It’s not always when you see an aircraft at it amazes you from the first look. But this is the impression when one see a newly painted F-16 of Belgian Air Force that is and will be performing a Solo Display on multiple airshows in whole Europe. When all eyes are focused on the “Dark Falcon”, as this is name of new jet, let’s take a closer look into the team of BAF.
It’s a longstanding tradition of Belgian Air Force to have an F-16 Solo Display Team, with the first one starting in 1979. The Display Pilot is being selected for two or three years, so with new jet there is also a time to present new pilot – Sr Cpt. Stefan Darte, with a callsign “Vador” (named after the Darth Vader from Star Wars movie). He’s a highly experienced pilot flying on the F-16 for more than 20 years and spent most of his time in 2ndTactical Wing at Florennes Air Base in Belgium. He spent almost 3000 hours on jets flying in multiple missions and exercises with now being a fighter weapon instructor. During thousands of flights he gained unique experience and flying skills what is demonstrated by him this and next seasons as F-16 Solo Display Pilot.
When the decision was to made to choose Vador a display pilot, he started working on his performance in the air, while the team on ground began working on the scheme of aircraft. Their mission was simple – develop a scheme to make the F-16 look more dynamic as it already is. But also, the aircraft should be in some way unique and related to it’s pilot – that’s how the idea for the “Dark Falcon” was born.
Both the design and final detailing was a long process, with seven weeks of painting only. Only black, white and grey shades were used for the design in order to make the plane look as dynamic as possible. Taking a look into aircraft both from the ground as well as from the air, I must admit it looks really amazing and hypnotizing – such design makes it look not only more dynamic, but also aggressive, what is very good in terms of airshow. Painting the aircraft was quite challenging for the team – firstly they had to strip the normal operational (grey) painting, which took almost a week. Then a long process of masking, strapping and painting took for them 6 weeks more. Belgian Air Force team are highly experienced professionals, so the final effect, presented on 23rdApril 2018, was really amazing.
This is the first time when nose of Belgian Air Force’s F-16 was fully painted in black – this wasn’t easy, as a special paint must have been used, so as not to interfere with a radar that is placed in this position. Also, a total of seven layers must have been applied in order not to scratch or fall-off during high-g manoeuvres with big speed, but F-16’s team has calculated and tested all aspects making sure that the design will stay at it’s place for a long time. On the fuselage one may found a stickers made of very strong film that simulates the eagle wings on the bottom and eagles fur on the top with the “Belgian Air Force” text on the slats of F-16 what looks especially good and low speed (when slats are extended BAF text is much better visible from the ground). On the vertical tail a falcon in dark scheme was placed to show both the connections to the original jet name as well as to 2ndTactical Wing. The horizontal tail deserves more attention as one may notice two Belgian flags on the end of tail. When flying abroad the port horizontal stabilizer will carry the flag of the visiting country. For example when flying in Poland at Radom AirShow, the people will see the Polish flag on the one port stabilizer while the starboard stabilizer will keep the original Belgian flag. That’s quite nice idea to make the jet unique in every country – small details, but a very nice solution from the designer. Talking about details, we should mention two more details – a typical “Darth Vader” painting on the lower rear stabilizer and a technicians crew presented as Imperium soldiers on the front gear nacelle, what make a direct connection of this particular jet to Star Wars.
The training for new display started at the beginning of 2018 – firstly at higher altitude (3000 ft) and later on lower altitudes (1500ft) and finally on 500ft. The display, which takes almost 10 minutes from take-off to landing, is very demanding for both aircraft and pilot – slow-speed pases, barrel rolls, loops with 9g turns make a great impression on audience. Naturally usage of flares, smoke system and afterburner makes it even more attractive. A total of 15 air shows were planned in Europe for 2018 including United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic, Poland, Greece and of course Belgium. May the force be with Dark Falcon!
Thanks to outstanding cooperation with Vador and Belgian Air Force we had the possibility to take aerial pictures of this F-16 over Belgium which resulted in a great adventure and many publications. Please find below a few selected pictures from both aerial session as well as airshows.
Our partners during photoshoot were: