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Toward the end of the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration began to take a hard look at the increasing cost of military weapon systems. Two systems in particular, the F-14 Tomcat and the F-15 Eagle, drew criticism from several senators and congressmen. Many of them felt the new weapon systems would cost several times more than the aircraft they were suppose to replace.
In the late 1960s, Maj. John Boyd, Pierre Sprey, and Col. Everest Riccioni, a group dubbed the "Lightweight Fighter Mafia," began to
promote the concept of a less expensive lightweight fighter that could more flexibly challenge Soviet aircraft. In 1972, requests for proposals were sent to the aerospace industry to build this new fighter. One of the finalists was General Dynamics, which proposed a single-engine fighter called the YF-16.
Twenty-one months after the contracts were awarded, General Dynamics became the fist to unveil its new prototype. The sleek new fighter, painted red, white, and blue, was armed with Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles and a twenty-millimeter multibarrel rotary cannon capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. The YF-16's fly-by-wire control system replaced heavy cables, pulleys, pushrods, and mechanical linkages. This dynamic decrease in weight allowed the aircraft to carry 15,000 pounds of bombs and equipment. The YF-16 weighed 22,800 pounds and measured 47 feet in length. It was
suppose to exceed Mach 2 and fly more than 2,000 miles without refueling. It had a bubble-shaped canopy, the first of its kind, which provided more visibility than any other fighter. Cockpit controls were within easy reach, and the aircraft was equipped with a side-stick controller that operated the flight controls electronically when the pilot applied pressure. Seats in normal fighters are tilted back approximately 13 degrees, but the seat in the YF-16 was tilted back 30
degrees to increase the pilot's G tolerance and rearward visibility.
The YF-16 was the first of two prototypes to make it into the air. In January 1974, a General Dynamics test pilot named Philip Oestricher was performing a high-speed taxi test. During the test, he discovered a problem with the horizontal stabilizer, which caused the aircraft to inadvertently lift off the ground. Instead of risking a high-speed abort,
Oestricher allowed the aircraft to fly and was airborne for approximately six minutes before safely landing.