to 40 GHz), and the removable data library contains information about the latest Russian known OPL kits. The AN / ALE-40 flare launchers have been replaced by the AN / ALE-47.

Containers with AN / ALE-50 Advanced Airborne Expendable Decoy (AAED) lures are also mounted in the middle, under-wing supporting beams . The first traps of this type began to appear on the F-16 in September 1996. The trap is towed behind the plane on a fiber-optic cable. The lure is equipped with an infrared radiation source and a special angular radar radiation reflector. The F-16 picks up four traps, two in each support beam.

In 1995, the 38 F-16C / D Block 40 of the 31st Aviano Fighter Wing underwent a modification as part of the Sure Strike program . The aircraft cabin equipment was adapted to the use of NVG night vision goggles and IDM Improved Data Modems were mounted on them . IDMs are used to exchange information in the Link 16 (JTIDS) system. They enable data interchange between airplanes and between airplanes and ground units, e.g. FAC forward posts. The same terminals are also used by the AH-64D Apache helicopters , which enables the mutual exchange of information and cooperation between airplanes and helicopters. In 1997, another program was launched – Gold Strike, the purpose of which was to provide the possibility of transmitting color video images via IDM, e.g. maps with the tactical situation, introduced at ground command posts. The Gold Strike program covered practically the entire fleet of Block 40 and 42 aircraft, which received equipment as part of the Sure Strike and Gold Strike programs . The modernization was to be completed by 2003.

Recently, the F-16C / D Block 40 and 42 planes, as well as other versions, have been re-armed – this time with the latest types of pz-class guided weapons, i.e. JDAM ( Joint Direct Attack Munition ) bombs, WCMD ( Wind Corrected Munition ) bomb cartridges Dispenser ) and AGM-154 JSOW ( Joint Stand-Off Weapon ) gliding containers . In the future, they may also be able to carry the AGM-158 JASSM ( Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile ) maneuvering missiles, and the arsenal of pp armaments may be enriched with the latest AIM-9X missiles for maneuvering air combat, cooperating with the helmet-mounted targeting and information display system.