The U.S. Air Force F-16 Viper Demonstration Team unveiled a 50th anniversary paint scheme honoring the original aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., May 15 2024.

The red, white and blue paint scheme was the original livery worn by the YF-16 prototype first flown in 1974. The team worked alongside the 412th Test Wing to complete the paint scheme in less than 8 weeks, a task that would usually take approximately three months.

“When I was hired to be the commander and pilot in the summer of last year, I had made it known that I hoped to find a way to get our airplane painted in the prototype scheme to take America back to the beginning of the story that started 50 years ago,” said Capt. Taylor “FEMA” Hiester, F-16 Viper Demonstration Team commander and pilot.

Tony Accurso, 416th Flight Test Squadron logistics manager, Air Force veteran and director for the Edwards AFB F-16 50th Anniversary event, acted as a liaison between the team and the 412th TW. He participated in the paint project personally as a historical advisor, his enthusiasm for the F-16 Fighting Falcon and vast knowledge of the YF-16 prototype bringing the design to life.

“The importance of this YF-16 paint scheme is celebrating 50 years of the F-16 Viper,” said Accurso. “Everyone at Edwards has a big sense of pride for not only supporting the Viper Demo Team but also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the F-16 which began right here at Edwards in 1974.”

The YF-16 prototype first flew accidentally on Jan. 20, 1974 after a mechanical mishap during a high speed taxi test. Phil Oestricher, the YF-16 test pilot, decided to take off and fly for six minutes to avoid crashing the jet. The official 90-minute maiden flight was then conducted Feb. 2, 1974. The F-16 Viper Demonstration Team was combined from the Viper East and West teams in 2015.

The team decided to make slight changes to differentiate the new aircraft, including swapping out the term “General Dynamics” for “20th Fighter Wing” and adding “Viper Demo” to the tip of the vertical stabilizer.

“The only way that we were able to get started was with the support of the leadership at the 20th Fighter Wing, the home of the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team, who believed in the importance of this project and supported the vision that we had in mind,” said Hiester.

In 2024, the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team will represent Air Combat Command and the Air Force at 25 shows in four countries, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

U.S. Air Force photo Senior Airman Meghan Hutton

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