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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Black Widow II vs Raptor

Did the USAF Choose the Wrong Jet?

The Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program began in 1981 amidst fears of the increased lethality of the newest generation of Russian fighters, the Su-27 and Mig-29. Soviet integrated air defense systems made intrusion into Soviet airspace by non-stealthy aircraft like the F-15 extremely difficult. Thus, the USAF decided it needed a new generation of air superiority fighters to overcome these challenges. The Advanced Tactical Fighter program was born.

"In 1981, the Air Force developed a requirement for an Advanced Tactical Fighter as a new air superiority fighter. It would take advantage of the new technologies in fighter design on the horizon including composite materials, lightweight alloys, advanced flight control systems, higher power propulsion systems and stealth technology. Air Force leaders believed these new technologies would make aircraft like the F-15 and F-16 obsolete by the early 21st century. " - Global Security

Eventually Northrop and McDonnell Douglas teamed up to design the YF-23 for the competition while Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics designed the YF-22. By the time the USAF requested a proposal from Northrup in 1985, it was arguably the most experienced company (along with Lockheed) in designing low observable aircraft. Northrup had already started work on the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. McDonnell Douglas was one of the most respected names in the aerospace industry. McDonnell Douglas was responsible for the creation of some of the finest military equipment in use such as the F-15 Eagle, AH-64 Apache, and Tomahawk cruise missile. The YF-23 design reflects the immense skill of the Northrup and McDonnell Douglas design teams.

Interview with ATF test pilot Paul Metz, first pilot to fly the YF-23

Head to Head comparison YF-22 vs YF-23

Both airframes have advantages and disadvantages over one another in the case of the YF-22 and YF-23. One of the main advantages the YF-23 held over the YF-22 was that it was stealthier. But, to the extent of which its rcs is smaller is not public information. It is known that the YF-23 has a smaller rcs than .0001m^2 (40 dBSM) as that is the Raptor's frontal rcs. However, I would guess that the YF-23 was stealthier by a wide margin due to its unique tail design.

"The YF-23 was stealthier than the F-22 Raptor. The two ruddervators reduce the Radar Cross Signature of the YF-23 significantly. This is because instead of having four extremely large control surfaces on the tail, there are only two. The F-22 Raptor design utilizes the traditional configuration of two rudders, which are canted outward, and two elevators. This make the RCS larger. Another RCS reducing feature is the engines. These are mounted in nacelles in the wing that blend gracefully into the wing on the top, and form an extension of the fueslage on the bottom. The larger bottom fuselage lets it pack more missiles and other expendable weapons. The intake duct is angled up and inward to reflect radar beams and keep them from hitting the fast moving compressor face. The intake duct starts on the lower edge of the wing and moves through it onto the top of the wing. This feature can also reduce the RCS signature from a look down-shoot down radar from an aircraft flying overhead. Also reducing the RCS, is the way the leading and trailing edge of all surfaces are angled. All of the leading and trailing edges are angled the same. Therefore, the front of the right wing is parallel to the left wing's trailing edge, and the left section of the nose. For example, the leading edge of the wing is parallel to the trailing edge of the wing on the other side. " - Global Security

Because of its substantial stealth capabilities, Northrup named the YF-23 Black Widow II. The name "Grey Ghost" also become associated with the YF-23. However, this increased stealthiness came at a cost, agility.

"The YF-23 was optimized for speed, range and stealth at some expense in agility, compared to its rival. The general layout is unique and exploits much of the design technique developed in the B-2A ATB program. RCS is reduced through careful planform shaping and blending, with a unique low drag tail which conceals dorsal exhausts in troughs to reduce both RCS and IR emissions" - Air Power Australia, 1991

The YF-23 design DID NOT feature thrust vectoring as the Northrup design team did not want to add extra weight to the aircraft or increase its radar signature. (National Museum of the Air Force, 2009) Even without thrust vectoring, the YF-23 was incredibly agile as it was able to reach all of the ATF maneuverability qualifications. Something the YF-22 could not do without the aid of thrust vectoring. (Air Power Australia, 2005)

