TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Florida — The F-16 Fighting Falcon has been the mainstay of the Air Force Thunderbirds for decades.

But those who have flown with the team, as well as members of the fighter jet community at large, wonder what the replacement aircraft will be.

Could it be the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter? Or maybe something a little more bite-size, such as the T-50 trainer, should the Air Force actually decide to buy the aircraft?

Whatever the final choice, it’s got to live up to the agility of the F-16 known as the Viper to the F-16 community.

“It’s because it looks like a snake,” one public affairs officer told Capt. Erik “Speedy” Gonsalves in a Tyndall conference room referencing viper. Military.com sat down to interview pilots here at the base and took a ride up in the F-16D two-seater with Gonsalves on April 21.

Gonsalves, new to the team with more than 500 hours of combat experience in the A-10 Thunderbolt, took this reporter for her first-ever flight in a fighter jet. The advance pilot has logged more than 1,600 flight hours during his Air Force career, which began in 2008 after graduating the Air Force Academy.

The demonstration squadron flew the T-38 Talon trainer during the 1970s oil crisis. And downsizing to a trainer — such as Lockheed Martin’s T-50, which has avionics based on the F-16 but is a more capable trainer — could make sense logistically.

Audiences may still want bigger.

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