The F-16V will continue flight testing before being ferried to the U.S. for final upgrades and certification.
The first F-16V of the Hellenic Air Force flew for the first time after the end of the first part of the Block 72 upgrade on January 17, 2021. According to Greek media, the aircraft took off in the morning for a one-hour flight at the commands of a U.S. pilot, closely monitored by a two-seater F-16D Block 52 acting as a safety chase, and performed a series of scheduled checks ahead of the certification of the upgrade.
The aircraft is the former F-16C Block 52+ with HAF serial 005 (USAF serial 06-0005) which was acquired through the Peace Xenia IV Foreign Military Sales program in 2005 and delivered in 2009 to the 335 Mira Tigris (“Tigers”) at Araxos Air Base. The aircraft was chosen to become the prototype for the Block 72 upgrade, which was performed locally by the Hellenic Aerospace Industries (HAI) at Tanagra Air Base, with the support of Lockheed Martin, beginning in January 2020.
Maiden flight of F16V prototype today! Many thanks to all people involved in this project! @USAmbPyatt thank you Sir for all your efforts and contribution! #HAF is expecting to receive 84 upgraded F16s in the years to come. @LockheedMartin @HAFspokesman @Hellenic_MOD @npanagioto pic.twitter.com/pPK4yM6IQf
— Stam Pittas (@Stam_Pittas) January 17, 2021
Ολοκληρώθηκε νωρίς το μεσημέρι η διάρκειας 61 λεπτών πτήση του του “005” στα χειριστήρια του οποίου βρέθηκε Αμερικανίδα (με καταγωγή από την Χαβάη) χειριστής. Να ευχηθώ κάθε καλό για την συνέχεια του προγράμματος. Συνοδευόταν κάθε στιγμή από διθέσιο αεροσκάφος του ίδιου τύπου. pic.twitter.com/UjZhKPHbIM
— Stam Pittas (@Stam_Pittas) January 17, 2021
The Greek Minister of National Defence Nikos Panagiotopoulos posted on Twitter a photo of the upgraded aircraft, which now acquired the new designation F-16V, defining the first flight “an absolute success”.
Το πρώτο ελληνικό #F16 που αναβαθμίζεται στην εκδοχή #Viper στην #ΕΑΒ έκανε την παρθενική του πτήση σήμερα, με απόλυτη επιτυχία. Tέλος του μήνα θα βρεθεί στις εγκαταστάσεις της #LockheedMartin.Η αναβάθμιση του στόλου της Π.Α συνεχίζεται με εντατικούς ρυθμούς. pic.twitter.com/JuadOa03JV
— N Panagiotopoulos (@npanagioto) January 17, 2021
Among the new systems installed during the upgrade we can find the APG-83 AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, a new Center Pedestal Display (CPD), the AN/APX-126 Advanced IFF (Identification Friend or Foe), Link 16 datalink, full NVIS (Night Vision Imaging System) and JHCMS II (Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System II) compatibility, a new Embedded GPS/INS (EGI), a modern commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based avionics subsystem, a high-volume, high-speed data bus and the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS).
The F-16V will now perform additional check flights in Greece, before being transferred in the United States for the last upgrades and the certification of the work done by HAI, clearing them to proceed with the upgrade on other aircraft. The magazine Scramble reports that the F-16V, after completing about 10 hours of flight testing, should be ferried together with three USAF F-16s that are currently at the SABCA facilities in Gosselies, Belgium, flown by US pilots and reportedly scheduled to arrive at destination on February 5.
According to Greek sources, the upgrade program is proceeding per schedule without delays dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic or the economic crisis, emphasizing the cooperation between the agencies involved in the F-16V Block 72 program.
The first flight of an F-16V upgraded in Greece comes just two years after the government decided to commit to the upgrade of 82 of its 153 F-16C/Ds Block 52 to the new configuration. The upgrade program officially started last year with the works on F-16 005 and will last until 2027. The HAF also opted to perform a subsequent in-house upgrade of the F-16C/Ds Block 50 by using equipment removed during the Block 72 upgrade from the other aircraft. With this upgrade the Block 50 Vipers will be reportedly brought to the to the M6 avionic configuration.
This is just one of the many programs initiated by the Greek government to urgently acquire new aircraft, helicopters, ships and weapons to reinforce the armed forces in their long-lasting stand-off with Turkey. As we already reported, in September 2020 the Greek government announced the acquisition of 18 Rafale jets, six of which will be newly built Rafale F3-R while the remaining twelve are second-hand Rafale F3-O4T which are reportedly being upgraded to the F3-R standard. The purchase was approved last week for 2.5 billion euros ($3.04 billion), with a contract being signed later this month.
In November, the government requested an urgent purchase of between 18 and 24 F-35s, “new or used by the US Air Force, if available”. Some Greek medias even claimed that some of these aircraft could the six jets built for Turkey that are being held “in long-term storage in the United States pending final decision on their disposition”, after Turkey was expelled from the F-35 program in 2019. Both the new aircraft types have been requested to be delivered as early as this year.
The latest program announced by the HAF is the creation of a new flight school by Elbit Systems at Kalamata Air Base, home of the 120th Air Training Wing, with the subsequent procurement of 10 Leonardo M-346 Master advanced trainer aircraft and the maintenance of the T-6A Texan II fleet. Along these programs, other aviation-related programs were initiated by the Navy and Army, respectively the purchase of four MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and modernization of the 11 S-70B6 Aegean Hawk helicopters already in service and the upgrade program for 19 AH-64 Apache helicopters.