Greenville Is Building F-16s!

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December 20, 2022 by Scott Crosby - Views: 85

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Greenville Is Building F-16s!

If you live in Greenville County south of I-85, and you hear a fast-moving roar in the sky, it may be an F 16 fighter jet!  

Up until 2017, F-16s were assembled in Fort Worth, Texas.

But Lockheed-Martin needed more room in their plant to build the new, state-of-the-art fighter jet, the F-35.

S473-1.jpgSo Lockheed Martin’s maintenance and support equipment for F-16s was moved to their facility on Donaldson Airport, in Greenville, South Carolina.  Greenville would do maintenance on F-16s, and produce the last few that would ever be built.  Demand for new F-16s, it seemed, was dwindling.

The maintenance provided at Donaldson includes upgrades to the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of F-16s.  That upgrade is labelled “Block 70”.  The upgrades bring the F-16’s technology into the modern era.  They greatly enhance what the fighter jet can do in combat.

But several foreign governments learned what Block 70 would do – and orders for the F-16 suddenly started rolling in – so far, for 128 brand-new F-16s with those latest-and-greatest Block 70 modifications.  More orders are likely.  Everybody, it seems, wants the new F-16.  

S473-3.jpgLockheed Martin’s Greenville facility is where all those new F-16s will be assembled … and flown for the first time. 

The F-16 is small:  it is only 49’ long, with a wingspan of only 33’ – not as wide as a Piper or Cessna personal airplane.  The F-16 is light and highly maneuverable; it can turn on a dime.  And the F-16 is fast:  its big engine can push the little jet up to speeds above Mach 2 – more than 1500 miles per hour.

Each F-16’s first flights over Greenville

Each new F-16 built at Donaldson will be put through five or six test flights by Lockheed Martin test pilots.  The earliest flights will stay close enough to the Donaldson Airport so that, should the engine fail, the F-16 can glide back to the airport.

Each F-16 that is flown into Donaldson for maintenance and modifications such as the Block 70 upgrade will be flown once or twice by the Lockheed Martin test pilots.

The testing will be performed to the south of Donaldson Airport, between Woodruff and Clinton to the east, Anderson to the west, and Abbeville and Greenwood to the south.  Each F-16 will be joined by a “chaser” F-16 on its first test flights, to visually observe and document everything about the new F-16’s operation, and to provide support if something should go wrong.

Three blocks of altitudes will be used for the various tests. 

“Tiger” airspace is that above 30,000 feet.  Testing up there includes exceeding the speed of sound – going beyond Mach 1.  You will not hear any sonic booms, though, because those flights will be too high:  above 40,000 feet.

S473-2.jpgThe F-16 is so light and its engine so powerful that an F-16 can take off from the runway and immediately point its nose straight up – something impossible to do in most airplanes.  But each F-16 will do that vertical climb as part of the standard routine when it heads up to the Tiger airspace.

“VFR Working Area” is the airspace from 10,000 feet to 17,000 feet.  That will put the F-16 above most local air traffic – including commercial jets coming and going at Greer Airport. It will also keep F-16s below the typical altitudes used by en route commercial jets.

“Ivans Low” is the term for F-16 flights in airspace between 4,000 and 8,000 feet.  That would put those F-16 flights at the same altitudes as most private airplanes, so everyone – both F-16 pilots and pilots of private airplanes – will have to be vigilant.  Lockheed Martin has been diligently making the rounds of local aviation clubs, flight schools, etc., to spread awareness about “the new guys in town” and their patterns of flight-testing.

If you have an aviation receiver and you hear “Siren”, “Devil”, or “Crushr” talking, that is one of the test pilots, on a test flight in an F-16.

The F-16 was first produced in the 1970s, but – especially with Block 70 upgrades – it is still one of the best fighter jets in the world today.  

Production of F-16s in Greenville is expected to continue into the late 2020s – more than fifty years after the first F-16 came off the production line.

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