16 July, 2011

Profile 54 - "105" as flown by the SDANG

There's a bitter-sweet tinge to this bird.  At once, it's an F-16; arguably the definitive dogfighting jet.  At the same time, it's...well...probably the definitive dogfighting jet.  In other words, the F-16 may be the apex of the breed.

A conversation I had last week will explain my opinion better.  An aviation enthusiast asked me, "So.  In the future, are you going to start drawing Predator Drones and Control Trucks?"  We had a good laugh.  But he may be right.  Technology has advanced to the point where we don't need butts in cockpits any more.  Instead, we may end up with butts in comfy chairs and faces illuminated by monitor screens, controlling the 'action' from thousands of miles away.

First flown in 1973, 4,500-some F-16s have since been built and they're still in force; obviously the SDANG is flying them today.  With nearly 40 years of flight, it may be tempting to think of the Falcon as 'old.'  Yet, think about this fact - the F-16 remains a first-line fighter.  It's not so much 'that old' as it is 'that good'.

I remember, as a little kid, getting my monthly (I think it was Airpower magazine) rag and seeing the prototype YF-16 in Bicentennial colors.   The grainy color spread was promptly taped onto my wall.  Even now, when I see F-16s in the air, I open the sunroof of my car to hear the crackle of her engine and get another glimpse of the familiar shape arcing overhead.

Back to me as a kid; there was nothing I wanted to do more than fly fighters.  Unfortunately, I also remember the December day when I learned that Genetics had a hand in Fate - an optometrist slid coke-bottles over my nose.  He whistled, "No Air Force for you!"  What?!  "Can't have eyes like that in a fighter plane!"  Bastard.

Today, I wonder if technology is giving its version of coke-bottle glasses to Fighter design.  Putting the expense of cutting-edge technology AND a highly trained pilot in the air is becoming prohibitive on all levels - money, time, energy...and people we love more than life itself.

To this paradigm, I have to call this progress "good."  One fruit of my time with combat veterans is this - any boyhood glamorization of war is dead gone.  I've held those dreaded WW2 Telegrams, "We regret to inform you..."  I remember WW2 pilot Robert "Punchy" Powell pointing to a place at his Bodney, UK airfield, "That's where Frascotti was killed."  Or when Ray Mitchell said, "I remember when Preddy was killed..."

Or when...ad nauseum.  Remotely piloted Drones?  Damn good idea.  I look forward to the day when a battlefield is littered with circuit boards and batteries.  Especially knowing that two of my kids are eyeing cockpits.

But you know what?

I still have that F-16 poster.  Can't throw it away.


Next up - another P-51!