Not many people can say they got to fly an F-16 on a Tuesday morning during the work week, but that was the experience some enjoyed on Jan. 30 at the State House.
A simulator providing a virtual experience of being in the cockpit of one of the South Carolina-built fighter jets was in the atrium of the South Carolina State House on Tuesday as part of a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the F-16.
The simulator featured an exact mockup of an F-16 cockpit and allowed participants the chance to experience take-off, landing, maneuvers and even to participate in a “dogfight” and shoot down enemies, led by two guides.
The event was held in conjunction with S.C. Manufacturing Day at the State House, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance.
Gov. Henry McMaster officiated, reading a proclamation he presented to officials from Lockheed Martin’s Greenville offices and declaring Jan. 30 “F-16 Fighting Falcon Day” in South Carolina.
State officials and members of the military were also present, including pilots who fly F-16s for the 169th Fighter Wing, known as the Swamp Foxes, based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Hopkins. About 80 F-16s are also based at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter with the 20th Fighter Wing.
“The F-16 is a key piece of 21st century security, and by having them manufactured in Greenville we’re in the middle of security for the whole world,” McMaster said. “Lockheed Martin’s Greenville facility has a $100 million economic impact in South Carolina, and the company exemplifies everything that makes this state a great place to do business.”
The event was held to commemorate the F-16’s first flight on Jan. 20, 1974, which actually occurred accidentally during a high-speed taxi test at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The plane’s first official maiden flight took place on Feb. 2, 1974.
Lockheed Martin moved production of the F-16 to Greenville from Fort Worth, Texas, in 2019. The plant currently produces the F-16 Block 70, and is on track to deliver between 19 and 21 jets to Bahrain, Slovakia and Bulgaria this year, company officials said. The Greenville plant currently employs 1,700 people, 25% of them veterans.
“South Carolina is one of the few remaining epicenters for defense manufacturing, and in today’s international climate having a working production line and supply chain for defense is crucial,” said Trish Pagan, vice president of the F-16 production program for Lockheed. “We are thankful for the steadfast support Lockheed Martin has received supporting our growth in South Carolina. Greenville is a national security asset.”
About 3,100 F-16s are currently operating around the world, and since its beginning the jets have logged 13 million sorties and 19.5 million flight hours, according to Lockheed Martin statistics.
“At any moment day or night, there is a good chance an F-16 is in the air somewhere in the world,” Pagan said.
Currently seven Bulgarian F-16s are in various stages of production in Greenville, with the inaugural flight of the first Bulgarian F-16 Block 70 planned for later this year. The production line in Greenville currently has a backlog of 135 of the fighter jets for customers around the world. Bulgaria is the second European country to purchase the F-16 Block 70, after Slovakia. Slovakia’s first two F-16 Block 70 jets successfully completed their inaugural flights in September 2023 at Lockheed’s Greenville facility, and the jets were successfully delivered this month. F-16s built in Greenville have also been purchased by Bahrain.
Related content: Even top brass couldn’t resist a chance for a selfie with an F-16g