The first successful flight of an F-16 Block 70 fighter jet built in Greenville is in the books.
The plane took off at 9:17 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday, Jan. 24, according to a news release from Lockheed Martin. Test pilots Dwayne “Pro” Opella and Monessa “Siren” Balzhiser were at the controls. Balzhiser is the first woman to serve as a test pilot for the company.
Total flight time was approximately 50 minutes and included airworthiness checks such as engine, flight control and fuel system checks, as well as basic aircraft handling, the release said.
“Today’s successful flight is a testament of the hard work, dedication and commitment to our customers and their missions,” said OJ Sanchez, vice president of Integrated Fighter Group, which includes the F-16 program. “This milestone demonstrates Lockheed Martin’s commitment to advancing this program and getting this much-needed aircraft and its advanced security capabilities to the warfighter.”
This F-16 Block 70 is the first of 16 jets to be delivered to Bahrain. Six countries have selected Block 70/72 aircraft, including Slovakia. In addition to the current official backlog of 128 jets to date to be built in Greenville, Jordan in 2022 signed a letter of offer and acceptance for eight jets, and last week signed an additional one for four more, according to the release. Lockheed Martin has received a contract to begin long-lead activities for Jordan. In addition, Bulgaria has signed an LOA for an additional eight jets for its fleet. Once these orders are finalized, the Greenville backlog will increase to 148.
“Lockheed Martin is fully committed to delivering quality platforms for our customers’ critical missions, and I am so proud of our talented team in Greenville,” Danya Trent, F-16 vice president and site lead in Greenville, said in the release. “This is the culmination of significant development, design, digital engineering, supply chain and production line advances to an already proven platform that will continue to deliver decades of service in support of customers’ national security.”
Lockheed Martin moved F-16 production to Greenville in 2019 and has approximately 700 workers at the Upstate site with an average annual economic impact of $100 million to the area, according to company figures.