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F-16 Fighting Falcon, F16, or Viper?

F-16 Featured Articles
By Stefaan Vanhastel


Ever wondered about the origin of the name "F-16 Fighting Falcon"? Or is it F-16 Viper? And what is wrong with F16? This article provides a short overview of the official designation and names for the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and some of the commonly used nicknames.

F-16 Fighting Falcon, not F16 Fighting Falcon

The US Tri-Service Designation System for aircraft defines a standard notation for aircraft models. In its basic form, it consists of:
  • a capital letter denoting the basic mission (e.g. 'F' for fighter, 'A' for attack)
  • a mandatory dash '-'
  • the design number (e.g. 14, 15, 16, 117, 130)

According to this standard, F-16 is the only correct designation for the Fighting Falcon. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for (non-aviation) publications to incorrectly use F16 Fighting Falcon or even f16 Fighting Falcon.

The name "Fighting Falcon"

USAF F-16A block 10 #79-0290 at the Naming Ceremony at Hill AFB, Utah wearing a large 'Fighting Falcon' badge behind the cockpit. [Jim and Jeff Shawhan collection]
The U.S. Air Force officially named the F-16 "Fighting Falcon" on July 21st, 1980, during a ceremony at Hill AFB in Utah (the home of the first F-16 unit). At the ceremony F-16A #79-0290 sported a special logo painted by Salt Lake City artists Matt and Mark Waki.

Four years earlier, in 1976, the Department of the Air Force had organized a "Name-the-Plane Contest" for the F-16 at MacDill AFB in Florida. The winning entry was submitted by TSgt. Joseph A. Kurdell, the Photo Sensor Shop Supervisor for the 1st TFW A&E sqn.

On May 11th, 1976, TSgt. Kurdell received an official letter from the Department of the Air Force, congratulating him for submitting the prize-winning entry in the "Name-the-Plane Contest", winning him a free dinner at the MacDill NCO Mess.

Letter from the Dept. of the Air Force notifying Joseph Kurdell that he won the Name-that-plane contest for the F-16 with his suggestion F-16 Fighting Falcon.

TSgt. Joseph Kurdell explains where he got the inspiration for the name:

"Prior to being stationed at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Florida and after a short tour in Korea, I was teaching at the Photographic Engineering School at Lowery Air Force Base in Colorado.

Being in the vicinity of the Air Force Academy, my family and I used to visit there quite often especially during their football seasons. As you probably know the Falcon (the bird species) is the school mascot, so this is where I got the idea from when given the opportunity to name an aircraft. "

The name "Fighting Falcon" also helped distinguish the F-16 from the "Falcon" series of business jets from French manufacturer Dassault.

General Dynamics F-16 became Lockheed Martin F-16

In the early 90's the Lockheed Company acquired the Fort Worth Division of the General Dynamics Corporation, thus the right to produce and sell the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Lockheed then merged with Martin Marietta in the middle 90's to make Lockheed Martin, or Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems (a.k.a. LMTAS). So that's why the General Dynamics F-16 became the Lockheed Martin F-16 or LMTAS F-16. Nowadays it's simply referred to as LM (Lockheed-Martin).

Viper: the unofficial nickname

The F-16 is often referred to as the "Viper", a nickname especially popular with people involved with the F-16. Before "Fighting Falcon" was selected as official name, pilots at Hill AFB, the first F-16 base, came up with a number of proposals, including "Viper". Lt. Col. Pat "Gums" McAdoo, USAF Ret., one of the first F-16 pilots at Hill AFB, recalls the origin of the name "F-16 Viper":

At end of runway, the F-16 did resemble a cobra or something as it approached you. However, I think Northrop had already taken that name for the YF-17.

We all voted, and Viper came in really high. Seems there was a series on TV that had 'colonial Vipers' flying off of Battlestar Galactica (a term later used for the Eagle).

In any case, the Generals didn't want a plane 'named after some snake'!

Falcon was a good name, and it fit in with the motif that the Eagle had created. Sort of a little brother, but still a 'Bird of Prey'. In fact, GD had a great promo out in late 70's called "Bird of Prey", and it used the Falcon as the real world model.

Even when F-16 Fighting Falcon became the official name, Viper stuck around and became the unofficial nickname for the F-16. The name "Viper" is even officially used for the Joe Bill Dreyden "Semper Viper" award, which is awarded for excellent airmanship by F-16 pilots.

Official International names

Although "Fighting Falcon" has been adopted as the official name for the F-16 by many international customers, some airforces have indigenous names for (specific variants of) the F-16:
  • Netz: or 'Hawk' - used by the Israeli Air Force for its F-16A/B aircraft.
  • Barak: or 'Lightning' - used by the Israeli Air Force for its F-16C/D (block 30 & 40) aircraft.
  • Sufa: or 'Storm' - used by the Israeli Air Force for its F-16I aircraft.
  • KF-16: Designation used by the RoKAF to denote the South Korean produced F-16s. Note that this designation does not follow the US Tri-Service designation system. The 'K' simply stands for Korea in this particular case.
  • Jastrzab: or 'Hawk' - used by the Polish Air Force for its F-16C/D block 52 aircraft.

Other nicknames

Of course the F-16 is also known by a variety of other, less commonly used, nicknames:
  • Electric Jet: Obvious nickname for the first fly-by-wire aircraft to go into production.
  • Lawn Dart: Caused by a higher number of mishaps experienced in the early years.
  • Midnight Falcon: "Marketing" name used by General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin for the F-16C to highlight its day/night all-weather capabilities.
  • Desert Falcon: "Marketing" name used by General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin for the F-16 block 60.
  • Sweet sixteen: No explanation needed.

Special thanks

  • Tsgt. Joseph A. Kurdell, USAF Ret.
  • Lt. Col. Pat "Gums" McAdoo, USAF Ret. (See the F-16.net interview with Lt.Col. McAdoo)
  • Greg D. Fieser
  • Crazyal611
  • Deepspace

Errors and Omissions

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