By Allison Kirschbaum

At Edwards Air Force Base, California, the Viper Demonstration Team revealed the new look of the Air Force F-16 on May 15, 2024, to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The new dashing appearance is composed of white, blue, and red designs, replicating the livery of the YF-16 prototype that first flew in 1974. The paint job only lasted about eight weeks, supposedly taking three months to finish. This was made possible by collaborating with the 412th Test Wing—the Commander Pilot of the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team, Capt. Taylor Hiester mentioned that when he learned that he would be hired to be the pilot and commander, he had this urge to revamp the paint using the prototype as a basis. Hiester hopes this move will take America back from when it started 50 years ago.

Modification of the F-16 From Its Predecessor, YF-16

Air Force Vet and director of the Edwards AFB F-16 50th Anniversary event, Tony Accurso, has been a liaison between the 412th Test Wing and the team. He acted as a historical advisor and contributed his knowledge of the YF-16 prototype to bring the design into action.

Accurso even added that the YF-16 paint scheme is essential as it celebrates the 50 years of the F-16 Viper. Further, all personnel at Edwards always take fulfillment in supporting the Viper Demo Team and honoring the F-16's 50th commemoration, which began in 1974.

The team made minor modifications to the original design to distinguish the aircraft from its predecessor. They replaced its general dynamics and added a viper demo to the vertical stabilizer tip. The undertaking was finished with the efforts and support of the 20th Fighter Wing leadership, who considered the project's importance and vision.

The Birth of YF-16 Aircraft

Test pilot Phil Oestricher made a historical event when he took the YF-16’s first flight No.1 onto the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on January 20, 1974, for a high-speed taxi trial up to 135 knots. The test aims to assess the pre-takeoff handling features before the planned first flight two weeks later. Yet, unforeseen circumstances happened as Oestricher had to lift off to save the plane. This was due to the large oscillations that caused the aircraft to bounce numerous times on the main landing gear as it struck the runway with its right horizontal stabilizer.

Oestricher explained that the YF-16’s first flight had been progressively taxied faster and faster to gauge how to improve its handling. There were also numerous times when they planned to airlift the YF-16. The intention is to move the throttle to military power for a minute and let the primary gear come up for a few feet while some personnel go down the runway.

However, the plan encountered two problems: the roll control was highly susceptible, and the prototype's exhaust nozzle control was wired incorrectly. The aircraft must be on the ground for the nozzle to be wide open. When the weight of the wheels is removed, the nozzle closes, doubling the thrust at idle.

To save the aircraft, Oestricher raised the power and took off. After six minutes, he landed safely after flying a vast circuit near the runway. By the evening, engineers were able to resolve the issue. However, repairs took longer, allowing the YF-16’s first flight to move as planned two weeks later, on February 2.

The U.S. Air Force then declared on January 13, 1975, that the YF-16 was the winner over the YF-17 due to its excellent range, superior maneuver performance, and lower operating costs. After a few months, the YF-17 took its throne as the winner over the same competition and evolved into the F-18 Hornet.

The powerful YF-16 was developed, and the F-16A was created. It made its first flight on December 8, 1976. Over the years, the Viper, as the F-16, has become the world’s most numerous fighter. There has been an operational fleet of over 2,100 aircraft in 25 nations, or 2,800 units, including training planes and non-combat roles. Thus, the F-16 is the support of the U.S. Air Force.

Photo source: U.S. Air Force

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