NASA to fly F-16XL again?

Fingers firmly crossed, but it looks like NASA will put the unique and beautiful F-16XL back in the air to support supersonic sonic-boom research. The cranked-arrow wing fighter last flew at NASA Dryden 10 years ago, but both aircraft – the only F-16XLs built – have since been kept in flyable storage.

Taxi tests could begin soon. “We’re blowing off the dust and putting air in the tires,” a NASA spokesman tells my colleague John Croft.

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Supersonic elegance (F-16XL #1 – NASA photo)

NASA plans to award Lockheed Martin a contract to study the feasibility of upgrading and returning to flight Ship #1 – the single-seat F-16XL – to study sonic boom propagation and mitigation. The upgrades would bring the aircraft, which first flew in 1982, up to a standard similar to the US Air Force’s Block 40 F-16s, making it easier to support.

Although best known for losing to the F-15E in the competition to replace the US Air Force’s F-111s, the F-16XL was actually conceived to demonstrate that the cranked-arrow delta wing developed by NASA for a high-speed civil transport could be applied a fighter.

Between 1988 and 1997 the two F-16XLs were used by NASA to test supersonic laminar flow. It is only fitting the aircraft should make a comeback to support the agency’s renewed supersonic research. Fitting and – to an old aero guy like me – exciting. Go NASA!

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