F-16 Fighting Falcon Variants
This article will provide a quick overview of each of the F-16 Fighting Falcon versions and what is visibly different about them.
In the Beginning...
There were two aircraft produced for the fly-off with the YF-17. These were 72-1567 and 72-1568 and were recognizable by their distinctive red/white/blue paint schemes, followed later by interesting camouflage patterns that were never adopted.
Eight Full-Scale-Development (FSD) aircraft came next which were used for flight test. These were 75-0745/52. Once the basic flight test objectives were achieved and the F-16 entered production, six of these eight aircraft went on to some other interesting duties:
- 75-0745 – first to fly with the General Electric F101 engine. The F101 powers the B-1, and the F101 DFE (Derivative Fighter Engine) would become the F110 that would power many of the F-16C/D, all of the F-14B/D, and even some F-15s.
- 75-0747 – transformed into the two-seat F-16XL with cranked arrow wing, tentatively designated F-16F, entered NASA’s test fleet as aircraft 848.
- 75-0749 – transformed into the single-seat F-16XL with cranked arrow wing, tentatively designated F-16E, entered NASA’s test fleet as aircraft 849.
- 75-0750 – this aircraft was the AFTI testbed and flew extensively in a variety of configurations including with a pair of canards under the engine intake for advanced maneuverability testing.
- 75-0751/52 – flew with the General Electric J79 engine installed to develop an export version of the aircraft when it had been determined that the F100 engine was too advanced to be exported.
The single-seat F-16A and two-seat F-16B were the first production variants of the Viper and these are further broken down into production blocks which we'll discuss in more detail below. The APG-66 radar of the F-16A/B was optimized for the intercept and dogfight role though the only air-to-air missile capability was the AIM-9 Sidewinder. The canopies of production F-16A/B aircraft were clear, though the introduction of the gold-tinted canopies with the F-16C/D (designed to reduce the aircraft’s radar cross-section), gold-tinted canopies quickly found their way into the existing F-16A/B fleet.
You’ll see many photos of F-16A/Bs with tinted canopies and clear rear canopies as the fixed rear sections were not changed out as quickly. Ironically, these aircraft (along with most of total F-16 fleet) were later switched back to clear canopies to make the aircraft night vision goggle (NVG) compatible. Landing lights were mounted on the main landing gear on most versions of the F-16A/B until they were relocated to the nosegear door on MLU and Block 20 Vipers. This is because the MLU and Block 20 aircraft were capable of carrying a targeting pod on the starboard intake station which blocked the landing lights on the main gear struts.
F-16A/B Block 1/5/10
These initial aircraft were externally identical as the production improvements were mostly internal. Powered initially by the F100-PW-100, these were later changed out for the F100-PW-200 in an attempt to mitigate the stagnation stall problems being experienced by the Pratt-powered F-15 and F-16.
F-16A/B Block 15
This was the first major visible upgrade to the aircraft with the main difference being the horizontal stabilators. The area of the horizontal stabs was increased by 30% and this revised stab would remain with the all subsequent Vipers.
F-16A/B Block 15 OCU
The OCU (Operational Capability Upgrade) program updated the Block 15 to a more capable weapons system, receiving the more reliable F100-PW-220 engine, AIM-120 AMRAAM, AGM-65 Maverick, and provisions for the ALQ-131 ECM pod. USAF F-16A Block 10 aircraft that remained in service were updated to the Block 15 OCU configuration.
The Mid-Life Update (MLU) program was designed to extend the physical and operational lives of the NATO F-16s. These updates include an upgraded F100 engine, updated avionics, a Block 50-styled glass cockpit, new HUD, relocated landing lights to the nosegear door, IFF ‘bird cutter’ antennas ahead of the canopy, AIM-120 capability, and FLIR-pod capability under the starboard side of the intake.
F-16A/B Block 20
These are new-build F-16A/Bs that were built to Block 15 OCU and MLU standards.
These were production Block 15PCU aircraft that were modified for the air defense interceptor role. The modifications included IFF ‘bird cutter’ antennas ahead of the windscreen and under the intake ahead of the nosegear, a redesigned vertical stabilizer base with bulges on the sides to accommodate relocated hydraulics, a modified radar to give the F-16 its first radar-guided missile capability– the AIM-7F Sparrow or AIM-120 AMRAAM, and a spotlight built into the left side of the aircraft’s nose for night intercepts. An F-16B ADF was also developed, but its external appearance was identical to standard F-16Bs.
