The Tailless Fighter


Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircaft Systems has proposed an improved version of the F-16, the F-16X, as the USAF's next multirole fighter. It would have a new wing based on that of the F-22 and no vertical tail. It would have twice the range of the F/A-18E/F at two thirds of the cost.

Interim improvements leading up to the F-16X could be introduced on F-16C/D block 50 Plus aircraft, incorporating color cockpit displays, a terrain-referenced navigation system, synthetic aperture radar, and a passive missile warning system. Later block 60 aircraft would have an internal LANTIRN system, APU and increased internal fuel in the dorsal spine.

The production of the F-16X would begin about 2010 if the program ever gets the go-ahead.

Artist impression of the tailless F-16. (LMTAS photo)

LMTAS has recently studied to turn NASA's F-16XL research aircraft into a tailless demonstrator, but there are no plans to conduct the modification due to lack of funding.

The study examined removing the vertical tail and providing directional control with a thrustvectoring engine and a new wing featuring all-moving wingtips and high-rate leading edge flaps. The new wing would have had more sweep and delta planform instead of the F-16XL cranked-arrow planform. As a lower-cost alternative the LMTAS engineers also studied keeping the F-16XL wing and modifying the ailerons.

The $250,000 six-months study started in the fall of 1995 as NASA was searching for experimental "X-plane" contenders in several categories, including high-performance fighters. The benefits would be a weight and drag reduction, and a lower, stealthier, radar cross-section, with agility that matched the standard Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter without angle of attack limits.

The F-16 would have been powered by the thrust-vectoring version of the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine that is now being used in NASA's F-15 Active program. It has a modification of the conventional circular nozzle to achieve vectoring.

The F-16XL design's ailerons were modified by extending the tips 1-2 ft., and adding an outboard area forward of the hingeline.

Since LMTAS has been awarded the contract to develop the F-35 as the next multirole fighter of the USAF and a lot of it's allies, futher development of this version isn't expected anymore.

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