Northrop YF-23 - Black Widow and Gray Ghost - The American s...

Northrop YF-23 - Black Widow and Gray Ghost - The American stealt...  

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The Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23 is an American single-seat, twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft technology demonstrator designed for the United States Air Force (USAF). The design was a finalist in the USAF's Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition, battling the Lockheed YF-22 for a production contract. Two YF-23 prototypes were built, nicknamed "Black Widow II" and "Gray Ghost".

In the 1980s, the USAF began looking for a replacement for its fighter aircraft, especially to counter the USSR's advanced Sukhoi Su-27 and Mikoyan MiG-29. Several companies submitted design proposals; the USAF selected proposals from Northrop and Lockheed. Northrop teamed with McDonnell Douglas to develop the YF-23, while Lockheed, Boeing, and General Dynamics developed the YF-22.

The YF-23 was stealthier and faster, but less agile than its competitor. After a four-year development and evaluation process, the YF-22 was announced the winner in 1991 and entered production as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. The U.S. Navy considered using the production version of the ATF as the basis for a replacement to the F-14, but these plans were later canceled. The two YF-23 prototypes are currently museum exhibits.

American reconnaissance satellites first spotted the advanced Soviet Su-27 and MiG-29 fighter prototypes in 1978, which caused concern in the U.S. Both Soviet models were expected to reduce the maneuverability advantage of contemporary US fighter aircraft. In 1981, the USAF requested information from several aerospace companies on possible features for an Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) to replace the F-15 Eagle. After discussions with aerospace companies, the USAF made air-to-air combat the primary role for the ATF. The ATF was to take advantage of emerging technologies, including composite materials, lightweight alloys, advanced flight-control systems, more powerful propulsion systems, and stealth technology. In October 1985, the USAF issued a request for proposal (RFP) to several aircraft manufacturers. The RFP was modified in May 1986 to include the evaluation of prototype air vehicles from the two finalists. At the same time, the U.S. Navy, under the Navalized Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF) program, announced that it would use a derivative of the ATF winner to replace its F-14 Tomcat. The NATF program called for procurement of 546 aircraft along with the USAF's planned procurement of 750 aircraft.

In July 1986, proposals were submitted by Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop, Grumman and Rockwell. The latter two dropped out of competition shortly thereafter. Following proposal submissions, Lockheed, Boeing, and General Dynamics formed a team to develop whichever of their proposed designs was selected, if any. Northrop and McDonnell Douglas formed a team with a similar agreement. The Lockheed and Northrop proposals were selected as finalists on 31 October 1986 for demonstration and validation (Dem/Val). Both teams were given 50 months to build and flight-test their prototypes, and they were successful, producing the Lockheed YF-22 and the Northrop YF-23.

The YF-23 was designed to meet USAF requirements for survivability, supercruise, stealth, and ease of maintenance. Supercruise requirements called for prolonged supersonic flight without the use of afterburners. Northrop drew on its experience with the B-2 Spirit and F/A-18 Hornet to reduce the model's susceptibility to radar and infrared detection. The USAF initially required the aircraft to land and stop within 2,000 feet (610 m), which meant the use of thrust reversers on their engines. In 1987, the USAF changed the runway length requirement to 3,000 feet (910 m), so thrust reversers were no longer needed. This allowed the aircraft to have smaller engine nacelle housings. The nacelles were not downsized on the prototypes.

General characteristics

Crew: 1
Length: 67 ft 5 in (20.55 m)
Wingspan: 43 ft 7 in (13.28 m)
Height: 13 ft 11 in (4.24 m)
Wing area: 900 sq ft (84 m2)
Empty weight: 29,000 lb (13,154 kg)
Gross weight: 51,320 lb (23,278 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 62,000 lb (28,123 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney YF119 or General Electric YF120 afterburning turbofan engines, 35,000 lbf (160 kN) with afterburner

Maximum speed: Mach 2.2 (1,450 mph, 2,335 km/h) at high altitude
Supercruise: Mach 1.6+ at altitude
Range: 2,424 nmi (2,789 mi, 4,489 km)
Combat range: 651–695 nmi (749–800 mi, 1,206–1,287 km)
Service ceiling: 65,000 ft (20,000 m)
Wing loading: 57 lb/sq ft (280 kg/m2)
Thrust/weight: 1.36
None as tested but provisions made for:

1 × 20 mm (0.79 in) M61 Vulcan cannon
4 × AIM-120 AMRAAM or AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range air-to-air missiles
2 × AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles


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