Engine problems with the F100 persisted, so the decision was made to dual-power the F-16. The concept was simple – design the airframe and the engines to be swappable, allowing for the F100-PW-220 to be swapped with the F110-GE-100 (F101DFE) as required. This would prevent the grounding of the entire F-16 fleet as previous problems with F100 had caused. In reality, the modular approach wasn’t practical as the increased airflow requirements of the GE engine required a larger inlet. As a result, aircraft were designed off the production line to be or Pratt-powered, though in theory they could be reconfigured at depot should the need ever arise.
The F-16C/D also introduced the gold-tinted canopies. These were designed to reduce the radar cross-section of the F-16, especially head-on. The concept was to present an adversary with a smaller radar cross-section so that an enemy radar wouldn’t detect the F-16 until it was much closer, and in a head-on intercept, this was critical. In the early days of the F-16C/D, these canopies were in high demand to retrofit the F-16A/B fleet, but today, many of the F-16C/Ds are trading their gold-tinted canopies for clear to operate with NVGs.
The F-16C/D received a new radar, the AN/APG-68. This provided better air-to-air, air-to-ground, and general navigation capabilities. The flightpath displays in the Heads-Up Display (HUD) were revolutionary.
F-16C/D Block 25
Despite some ongoing teething problems with the F100, the first F-16C/Ds (Block 25) were still exclusively Pratt-powered. As described above, the Block 25 introduced the APG-68 radar and improved avionics into the Viper fleet.
F-16C/D Block 30/32
This was the first of the dual-powered series aircraft. The Block 30/32 were supposed to be capable of swapping Pratt and engines, but experience with the F110-GE-100 showed the need for a larger inlet. In the early days of operations, Block 30 and 32 aircraft looked identical except for the engine nozzles. The Block 30 was GE-powered, the Block 32 was Pratt-powered. While many of the Block 30s received larger inlets (also referred to as the MCID or Modular Common Intake Duct) later in life, some early Block 30s retained the smaller Normal Shock Inlet (NSI), so check the nozzle (or the aircraft serial number) to see if that is really a Block 30 or 25/32.
Initially, the Block 25 and early Block 32 were identical in appearance, so only a check of the aircraft serial numbers would tell the difference. The Block 30/32D introduced the radar warning receiver (RWR) antennas on the leading edge flaps. These were not on the initial production Block 30/32 aircraft but were later retro-fitted. Outside of politically correct circles, these antennas were nick-named 'donkey dildoes'.
Block 30/32 Vipers were eventually equipped with the Litening or Sniper XR targeting pods on the starboard intake station. These pods have higher resolution and better higher altitude performance than the LANTIRN pods pioneered on the Block 40/42 'Night Viper'.
F-16CG/DG Block 40/42
This was the second mission specialist version of the F-16 (the ADF being the first). The F-16CG/DG was optimized for night operations against ground targets while retaining its ability to defend itself against air threats. This aircraft was designed to carry the LANTIRN suite, a pair of pods that provided radar and FLIR capabilities that also equipped the F-15E Strike Eagle. The F-16CG/DG was already in service when Operation Desert Shield started, but supplies of the LANTIRN were still limited. Nevertheless, LANTIRN-equipped Vipers demonstrated their precision prowess on the battlefield. The radar pod is mounted under the left side the engine intake while the FLIR pod is under the right side. While you’ll see F-16CG/DGs flying without pods, they’ll generally operate with just the FLIR pod installed.
In addition to LANTIRN, other external differences of the F-16CG/DG include the unique holographic HUD and the relocated landing lights on the nose gear door. The landing lights were originally on the main gear, but the LANTIRN pods blocked the lights from shining ahead of the aircraft.
Like the Block 30, the Block 40 aircraft are powered by the F110-GE-100 and all have the wide-mouth intake. The Block 42 aircraft are powered by the F100-PW-220 (just as were the Block 25/32) and retains the original small-mouth intake.
