How Fast Can An F-16 Fly?

Developed by the huge American aerospace manufacturer, General Dynamics, the F-16 Fighting Falcon replaced the aging F-104G Starfighter fighter-bombers for the US Air Force.

You can see why as it is a relatively compact yet versatile fighter aircraft capable of multiple roles.

In terms of velocity, an F16 fighter jet is capable of reaching speeds of over 1,350 mph (2,175 km/h) and flying at altitudes of 40,000 ft (12,190 m). 

These incredible feats of speed at such high altitudes are possible because the aircraft uses afterburners or rocket engines.

In this guide, we will look at how fast an F-16 can fly, how it reaches such high speeds, and how it refuels to keep that speed up. 

How Fast Can An F-16 Fly?

The F-16 is known to fly at a maximum speed of 1,500 mph (2414 km/h) which is Mach 2 at altitude.

The aircraft is ideal for air-to-surface attack and air-to-air combat due to its high-speed capability and excellent maneuverability. 

During air combat, the F-16 also has a highly impressive combat radius that largely exceeds most fighter aircraft, which is the distance it can fly to enter air combat then stay, fight, and finally return.

The F-16 can stay in the air longer and has more time to fight other fighter aircraft making it a substantial asset for any air force.

How An F-16 Reaches Such High Speeds

As a single-engine, supersonic tactical fighter aircraft, the F-16 is lighter and smaller than several predecessors.

The aircraft also uses avionics and aerodynamics to deliver high speeds and enhanced maneuvers (see also “How Much Do Avionic Technicians Make?“).

The F-16 remains agile and became the first fighter aircraft that was purpose-built to perform 9-g maneuvers as well as fly beyond Mach 2. 

The aircraft was the first to use a flight control system known as ‘relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire’ which was critical for its maneuvering.

Further innovations include its frameless bubble canopy which aids visibility and a side-mounted control stick.

The reclined seat also helps pilots perform better as it reduces the g-force effects. 

Lighter materials also help the F-16 reach high speeds as its airframe is built from around 80% aluminum alloys which are aviation-grade complemented by 8% steel, 3% composites, and 1.5% titanium.  

An F-16 is also capable of performing multi-role operations instead of simply air-to-air combat.

Several features are specifically designed for reaching high speeds including leading-edge flaps, stabilators, and ventral fins.

How Fast Can An F-16 Fly

Each uses bonded aluminum honeycomb structures combined with graphite epoxy lamination coatings.

The aircraft also uses fewer lubrication points, replaceable modules, and fuel line connections which also help its performance.

The high speeds come from its propulsion, specifically from the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200 after-burning turbofan when the aircraft was initially developed.

This is a modified version of the F-15’s powerplant which was the F100-PW-100 and is rated at 23, 830 lb (106.1kN) thrust.

The latest source of thrust for an F-16 is the F110-GE-132 turbofan which has a maximum thrust of 32,500 lb (144.6 kN). 

Aerodynamic drag has also been reduced as the air intake is replaced rearward of the nose yet still forward enough to minimize the airflow losses.

General Dynamics also decided to make the airframe capable of 8,000 hours.

The manufacturer also decided to strive for 9-g maneuvers, even when the aircraft was fully fueled. 

How Does An F-16 Refuel?

An F-16 refuels using two probe refueling receptacles located on either side of the fuselage.

The pilot connects these probes to the tanker with flexible hoses that, once connected, allow for fuel to flow from the tank to the engine.

An Airbus has been successfully used for air-to-air refueling with an F-16 jet and such a process would have seen the Airbus acting as the tanker for the aircraft to become the receiver while in flight.

Final Thoughts

An F-16 remains one of the most versatile fighter aircraft jets available due to its high speeds and superb maneuvering.

Its high speed is around 1,500 mph (2414 km/h).

This is Mach 2 at altitude and such a speed is aided by the F110-GE-132 turbofan as well as an excellent aerodynamic design.

The F-16 fighter jet can also perform 9-g maneuvers, even when fully fueled.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s The Fastest Fighter Jet Currently In The World?

While the F-16 may reach incredibly high speeds and have exceptional maneuverability, it is not the fastest fighter jet.

The experimental aircraft known as the NASA/USAF X-15 was closer to a rocket equipped with wings yet was the fastest fighter jet ever to be created.

It reached a startling 4,520 mph (7274 km/h) which is Mach 6.72 yet the aircraft is not currently in use. 

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat is the fastest fighter jet in the world at the moment and can reach a top speed of 2,190 mph (3524 km/h).

That’s half the speed of the X-15 yet is still very fast as it can reach Mach 3.2.

It may not be as fast as a few retired aircraft, and especially not the experimental ones, yet is the only aircraft still in service that is capable of hitting a speed over Mach 3.0.

Alas, the MiG-25 Foxbat is no longer in production and is in reduced, somewhat limited service though is still employed by certain air forces.   

How Long Can A Fighter Jet Fly Without Refueling?

Depending on the aircraft and its fueling capabilities, the distance that a fighter jet can go on a full tank of fuel can vary.

For some, this is as little as 1,000 miles while other fighter jets are capable of going for further than 3,000 miles.

This distance can also vary due to the payload and some fighter jets are capable of air to air refueling.

Jacob Stern
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