On April 23rd 1991, Secretary of the Air Force Donald Rice announced the YF-22 was the winner of the competition. So did the Air Force pick the wrong jet? To answer this question, one must understand why the YF-22 won the competition. The USAF chose the YF-22 because of its incredible maneuverability. Although the YF-23 was stealthier, the YF-22 was already incredibly stealthy relative to anything else in service. The F-22A is still the stealthiest aircraft in the USAF inventory and the stealthiest aircraft in service in all the world's air forces' for the foreseeable future. Another selling point to the YF-22 was that its design was more compatible for the Navy's own Advanced Tactical Fighter program, the NATF. However, the Navy cancelled the NATF in 1992, a year after the ATF ended.

In my opinion, the YF-22 won the competition narrowly but fairly. However, Lockheed's victory does not diminish the fact that the YF-23 is still an extraordinary and incredibly innovative airframe. I think BOTH airframes should have been utilized in a similar fashion as to what happened after the conclusion of the Lightweight Fighter program. The Lightweight Fighter program produced such outstanding jets that both of them were eventually utilized albeit the YF-17 altered. Although the YF-16 defeated the YF-17,McDonnell Douglas saw the potential in the YF-17 design and eventually designed the F/A-18 Hornet, one of the most successful naval aircraft in modern history. The F/A-18 eventually fulfilled the Navy's requirement for a new fighter. In the same way, the YF-23 can fulfill the USAF's requirement for the interim bomber program. The program called for a medium range stealth bomber operational by 2018. With some adjustments, the YF-23 could easily be suited for this role. In fact, Northrup tried just that. Unfortunately for Northrup, the DOD latter concluded that it need a bomber with a much greater range. Thus, the USAF created the Next Generation Bomber project.


On another note, this illustration shows what design changes Lockheed made from the YF-22 to the F-22A. Among the changes is a reduction from 25,000 pounds of internal fuel to closer to 21,000 pounds. (Air Power Australia, 2005)

The following image is from Defense Industry Daily


  1. This blog seems to be excellent and the images are really very good. It describes lot of information related to military process which have been helped me a lot.
    Best Military stories

  2. What do you think of this: ?

    1. To which section do you refer? Its got some good information a few mistakes though. For example, the F-35 does feature a reduced IR signature(as long as its not in afterburner). Some of the specs for the Pak Fa aren't set in stone many figures available are merely estimates. The article also doesn't address low probability intercept modes for radars (U.S has a definite advantage in that regard) and stealthy com systems used by both the F-35 and F-22. This is to ensure that communications don't give away the position of the aircraft. Radar and IR aren't the only methods of detection. I did enjoy the colorful language of the article e.g. "Euroshit". My own eval. of the Pak Fa vs Raptor:
      More on stealth sensors:

    2. Yes, it does, but the F35s IR masking is not compareable to that of the F22 and the f22's advantage through LPl is mentioned there ? Stealthy computers of the F35 and F22 are missing, yes.

      Postscript: And what do you think of the comparison I left a link of before?

    3. And your pakfa analysis is very good:)

    4. Did I reply to the wrong article? Whoops! My bad. In the YF-23 vs. YF-22 article, I agree with a lot of what you say. However, I would suggest that you include your sources and make some citations. I've tried to get better with referencing sources over time. Its a pain for sure but In the event that some Russian or Chinese trolls come along, having sources will help. Trust me. Feel free to use some of my references if its applicable. Are you a major contributor for Aircraft wiki? Its pretty impressive.

    5. Thanks, and yes, I am a major contributor on Aircraft Wiki and I will add my sources in the next days, you are right with that.

  3. Great read thanks, I love the 23. Both are great designs but damn the range of the YF-23 would be fantastic today.
    Perhaps a 6th gen design will borrow some concepts from the grey ghost yet.

  4. this was a very good infromative article like an detailed review. thanks for the article author.