1973: YF-16 rolls out
General Dynamic (now Lockheed-Martin) rolled out the first YF-16 prototype aircraft 40 years ago today from its Fort Worth, Texas, plant. Tail number 72-1567 was to compete with the YF-17 in a fly-off. The winner would win the contract to replace the aging Republic F-105 Thunderchief and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.
The prototype was placed inside a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy and flown to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for testing on Jan. 8, 1974. The aircraft was to fly a 90-minute maiden voyage Feb. 2. Prior to that flight, the aircraft had to pass a high-speed taxi test.
Phil Oestricher, General Dynamic test pilot, took the aircraft onto the runway for its high-speed taxi check Jan. 20. As the aircraft approached take-off speed, it experienced roll control oscillation. Those oscillations scraped the missile that was loaded on the right-side wingtip and the left-side stabilator.
As the aircraft began to veer off the runway, Oestricher decided to lift the aircraft off the ground. Otherwise, the aircraft might have crashed and ended the program and the competition between the YF-16 with the YF-17. After flying the aircraft for six minutes, Oestricher safely landed the prototype.
After the competition, tail number 72-1567 was rebuilt with twin canards. The rebuilt aircraft became the U.S. Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory’s Control Configured Vehicle.
The canards allowed the aircraft to maneuver in one plane without moving in another. For example, the pilot could turn without having to bank the aircraft. In 1981, the Air Force dropped the aircraft from its inventory. Today, you can see the original restored YF-16 prototype at the Virginia Air and Space Museum in Hampton, Va.