If airplanes were women…


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!

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Uncategorized

6 responses to “If airplanes were women…

  1. Lord do I miss this man. I have prayed for the repose of his soul ever since that terrible day in March 2011.

    Having said that, in this situation, the Hornet was what he married, so to speak, so what else would you expect him to say? I’ve almost never met a military pilot who thought his bird second best. Even when such is quite demonstrable.

    I’ll put it this way: USAF made the right decision in 1974. The Navy had their reasons a year later, but it’s highly arguable whether the Hornet is more capable than the aircraft it replaced, mostly due to its short legs. Not that the Viper is much better in that regard. But whereas the F-16 was huge leap over USAF legacy types, I’m not certain the same can be said for the Hornet. I think the Navy would have been much better served with an all-Tomcat fleet, even if that meant further reduced numbers.

    But what a man. God be with you, Lex.

    • Bill Brandt

      I think – in this series I selected – he tells of the history of the F-16 and FA-18 – and they were both in the competition. The Air Force, of course, picked the F-16 and a year of so later there was a champion for the Navy who convinced the brass to pick the “runner up” for the Navy. One thing I did learn from Lex – well, many – is that the Navy – F-35 notwithstanding, values redundancy in engines because if you have a failure and are hundreds of miles from your “base” what are you going to do?

      The Hornet doesn’t have the legs of the plane it replaced to be sure , but it does most things well and I think, like most procurements, is a compromise. I can’t give you numbers but I am sure that it costs much less to maintain than the Tomcat, which was of course an excellent plane.

      I think Lex would smile at the effect his posts have had – he is still talked about around the world in cyberspace.

      I feel privileged to post his writings again…

  2. Tantumblogo

    Fat finger. Was ’12.

  3. Pingback: Index – The Best of Neptunus Lex | The Lexicans

  4. Mike M.

    Bill, I can fill in some of the gaps in the Navy selection of the F-18. The F-16 is reputed to have only middling handling qualities in the powered approach configuration. The YF-17 and later F-18 are well-mannered…critical for carrier suitability.

    • Bill Brandt

      Hi Mike

      Lately I’ve been going through all of our archives again adding more of Lex’s posts back to the web. I posted this a while back. It is his analysis of the development of the FA – 18.

      I do know that there was one proponent in the DOD that wanted to take the loser of this competition and make it the Navy fighter. I can’t remember his name now but he died just within the last couple of years.

      I know one thing that the Navy really likes his redundancy and engines for obvious reasons, f-35 notwithstanding.

      I should put this post of Lex’s onto the index too


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