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Northrop YF-23

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Northrop YF-23 DFRC.jpg
Type Experimental fighter prototype
Manufacturer Northrop/McDonnell Douglas
Maiden flight 27 August 1990
Status cancelled
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built 2
Program cost US$ 650 million[citation needed]

The Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23 was an American prototype fighter aircraft designed for the United States Air Force. The YF-23 was entered in Advanced Tactical Fighter but lost out to the Lockheed YF-22, which entered production as the F-22 Raptor.

Design and development

The YF-22 and YF-23 were competing in the USAF's Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program, conceived in the early 1980s, to provide a replacement for the F-15 Eagle. Contracts for the two most promising designs were awarded in 1986, with the YF-23 delivered in 1989 and the evaluation concluded in 1991.[1]

The YF-23 was designed to meet USAF requirements for survivability, supersonic cruise (supercruise), stealth, and ease of maintenance. Designed with all-aspect stealth as a high priority, Northrop drew on the company's experience with the F-18 Hornet and B-2 Spirit. The YF-23 was an unconventional-looking aircraft with diamond-shaped wings, substantial area-ruling, and a V-tail. It introduced the novel feature of rear jet nozzle troughs lined with heat ablating tiles developed by Allison, which shielded the exhaust from IR detection from below. All the control surfaces were coupled together via the Vehicle Management System to provide "net effect" aerodynamic control. The wing flaps and ailerons deflected inversely on either side to provide yaw, while the tail provided pitch. Aerodynamic braking was achieved by deflecting the flaps and ailerons on both sides simultaneously.

Although possessing an advanced design, in order to reduce costs and development, a number of F-15 Eagle components were utilized including the standard F-15 nose wheel unit and the forward cockpit of the F-15E Strike Eagle.[2]

Two aircraft were built. PAV-1 was fitted with Pratt & Whitney YF119 engines, while PAV-2 was fitted with General Electric YF120 engines.[2]

The YF-23 was nicknamed "Black Widow II", after the Northrop P-61 Black Widow of World War II and had a marking resembling the red underbelly marking of the black widow spider. The black widow marking was briefly seen under PAV-1 (and made the cover of Aviation Week & Space Technology) before being removed at the insistence of Northrop management. The gray colored YF-23 was nicknamed "Gray Ghost".[3]


Northrop's original ATF concept from 1986. Note how close this was to the final design in terms of overall configuration sans stealth qualities

Both aircraft were furnished in the configuration specified before the requirement for thrust reversing was dropped, although there has never been any mention as to whether this feature was tested or not.[citation needed] The weapons bay was not configured for weapons launch and no missiles were carried, unlike Lockheed's demonstration aircraft. Northrop chose to demonstrate this capability using computer simulations.[citation needed] The configuration of the weapons bay has never publicly been revealed.[citation needed]

Although the precise results of the evaluation and the reasons justifying the final decision are not public knowledge and probably never will be due to commercial litigation issues,[citation needed] the USAF chose the winning team based on an awarded points system, which put the YF-22/PW F119 combination slightly ahead of the three other combinations.[citation needed]

The YF-22 won the competition in April 1991. It has been speculated in the aviation press that the YF-22 was also seen as more adaptable to the Navy's Navalized Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF), though as it turned out the US Navy abandoned NATF a few months later.[4]

After losing the competition, both YF-23 prototypes were transferred from Northrop to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards AFB, California. The engines were removed. NASA had no plans to perform flight tests with the airframes, but a proposal was put forward to use one of the two aircraft to study strain gauge loads calibration techniques. The possible production configuration of the F-23A has never been publicly revealed.

In the end, however, both aircraft remained in storage until the summer of 1996, when the aircraft were transferred to museums. Aircraft PAV-2 was in exhibit at the Western Museum of Flight in Hawthorne, California and PAV-1 was recently moved to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, where it sits in the Aircraft Restoration Hangar.[1] Aircraft PAV-2 is now on display in an outdoor parking area at Northrop Grumman's production facility in El Segundo, California. Template:Coord

Possible revival

In late 2004, Northrop Grumman proposed a YF-23 based design for the USAF's interim bomber requirement, a role for which the FB-22 and B-1R are also competing. Aircraft PAV-2 was moved from the Western Museum of Flight to Northrop's plant for refurbishment after being on outside display for more than a decade. Instead, Northrop used the aircraft to create a full scale model of its proposed interim bomber. The interim bomber requirement has since been cancelled in favor of a more long-term, permanent bomber replacement requirement, however, the same YF-23-derived design could possibly be adapted to fulfill this role as well.[5]

Specifications (YF-23)

Note some specifications are estimated.

Data from F-22 Raptor book[6]

General characteristics



None as tested but provisions made for


  1. Winchester 2005, p. 197.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Winchester 2005, p. 198.
  3. Pace, 1999, chapter 5.
  4. The Lockheed Martin F/A-22 Raptor,, 1 February 2007.
  5. YF-23 Resurrection
  6. Pace, 1999, p. 14.
  7. YF-23 Specifications on
  • Pace, Steve. F-22 Raptor. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999. ISBN 0-07-134271-0.
  • USAF. Northrop YF-23A Flight Manual. Washington, DC: Government Reprints Press, 2001. ISBN 1-93164-164-1.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. "Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23." Concept Aircraft (The Aviation Factfile). Rochester, Kent, UK: Grange Books plc, 2005. ISBN 1-84013-809-2.

External Links

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See also

Template:US fighters