It would have been forgivable to think that the heyday of the F-16 "Falcon" had come and gone, achieving its peak not in the real world of aerial combat, but in the fictional hands of Jason Gedrick and Louis Gossett Jr., as they did battle with the villainous, generically Middle Eastern Col. Akir Nakesh in the greatest film of 1986, Iron Eagle.
Forgivable, but, as the events of 24 November, 2015 showed, wrong. Two Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Su-24 after the Russian jet violated Turkish airspace while bombing anti-Assad rebels friendly to Ankara. Much ink was spilled in the aftermath of the incident to the effect that this was the first time a Russian aircraft had been downed by a NATO member in half a century. Sure—but give a thought to the F-16 itself, that sleek, sexy, freedom-defending iron eagle in winter.
Designed during the Cold War as a balletic, nimble, pilot’s dream, and intended for the specific purpose of shooting down Russian aircraft, the F-16 has found itself relegated to other tasks. Those in direct American service have been principally employed in air-to-ground missions, bombing targets throughout Desert Storm and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a little bit like taking using your Ferrari to go get the groceries.
The Falcon has splashed its share of enemy aircraft here and there—a couple of Iraqi Migs back during the Saddam era, a few Serbian jets in the ’90s, not to mention a significant number of victories against Syrian aircraft while in the service of our Israeli allies.
But never a Russian jet—always a bridesmaid, never the bride. Until now. Memo to Gov. Christie: Should you get that Syrian no-fly zone as president, there are some aging, iron heroes still available for patrol.
Published under: Military