February 27, 2004: 30,000 Test Sorties Logged by F-16 Test Pilots

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  • 416th Flight Test Squadron

Thirty years and 25 days after its first official flight, more than 200 members of the “Fighting Falcon” community gathered at Edwards to commemorate this milestone in aviation history and the more than 30,000 test sorties (nearly 50,000 flight test hours) since logged by F-16 test pilots at the Flight Test Center.

The 416th Flight Test Squadron 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 color 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 Joint Reserve Base for assistance to the Lockheed F-35 program.

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