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Viper Force: 56th Fighter Wing: To Fly and Fight the F-16by John M Dibbs
Synopses & Reviews
To most civilians, a fighter pilot is anyone who flies a fighter aircraft. But simply filling a seat and operating the stick and throttle doesn’t make one a fighter pilot. In the fighter community, there’s a saying: “There are those who have a thousand hours in the jet, and there are those who have one hour a thousand times.”
For many within this small and demanding community, the pinnacle of modern fighter aircraft was the F-16 Fighting Falcon—better known simply as the Viper by any pilot who flew it and any ground crew who worked on it. The Viper wasn’t just any fighter aircraft, and those who flew it weren’t just any fighter pilots . . . they were Viper Drivers.
With stunning aerial photography from John M. Dibbs and including numerous personal interviews with Viper Drivers conducted by fighter pilot Lt. Col. Robert “Cricket” Renner, USAF (Ret.), Viper Force brings to life the thrills of strapping on a Viper during training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, as well as the challenges of flying the USAF’s most versatile multi-role jet in an operational fighter squadron. From training to combat, Viper Drivers share their experiences in their own words, proving Luke AFB’s motto: Training Fighter Pilots Second to None.
During an official ceremony at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on July 21, 1980, the USAF gave the nickname “Fighting Falcon” to the General Dynamics F-16, the name inspired by the Air Force Academy Falcon football team. But pilots often have unofficial nicknames for their airplanes, and any pilot who flies the F-16 or any mechanic who works on it will only call it the “Viper.”
Viper came from the F-16’s resemblance to a snake when seen from head-on in the landing attitude.
Great fighter aircraft need great pilots, and great pilots acquire their highly specialized skills through intense training at Luke Air Force Base, just west of Phoenix, Arizona, home of the 56th Fighter Wing of the USAF’s Air Education and Training Command. Many hours of hard work are necessary to mold young pilots into Viper Drivers, a special designation that sets them apart from other fighter pilots.
From the rigors of training to the excitement of combat, Lt. Col. Robert “Cricket” Renner, USAF (Ret.), captures the lives of the Viper Drivers in their own words and alongside the amazing air-to-air photography of John M. Dibbs.
The pilot of the F-16 Viper, which is the U.S. Air Force’s frontline fighter and attack aircraft, is at the pinnacle of combat aviation. Viper Force tells the story of what it takes to become an F-16 pilot and what it’s like to fly and fight the Viper in combat. Because the F-16 is a dual-purpose combat aircraft, its pilot must master two widely divergent disciplines: air-to-air flying against enemy fighters to maintain control of the air over the battle field and air-to-ground flying in support of ground forces, soldiers, and marines, in contact. The crucible for creation of the Viper pilot is the air force’s 56th Fighter Wing, the successor to World War II’s 56th Fighter Group, the legendary Zemke’s Wolpack, which also flew a fighter/attack aircraft, the P-47 Thunderbolt. Viper Force also provides an up-close and personal look at the F-16 Viper squadron at war with information on its missions, command and control in the air, and the crucially important but often overlooked maintenance and ordnance ground crew.
About the Author
John M. Dibbs is an award-winning air-to-air photographer, who has flown in more than 120 different aircraft types, undertaken 850-plus air-to-air sorties, and authored eleven books including his widely acclaimed Flying Legends series. He lives in Redmond, Washington.
Robert “Cricket” Renner is a 1988 Air Force Academy graduate who retired in 2010 following twenty-two years of active duty service, almost all of which involved flying combat aircraft. With over 3,200 hours in the F-15 Eagle, Lieutenant Colonel Renner flew thirty-seven combat sorties over northern and southern Iraq, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and has been rated as an instructor pilot since 1994. He resides with his family near Anchorage in Eagle River, Alaska.
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