There are reports from the subcontinent that India has eliminated the two U.S.-built planes from its $10 billion competition to buy about 126 fighters. Both the Lockheed F-16 and Boeing F-18 have reportedly been scratched from the list of candidates, in favor of a pair of European-built planes. The F-16 is built in Fort Worth. I was working in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s Washington bureau when the first of them rolled off the line at the huge Air Force Plant No. 4 and went operational in 1980.
We covered every hiccup, every bid, every sale and every crash in the program’s early days. My neck still aches when I think of the 9 Gs I pulled in the back seat during a flight in the early ’80s. Back then, it seemed every nation in the world wanted to buy the plane, and 25 ultimately did. Bob Cox of the Startlegram reports that absent an Indian contract, the last F-16 of more than 4,400 could roll off the line in 2013. The lack of an American fighter in the finals could signal something important — dated old designs, too costly new designs — or it could simply be a negotiating ploy. In any event, the end of an era — of building a cheap, nimble lightweight fighter — seems like it’s approaching.