Lockheed Martin revealed on January 24 that it had successfully completed its first F-16 Block 70 flight from its Greenville facility in South Carolina, marking a key milestone in the development and eventual delivery of the latest and most advanced version of the Fighting Falcon family to date.
This highly anticipated first flight occurred at 0917hrs (local time) on January 24 and involved a two-seat aircraft that will be the first of 16 F-16 Block 70s to eventually be delivered to the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF). As part of this 50-minute initial test flight, basic aircraft handling and airworthiness checks – including those on the platform’s engine, flight controls and fuel system – were carried out by Lockheed Martin test pilots, Dwayne ‘Pro’ Opella and Monessa ‘Siren’ Balzhiser.
Commenting on the F-16 Block 70’s successful first flight, OJ Sanchez – vice president of the Integrated Fighter Group at Lockheed Martin (which includes the F-16 Block 70/72 programme) – said: “Today’s successful flight is a testament of the hard work, dedication and commitment to our customers and their missions. This milestone demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to advancing this program and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced 21st century security capabilities to the warfighter.”
At present, six nations have signed on to acquire the F-16 Block 70/72 Fighting Falcon: Bulgaria; Bahrain; Jordan; Morocco; Slovakia and Taiwan. Lockheed Martin states that it currently has an order backlog for 128 F-16 Block 70/72s, but this will be increased to 148 once the deals for an additional four aircraft for Jordan (on top of the initial eight ordered last year) and another eight examples for Bulgaria have been finalised. Jordan inked an official Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for the additional four aircraft on January 19. The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) is currently in the process of upgrading its final F-16A Block 20s to F-16 Block 70/72 standard, after the final aircraft to undergo this transition began the process on December 30, 2022.
As mentioned previously, the aircraft used in this test flight will ultimately be delivered to the RBAF. Bahrain is expected to receive its first of 16 F-16 Block 70s in-country in early 2024, with deliveries scheduled for completion by the end of 2025. The first batch of these aircraft are due to remain in the US for testing and acceptance trials before being delivered to Bahrain in batches of four.