USAF F-16AM #80-0584
from the 416th FTS is flying over Edwards AFB
. This is the only MLU
F-16 in service with the USAF.
The 416th started as a bomber squadron from the start of WWII flying the venerable B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’. In 1992 the 416th was reactivated after an inactivity of 43 years. The unit inherited the role of the 6516th TS that was also based at Edwards AFB. As the 6516th, the 416th was tasked with testing different weapon systems and specialized equipment on the F-16 and therefore a number of different blocks were in the inventory, ranging from the early block 1 versions over the block 15 ADF to the later advanced block 50 versions and everything in between. This setup might be seen as a logistical nightmare, but it did provide the squadron a valuable asset in conducting the mission it was set out to perform.
Weapons testing forms only a small part of the unit’s task. Mostly any weapons testing is conducted together with the Eglin AFB based testing squadrons. Some F-16s are painted in a regular gray USAF scheme for the purpose of weapons testing. But more exotic colour schemes can be spotted on the Edwards tarmac amongst the resident F-16s. Mostly they are the famous white birds with the red tails and ventral fins. These aircraft are very often used as so-called chase planes for other aircrafts test programs. Although the intention of the use of the aircraft does not always predestine the aircraft to that roll due to aircraft availability.
A variety of 416th FLTS F-16s are used to chase F-22s and F-35s on regular bases. Therefore these aircraft are also relocated to other airbases all over the country, mostly going to Eglin AFB for testing assistance or to Fort Worth JRB for assistance to the Lockheed F-35 program.
USAF F-16D block 50 #90-0835
from the 416th FLTS hangs in the Benefield Anechoic Facility to undergo testing at Edwards AFB on August 19th, 2004. The BAF
is the largest anechoic facility in the world.
Another role these aircraft are often used for is test pilot training. The 416th FLTS is the only USAF unit to have the permission to train fully qualified test pilots for other USAF programs. Pilots are selected on individual bases and personal skills being able to perform such a demanding task.
In the 1990’s the 416th helped in the development of the MLU upgrade package for older (mainly European NATO countries’) F-16A/B models. The USAF eventually didn’t get involved in the production process but did provide test aircraft #80-584 for this purpose. It is still flying with the squadron until this day to test further enhancement packages for both MLU Vipers as for the USAF CCIP program (update packages are mainly the same).
Other residents that can be seen with the 416th FLTS are foreign birds. These airframes include the following F-16s:
These airframes mostly reside with the 416th FLTS for flight testing after their initial delivery to a customer. With many F-16 orders come a certain weapons and/or software setup that sometimes need more testing even after the first aircraft are already delivered. This advanced testing is solely conducted by the squadron.
To really show the diversity of the squadron also other tests are conducted at Edwards AFB. Sometimes you can spot airframes that are completely in white to test radar sets or to conduct anechoic testing. Edwards AFB houses the Benefield Anechoic Facility which is the largest anechoic chamber in the world. Many tests are conducted there as well including F-16 airframes.
In a rather unusual but beneficial move during early 2009, the squadron deployed to Nellis AFB, Nevada where the squadron participated in a Red Flag exercise. This was the first of this type of deployment for any Air Force Material Command unit. Red Flag 09-2 ran from January 26 to February 6, 2009. Reason behind the deployment was to perform some operational testing for the latest operating system M5.1+ software which is specific for the F-16. The squadron took five aircraft all equipped with this latest software and in the end flew 54 sorties.
The success of the first deployment for Red Flag was such that another was organized for deployment from January 23 to February 4, 2012. A very similar deployment, this time to test software for the 6.1+ operating system. The new software allows several improvements of which the ability to carry the Small Diameter Bomb. This will allow the F-16 to carry more numerically and deliver this munitions from father away. Although primary deployed to test, the 416th was also a participant with one pilot taking top SEAD pilot.