Another significant difference between this block and previous F-16s is the landing gear. Block 40/42 had an increase in payload and take-off weight thanks to heavier duty landing gear that was an outcome of the Israeli experience with the aircraft. To accommodate the larger main wheels, the main gear doors have distinctive bulges in them. These landing gear and gear door enhancements were also applied to Block 50/52/60/62 Vipers as well.
F-16CJ/DJ Block 50/52
As the F-4G Wild Weasel neared the end of its service life, the USAF implemented the concept of pairing ‘manned pylons’ (F-16Cs with HARM missiles) with the sensors of the F-4G as a hunter/killer team. The concept proved that the F-16C could cue and fire the HARM using directions sent from another platform. The downside was that the F-16 couldn’t carry the sensors of the F-4G since there was no space available inside the airframe.
The F-16CJ/DJ is a dedicated SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) aircraft with the HTS (HARM Targeting System) pod mounted under the starboard side of the intake and a pair of AGM-88 HARMs. The aircraft received improved engines in the form of the F110-GE-129 (Block 50) or F100-PW-229 (Block 52).
The last production F-16CJ/DJ aircraft were built to Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP) standards (the USAF version of NATO's MLU). The CCIP updated Block 40/42/50/52 aircraft with common color displays in the cockpit, updated avionics, and the ability to carry more advanced weapons. The most distinguishable feature of the CCIP is the addition of the bird cutter IFF antennas to the nose. Due to budget problems, some Block 40/42 airframes completed CCIP without the AIFF 'bird cutter' antennas but were supposed to receive these at a later date.
After CCIP, the Block 50/52 HTS pod is relocatable to the port intake station to make room for the Sniper or Litening targeting pods on the starboard side. Block 40/42 aircraft will also be capable of carrying these targeting pods as well.
CCIP gives the F-16C/D Block 40/42/50/52 new capabilities including the AIM-9X with the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), beyond visual range AIM-120, JTIDS (Link 16), Sniper XR targeting pod, GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, color displays in the cockpit, and more.
F-16C/D Block 50+/52+
This is the was the stepping stone between Block 50/52 and the then-unavailable Block 60/62 that featured the updated avionics and weapons capabilities of the CCIP with the option of conformal fuel tanks. The Hellenic Air Force (Greece) selected the Pratt-powered Block 52+ to serve as its next generation strike aircraft. These aircraft have the same IFF antennas on the nose and color displays in the cockpit as the CCIP. The difference is the option for conformal fuel tanks over the wing roots that also is available for Block 60/62.
F-16E/F Block 60/62
The F-16E/F is the designator given the Block 60/62 Vipers. These are not currently slated for USAF service (though they’d be much cheaper than the F-35), but are equipping the Air Force of UAE. The Block 60 is powered by the F110-GE-132 while the Block 62 is supposed to be powered by the F100-PW-229A (UAE selected the engine). The F-16Fs have the dorsal spine that runs from behind the cockpit through the base of the vertical stabilizer. This serves as an avionics bay for additional capabilities for the aircraft. The F-16E/F have the bird cutter antennas, a built-in FLIR system in the nose, and are capable of employing the conformal fuel tanks.
F-16I (Block 52+) Sufa
The F-16I is a modified Block 52+ aircraft with Israeli avionics and weapons. The aircraft has similar capabilities as the F-15I and capable of a wide range of air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities.
Viper Visible Differences
|F-16A/B||Blocks 1-10||Block 15||MLU||Block 20||F-16A ADF|
|Main Gear Doors||Normal||Normal||Normal||Normal||Normal|
|Landing Lights||Main Gear|
|F-16C/D||Block 25||Block 30||Block 32||Block 40||Block 42||Block 50||Block 52|
|Main Gear Doors||Normal||Normal||Normal||Bulged||Bulged||Bulged||Bulged|
|Landing Lights||Main Gear|
|Conformal Tanks||No||No||No||No||No||Block 50+||Block 52+|
|Block 40 CCIP||Block 42 CCIP||Block 50 CCIP||Block 52 CCIP||Block 60|
|Main Gear Doors||Bulged||Bulged||Bulged||Bulged||Bulged||Bulged||Normal|
|Landing Lights||Nose Gear|