The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, single-engined jet fighter aircraft manufactured by General Dynamics and later Lockheed Martin for the United States Air Force (USAF). Though designed as a lightweight fighter, it has evolved into a successful multirole aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven its worth in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. The Falcon is the largest Western fighter program with over 4,000 aircraft built since its production in 1976. Though no longer produced for the Air Force, it is still being made for export. Its relatively low cost and high performance has made it popular in the United States and allied nations. USAF pilots gave the F-16 the unofficial nickname of “Viper” in homage to the fictional Battlestar Galactica starfighter.
Aside from serving with air forces in 24 different countries, the Falcon is also the current aircraft of choice of the USAF Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron. In March 1982, it was announced that the Thunderbirds would trade in their T-38 Talons for F-16 Falcons. The team sat out the 1982 airshow season to spend the year retraining and transiting over into the new aircraft. Transition to the F16 was completed in November 1982, and the first public demonstration took place in April 1983. In 1992, the squadron switched to the C version of the F-16, being the last active duty unit to use the A model. The F-16C is nearly identical to the F-16A, but has upgraded avionics and radar systems, making it superior to its predecessor. Additionally, it is the only fighter to win both of the Air Force’s premier competitions, namely Gunsmoke (air-to-ground) and William Tell (air-to-air). The Falcon has remained with the Thunderbirds for the last 20 years, the longest performance era of any one aircraft.