It was around the middle of October when Lockheed Martin's F-16V completed its maiden flight. It was also the first time any F-16 flying equipped with Northrop Grumman’s APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) flew, which is expected to offer “a quantum leap in capability” for the F-16.
This updated F-16 model, nicknamed “Viper,” features an avionics configuration that also includes enhancements such as a new cockpit Center Pedestal Display, a modernized mission computer, a high-capacity Ethernet data bus, and several other missions systems enhancements that Lockheed expects to address emerging dynamic threat environments and “strengthening its position as the world’s foremost combat-proven [fourth-generation] fighter aircraft,” said Rod McLean, Vice President and General Manager of Lockheed Martin’s F-16/F-22 Integrated Fighter Group.
The technology signifying the F-16V will be an option for both new production F-16s and F-16 upgrades. Lockheed said it leverages a common worldwide sustainment infrastructure and provides significant capability improvements. There have been over 4550 F-16s delivered to date.
Northrop Grumman’s APG-83 SABR AESA fire control radar provides fifth-generation air-to-air and air-to-ground radar capability. The company also provides AESA radars for the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, though offering such technological updates to the F-16 airframe “is a natural step in the evolution of the world’s most successful fourth-generation fighter.”
To prove, among other things, the viability of the F-16 structure and program, Lockheed recently completed thousands of hours of simulated flight time on an F-16C Block 50 aircraft. It is now analyzing the data to determine the durability of the aircraft beyond its original design service life of 8000 hours.
In fact, the Block 50 aircraft was tested to 27,713 EFH (equivalent flight hours) during 32 rounds of comprehensive stress tests at Lockheed’s Full Scale Durability Test facility in Fort Worth. The airframe was then subjected to several maximum-load conditions to demonstrate that the airframe still had sufficient strength to operate within its full operational flight envelope.
The aircraft is now in the teardown inspection and fractography phase of the test program. Test data, collected over nearly two years, will be used to identify an extended, definitive flight hour limit for the F-16 and demonstrate the safety and durability of the aircraft well beyond its original design service life.
The durability test results will be used to help design and verify Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications for post-Block 40 F-16s and to support F-16 service life certification to at least 12,000 EFH. The SLEP aims to extend the service life of up to 300 F-16C/D Block 40-52 aircraft.