Born as an in-flight simulator, the General Dynamics F-16 VISTA (Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft) had the task to simulate the performance of the newest fighter jets. It was built around a standard production F-16D Fighting Falcon airframe and introduced many features which a classic F-16 didn’t have.
In fact, the airframe included a larger capacity hydraulic pump, a programmable center stick controlled by the digital computer installed in the front cockpit and a custom designed variable stability system which allowed the VISTA’s very different flight envelope. The distinctive characteristic of the VISTA was that controls to manage the flight envelope were put in the back cockpit and, only after successful access they could be transferred to the front seater: this particular system set-up enabled return control to the backseater in case the front pilot faced a dangerous situation.
After VISTA made its maiden flight in April 1992 the program founds for the next two years were withdrawn. Luckily, the VISTA was resurrected by the General Electric which had the need for a program to demonstrate how the vectoring thrust could improve the F-16’s maneuverability.
For the complete story by Dario Leone for The Aviationist, click here.