A fierce sun breaks across the Arabian peninsula. You sit, semi-reclined, in the Martin-Baker ejection seat of your F-16C at Al Minhad airbase in the United Arab Emirates. Already your nomex flight suit is damp with sweat. It's not just the desert heat; the Viper's air conditioning is kicking in just fine. It's a twinge of ...well... you shrug it off. You give your checklist a final once-over, awaiting clearance for takeoff.
Another low-level bombing mission to destroy Saddam Hussein's command-and-control centers on the outskirts of the city. Yesterday an F-16C from your squadron, a guy you knew, a friend, didn't make it back. You hope the F-4G "Wild Weasels" have done a better job of suppressing the SAMs today. Maybe the triple-A won't be as bad either.
But it doesn't matter. Today is payback for Saddam and his Republican Guard, for all the innocent Kuwaiti lives--and for your buddy. The controller in the tower barks into your ear. It's time to light the burners. Time to turn and burn. Time for Saddam's nightmare to begin....
The F-16 Fighting Falcon--Viper to the pilots who fly them--has been said to be the finest fighter airframe ever designed. You won't get an argument on that from the dedicated pilots who flew them in the Persian Gulf War.
The Vipers of Desert Storm, 249 in all, flew an aggregate of 13,500 sorties, of an average 3.24 hours each (with each requiring a tricky aerial refueling stop). In all, they flew 34% of all sorties in the war, delivering over 20,000 tons of munitions.
Though no Viper achieved an aerial victory during the Gulf War, its lifetime air-to-air kill ratio is an astounding 69:0, using guns, IR missiles or radar missiles. Most of the victories came from Israeli pilots during various Arab-Israeli encounters.
But low-level bombing can be even more dangerous than dogfighting. Two ships were lost during Desert Storm; at least three others were badly damaged but made it back to base.
Now in use by twenty nations, the Viper has logged over six million flight hours, and at a mere $20,000,000 per copy is one of the least expensive fighter aircraft flying. That goes for operating costs, too. F-16s fly for about $2,200 per hour, about half of what an Eagle or Hornet costs.