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Pete Bonanni/Falcon 4.0 Interview
Dan "Crash" Crenshaw

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a compact, multirole fighter aircraft. It is highly maneuverable and has proven itself in air-to-air combat and air-to-surface attack. It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the air forces of the United States and allied nations.

In an air combat role, the F-16's maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter. In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.

COMBATSIM.COM had a chance to speak with Pete "BOOMER" Bonanni, F-16 BFM instructor and flight instructor for the Air National Guard as well as consultant for FALCON 4, the greatly anticipated simulation from MicroProse. BOOMER talks to Dan Crenshaw about real BFM and FALCON 4.

(CSIM) Please give me a bit of background on your career.

(PB) I am a second generation fighter pilot who grew up on various fighter bases around the world. My father flew the F-94C, F-101, F105 and the F-4. After graduating from the Air Force Academy and pilot training I started my career fighters in the F-4 Phantom. In fact while I was at Clark Air Base in the Philippines I actually flew some of the same tail numbers that my father flew in Vietnam.

In the 90th I flew F-4Es and Gs. While I was at Clark the 90th converted from an Air-to-Air role to the Wild Weasel mission. I didn't go back and train in the "G" model but I flew G models occasionally because we had an equal number of Es and Gs in the squadron. From Clark I got assigned to 497th Fighter Squadron in Taegu, South Korea and flew the F-4D. The "D" model was a "hard wing" F-4 which meant that it didn't have the E model's leading edge slats.

Without those slats the jet flew VERY different at high AOA and I experienced a few wild rides and some pissed off back-seaters before I got used to slow speed fighting in the jet. At slow speed you could not use the ailerons at all. Just think about that. Here you were in a flat scissors with an F-5 and you needed to roll and pull to the left. If you actually moved the stick to the left several things would happen - none of them good.

First the back-seater would scream like he'd been kicked in a place that really hurts. Next the nose of the jet would slice violently in the opposite direction. The only way to regain control of the jet was to unload and by the time you got the Rhino flying straight again some ass hole in an F-5 was gunning you. I never really got a feel for the F-4D because after only 4 months at Taegu, I was selected to fly the greatest fighter ever built -- the F-16.

In August of 1981 the F-16 was more than just a new fighter. It was a concept - an idea about air combat that was fashioned into a machine. The first time I stood next to the jet I was transfixed. I had been around fighters all my life but this jet was different. Finally they built a fighter that not only was the right size (small) but also had the correct number of engines. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder but no fighter pilot can see the lines of the F-16 without feeling deep admiration for the men and women who designed and built it.

The F-16 was even better from inside the cockpit. To put it simply the jet just felt right. It's hard to put it any other way. When you strap in and place your hands on the stick and throttle for the first time it's just hard to describe. It just felt so natural. My first thought was "so this is how a fighter cockpit is supposed to be".

Anyway, sorry for the nostalgia but it was truly a great feeling to be a part of the early days of the F-16. I spent the next 5 years in the F-16, first in the 35th Fighter Squadron in Kunsan, South Korea and then in the 63rd Fighter Squadron in MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. In route to being an Instructor Pilot at MacDill, I was selected to attended the F-16 Fighter Weapons School class at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The Fighter Weapons School was an experience that had a lot in common with Basic Cadet Training at the Air Force Academy. The F-16 Fighter Weapons School was my most arduous Air Force experience to date and very hard to describe in just a few words.

Click to continue . . .


Photo Courtesy of 349 Squadron

I finally left the F-16 when I got out of the active Air Force and entered the Air National Guard. I went home to Virginia and transitioned to a different jet - the A-7D Corsair in the 149th Fighter Squadron. I really didn't need an F-16 appreciation experience but got one nonetheless. I spent the next 5 years flying the old A-7 and pining for 10 thousand pounds more thrust. It was not that the A-7 was that bad, it was just that it was no F-16.

Finally in 1991 the 149th Fighter Squadron received "C" model F-16s. All my previous time had been in the "A" model so I was a little skeptical of the C due to it's increased weight. When I first flew the jet in transition rides I could tell that the nose was a lot heavier but when I actually did BFM in the jet I was pleasantly surprised. The nose was heavier but with the new GE engine the jet had more thrust which made up for the increased weight - kind of. Nothing maneuvers like an "A" model F-16 in my opinion but in a fight against your clone - A versus C, it would probably be a push.

While in the F-4 I flew the D, E and G models over a two year period and then was lucky enough to transition into the F-16A in 1981. I flew the F-16A for just over a year and then attended the USAF Fighter Weapons School in January of 1983. After graduating from the Fighter Weapons School I flew as an Instructor Pilot for the next three years and then left the active duty Air Force for the Air National Guard. In the Air Guard I flew the A-7D for 5 years before finally getting back to the F-16 in 1991. I've flown the F-16C Block 30 since 91 and I expect to be in the jet for the rest of my career.

Offensive One

(CSIM) What is the closest you ever came to actual combat?

(PB) When my father went back to Vietnam in 1969 he told me, "every generation of fighter pilot has their war." Since becoming a fighter pilot I've waited for my war but so far the closest I have come is enforcing the No Fly Zones over Iraq and Bosnia. My father faced SAMs, AAA and MiGs over North Vietnam while so far all I have faced is a sore ass and leaky piddle packs.

(CSIM) How do you rate the F-16 as an overall fighter? What do you think are it's strengths and weaknesses?

(PB) The F-16 is the greatest fighter ever built. I know we can get into a "News Group" type debate over energy curves, payload, avionics, range and other various fighter characteristics. In my opinion however, the F-16 is still the best fighter in the world at what it was originally designed to do -- dogfight. In addition to dogfighting, the F-16 is also the best jet in the world at killing SAMs. When you add AMRAAM and LGBs to the jet you have a great all around fighter that is only a "stores jettison button" away from being the best maneuvering jet in the world.

(CSIM) How does the A/B differ from the C/D models? Include how it responds to the pilot and it's interface.

(PB) The A model F-16 is lighter. More specifically it has a lighter nose which means you can rate or move the nose better in an A model. The C model generally has more thrust than the A model which for the most part compensates for the greater weight of the C. I personally believe that an A model F-16 is a better dogfighter than a C model.

The exception to this statement would be the Block 50/52 C model. This Block has considerably more thrust than the Block 30 or Block 40 C models and may have a sustained turn advantage over an A model. The other difference between the A and C model is of course the cockpit. The C model has a completely different cockpit layout and a new radar which improves the combat capability of the jet.

Go to Part II



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Last Updated June 17th, 1998

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