By lex, on December 5th, 2003
You’d date the F-16 and marry the Hornet
That’s a picture of an F-16N and an A-4E over the Dry Tortugas, west of Key West, Florida about 70 miles. Those were two of my squadron aircraft back when I was an adversary pilot, the third being the F-5E (not pictured).
The F-16N (N- for Navy variant) was a pocket rocket, lots of fun. Essentially a Block 20 F-16C with an A- model radar and no internal gun. It’d go like a striped-assed baboon, easily 800 knots on the deck. That was the redline, as fast as you were supposed to go, for various structural reasons (the canopy would start to deform, e.g.). Once, while running down a pair of Hornets trying to bug out, I caught myself going 840+, and she wasn’t even breathing hard yet. At that speed it’s hard to slow down.
The Viper (the Navy nickname) was also a g-monster. Thrust to weight was over 1:1 at takeoff (in our configuration). Nine g’s was the limit, and really it was all you could ever want. At 9 g’s, you feel as though you’ve got a safe sitting in your lap – the average pilot will feel like he weighs over 1000 pounds, and your peripheral vision will neck down until it appears that you’re looking at the world through a pair of soda straws. When you ease off, you’ll cough from all the burst alveoli in your lungs, and blood vessels will have popped on your forearms and under your thighs leaving bruises we called “G-measles.” So yah, it was a lot of fun!
The FA-18 is a little more sedate. Doesn’t go quite as fast, doesn’t pull quite so many g’s. The cockpit was to my mind a lot more user friendly though, and the radar far superior. Slow speed maneuvering in the FA-18 was also a strong point, since eventually all fights get slow (although since the Viper’s superior thrust-to-weight meant it didn’t get as slow as quickly as the Hornet did, this slow-speed advantage was partly offset). Since it’s a two-engine aircraft, there’s a lot more redundancy in FA-18 systems as well. You could lose an engine and still fight your way home. Just try that in an F-16.
So when my friends would ask me which was the better airplane, I’d always tell them the opening lines to this entry: “if airplanes were women, you’d want to date the F-16 and marry the Hornet. The Viper’s fast, dances well and looks great at parties. But she’s a little high maintenance, and if you treat her wrong, she’ll kick you out of the car even in bad neighborhoods. The Hornet is the girl you bring to meet your mom. She’s there for you, and will bring you home when you’ve had too much fun downtown and gotten all farked up.”
PC disclaimer – if anyone feels offended by my anthropomorphizing and use of gender here, please feel free to substitute wife for husband and vice-versa. Or life partner, whatever. Or just hit “next” on one of the webrings below!