The main photo of this piece was taken on a night back in August, just as a single-seat F-16C variant of the plane was preparing to take off from the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for a Red Flag-Nellis 21-3 mission.
The airplane is deployed with the 64th Aggressor Squadron, a unit tasked with acting as sparring partners for other pilots during training.
F-16 pilots like to call their planes Vipers, partially on account of various associations with a starfighter featured in the Battlestar Galactica sci-fi series. It can’t leave Earth’s atmosphere, of course, but the single afterburning turbofan engine (either a General Electric or a Pratt & Whitney, depending on configuration) is more than capable of taking these metal birds at speeds of Mach 2, and for distances of about 2,620 miles (4,217 km).
Packing guns, rockets, missiles, and a wide range of targeting systems, the F-16s were involved over the years in over 13 million sorties and some 19.5 million flight hours. There is no exact figure on the number of kills the family is responsible for, but it did see its share of action in the hottest places on the globe, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria.