Luke Air Force Base – 1/17/2014
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
Fighting Falcon or Viper? I prefer Viper. “Viper” sounds quicker and deadlier, while “Fighting Falcon” sounds proud and majestic. Proud and majestic is more appropriate for a transport aircraft. Ornithologists would probably say that a Falcon is a fast, powerful, and very deadly bird of prey, which is true. But, those facts do not change my association with “proud and majestic”. Besides, the full name given to the F-16 is “Fighting Falcon”, which seems appropriate for the name of a college football team. The name “Falcon” may have been more appropriate. I know, the F-16 is the Fighting Falcon and not the Viper, but, since the F-16’s early testing days, the nickname “Viper” has shown some longevity among aviators and enthusiasts. As evidence of this longevity, Lockheed Martin has named the latest F-16 variant: the F-16V, so it appears the name does carry some validity.
So, where did the nickname “Viper” come from? There are several theories on the origin of the name. According to an article in Lockheed Martin’s Code One magazine: “Tactical Air Command, now Air Combat Command, officially christened the F-16A as the Fighting Falcon. But that name never found wide use on the flightline. As with many aircraft, the unofficial nickname the pilots pinned on the F-16 did catch on: Viper”. Some aviators and historians say that the name originated from a television show that was popular at the time: “Battlestar Galactica”. The “Viper” was a class of fighter spacecraft used in the show. This, combined with the “face” the aircraft looking like the head of a snake, helped fuel the unofficial nickname with the early pilots and crew.
Enough of the history discussion. This past Friday I met up with some fellow aviation photographers/friends to photograph some Vipers at Luke Air Force Base. Luke AFB is often referred to as “Falcon Country”, but, to satisfy my stubbornness, I refer to Luke AFB as the “Viper Academy”. The morning sunlight and the accessibility of some of the locations around the base provide some excellent photo opportunities. The only thing we needed was activity, and, on Friday, there was plenty of AM activity. We were able to photograph F-16’s from many of the squadrons at Luke in the wonderful morning light. A few bonuses included: two F-16’s that headed overhead with live ordinance and a KC-135 from McConnell AFB in Kansas. The KC-135 arrived as we were leaving and we were not in the best position to photograph the aircraft due to angle and lighting. I took the shot anyway and I was not disappointed. The magic of digital processing in Adobe Lightroom/ACR with a lot of shadow recovery helped save the shot.
It was an excellent morning at Luke AFB. The morning light combined with the volume of activity was ideal for aviation photographers/enthusiasts. Whether you call them Fighting Falcons or Vipers, many of these aircraft will be transferred from Luke AFB as the F-35’s come onboard. With this in mind, photographing these aircraft, while they are still at Luke and flying, is worth it’s weight in sentimental value.