On the 26th January, a pall of thick black smoke rose above the Albacete military base in Spain, where the Greek F-16 had crashed just seconds after take-off, leaving eleven dead and twenty wounded. An accident of which the causes are not yet known, but which perhaps puts the American fighter, developed by Lockheed Martin in the 70’s, directly in the spot light.
With approximately 2,300 aircraft in service worldwide, the F-16 is undoubtedly the most widely used fighter on the planet. Available in several versions, and with over more than 4,500 units produced, this combat aircraft has been sold to 26 countries.
Capable of flying at Mach 2 (2,400 km/h – 1,500 mph) and possessing a range of 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles), the F-16 is an attack and ground support aircraft. Since its commissioning, it has participated in numerous external operations in Iraq, Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan.
According to the manufacturer, the F-16 is the safest single-engined fighter in the history of the US Air Force, which is to date, its biggest user, with more than half the aircraft in service. Yet, according to statistics from the Pentagon, the US Air Force has had an average of thirteen F-16 accidents, each year, since 1982; a figure much higher than the number of crashes recorded with the F-15 or F-18, for example.
For those in favour of the F-16, however, the accident rate does not take into consideration its shortcomings, but primarily the very high number of aircraft in service, together with the number of, generally high speed, low altitude missions completed; and since it is a also a single-engined aircraft, that leaves the pilot with only one alternative in case of failure: ejection.