Is F-16 retirement coming in 2025? Wasn’t the F-16XL better choice?

WASHINGTON — Two fighter jets are synonymous with confrontation, the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, Russia vs. the US, and West vs. East. These are the Soviet Mikoyan MiG-29 and the American General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. Both aircraft have appeared in hundreds of Hollywood productions and have been the main characters in dozens of video games.

Is F-16 retirement coming in 2025? Wasn't the F-16XL better choice?
Photo credit: Creative Commons

For 50 years, the F-16 has scoured the air ruled by the aces of the US Air Force. Dozens of countries also operate different versions of the aircraft. Battle-proven, having participated in several conflicts, the Fighting Falcon is fast, maneuverable, and reliable. All these years it has been continuously updated to reach today perhaps one of the best (as expected) versions – Block 70/72.

However, it is rumored that the US will phase out the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon in 2025. It is rumored that the aircraft will be retired. It makes sense to winterize a 50-year-old aircraft when you stock your air inventory with the F-15 Eagle, F-18 Hornet, F-22 Raptor, and F-35 Lightning II.

What about F-16XL?

Now that the retirement of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon is apparently near, one question is being asked more and more often: Would the forgotten F-16XL project extend the life of the F-16 program? Wouldn’t the F-16XL be the better option for the program to make the F-16 much more than what it is today?

The F-16XL is a late 1970s project. This fighter should then define the future US fighter in competition with the F-15E Strike Eagle. We’ll never know which of the two fighters would be better because the US is accepting the F-15E Strike Eagle proposal simply because it’s already in production and that would mean wasting a lot of money.

The sources claim that if Washington had chosen the F-16XL, the aircraft would have been much more expensive to produce than its then-competitor, the F-15E Strike Eagle. But what a plane the F-16XL was. It had a wide delta wing with a triangular design. Meanwhile, the swept wing shape of the boom would achieve a quarter more lift than the base F-16.

F-16XL advantages

Engineers hypothesized that the curved shape of the boom wing, combined with the strength of the F-16’s standard fuselage, would provide even more speed and maneuverability. I.e. the aircraft was able to fly for a long time at high speed without forcing. It’s no secret that its creators consulted NASA engineers, conducting over 3,600 hours of wind tunnel testing.

Is F-16 retirement coming in 2025? Wasn't the F-16XL better choice?
Photo credit: Creative Commons

Experts say the F-16XL could have been converted into a US Air Force mini-bomber. It was 600 pounds lighter than the standard F-16, and engineers were able to equip it with far more weaponry than the standard F-16 has today. In reality, the F-16XL could have been converted into a small tanker armed with bombs.

There are still opinions that Washington should not have abandoned the F-16XL project. The design of the aircraft clearly allowed it to have some serious performance. It was maneuverable with a wide range and excellent armament. Some avid aviation enthusiasts, pundits, and aeronautical engineers continue to argue that the F-16XL could have provided more value to the US Air Force than the aging and near-retirement General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.


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