"Father Of The F-16" Was 89
Untold ranks of US Air Force pilots have Harry J. Hillaker to
thank for the planes they fly today. Hillaker, known to many as the
"Father of the F-16," passed away Sunday at the age of 89.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports Hillaker worked as an
aeronautical engineer at General Dynamics for 44 years. He started
his career with Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego in 1941, later
transferring to the company's plant in North Texas. He had a hand
in some of the most exciting aircraft designs of the post-World War
II era, including the B-36 Peacemaker, B-58 Hustler and F-111
It was a conversation at a bar in 1962, however, that started
Hillaker's path to fame among the ranks of fighter pilots and
aircraft enthusiasts. At the Eglin Air Force Base officers club,
Hillaker attracted the attention -- and ire -- of USAF Major John
Boyd... who among learning of Hillaker's role in the development of
the Aardvark, proceeded to tell the engineer just what he thought
of the plane.
It wasn't complimentary.
Over his bombast, Hillaker realized Boyd knew what he was
talking about... so he invited the brash pilot to have a seat. The
conversation turned to what the Air Force's next fighter should be,
and Hillaker took those ideas with him back to Fort Worth.
Later assigned to the Pentagon, Hillaker met up with others who
felt the Air Force needed a small, highly maneuverable, and
affordable fighter -- in other words, the complete antithesis of
the unpopular F-111. Along with fellow proponents Col. Everest
Riccioni and civilian Pentagon official Pierre Sprey, Hillaker led
a secretive project to sketch out a smaller alternative to the Air
Force's latest pet project, the F-15 Eagle.
At first, the "Fighter Mafia" flew largely under the radar at
General Dynamics and the Pentagon. Bolstered by a small $149,000
budget request -- made by Riccioni, to commission performance and
design studies on a "lightweight fighter" -- the team developed a
plane capable of besting the finest aircraft the Soviet Union had
Their design later won an Air Force competition, over a Northrop
entry... and four decades later, the plant in Fort Worth -- now
under the control of Lockheed Martin -- continues to crank out
F-16s. Hillaker certainly wasn't the only person involved in
bringing the plane to fruition... but today, he is credited with
leading the charge.
"Harry's legacy is an incredible aircraft that has become the
mainstay of 25 nations and continues to be in demand today after 30
years of production," said Ralph Heath, president of Lockheed
Martin Aeronautics. "The early F-16 versions paved the way for tens
of thousands of jobs, over $100 billion in sales and customer
relationships that are the cornerstone for Lockheed Martin's
transition to the future with our new aircraft programs."
Sprey was more succinct in his view of Hillaker's importance to
the F-16. "I can practically run down the things that wouldn't have
been in the airplane if it wasn't for Harry," he said.