The U.S. Air Force Competition That Gave Birth to the F-16 and F/A-18 Fighters
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program sought a small, lightweight, low cost, air superiority day fighter designed for high performance and ease of maintenance. The LWF was initiated because many in the fighter community believed that aircraft like the F-15 Eagle were too large and expensive for many combat roles.
Two aircraft competed one versus the other in the LFW program the General Dynamics YF-16 and the Northrop YF-17.
Two single-seat YF-16 prototypes were built for the LWF competition. The first YF-16 was rolled out at Fort Worth on Dec. 13, 1973 and accidentally accomplished its first flight on Jan. 24, 1974, followed by its scheduled “first flight” on Feb. 2, 1974. The second prototype first flew on Mar. 9, 1974. Both YF-16 prototypes participated in the flyoff against the Northrop YF-17 prototypes, with the F-16 winning the Air Combat Fighter (ACF) competition, as the LWF program had been renamed, on Jan. 13, 1975.