General Dynamics RF-16 Fighting Falcon

Last revised March 19, 2000

A Block 25E F-16D (84-1330) was modified in the mid 1980s as a flying testbed for a possible reconnaissance variant of the Fighting Falcon. It was fitted with a large multi-sensor reconnaissance pod mounted on the centerline hardpoint. The pod housed a forward-looking camera behind a shutter at the front end. The aircraft carried the marking "F-16 RECCE" on its tail, but it was apparently never designated RF-16. The aircraft took off on its first flighton June 13, 1986 with company pilot John Fergione and flight test engineer James Sergeant aboard. The aircraft has been used for the evaluation of several different types of sensor systems, including the fitting of a LANTIRN-type system. The last flight of the "F-16 RECCE" was made on August 19, 1986.

Several RF-16 reconnaissance versions have been proposed by General Dynamics. In 1988, the USAF decided at least in principle to replace the aging RF-4C Phantom fleet with RF-16s. These aircraft would carry the Control Data Corporation ATARS (ADvanced Tactical Air Reconnaissance System) centerline pod, which would carry a variety of sensors, including an electro-optical videotape system that allows images to be transmitted via digital datalink to a ground station, providing ground commanders with reconnaissance capabilities in real-time.

None of these reconnaissance Falcon ideas seem to have caught on, and it is not expected that there will be any more efforts to develop and field an "RF-16".


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