Taming the Viper

At Luke Air Force Base, young pilots learn to fly the F-16

Major Brandon “Cracker” McBrayer, an instructor pilot at Luke, merges with a MiG-29 adversary in a flight simulator. One Viper pilot equates flying the F-16 to "driving a Ferrari, whittling a piece of wood, and playing Stratego—all at the same time." (John M. Dibbs)

Young pilots arriving at Arizona's Luke Air Force Base are considered to be "all mach and no vector." Translation? The kid has lots of energy but no experience beyond a year of Air Force basic pilot training.

To learn what it takes to transform a young pilot into a successful F-16 "Viper Driver," photographer John Dibbs and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Renner traveled to Luke, near Phoenix, to the Air Force's air education and training command. See the gallery above for images from their book, Viper Force: 56th Fighter Wing—To Fly and Fight the F-16.

Formation Landing

(John M. Dibbs)

Two F-16s from the 310th Fighter Squadron, the “Top Hats,” make a formation landing. Viper drivers practice side-by-side takeoffs and landings to keep their formation skills sharp. “I have been asked a lot if the F-16 is easy to fly,” says Lieutenant Colonel Culla “Shack” Yarborough. “Yes, it is very easy to fly, but much more difficult to employ as a weapon.”


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