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YF-23 - What could have been the F-22

The YF-23A was a prototype fighter designed and developed by Northrop and McDonnell Douglas. It was a competitor to Lockheed's YF-22 in the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition of the USAF (meant to replace the F-15). Lockheed won and the YF-22 eventually became the renowned F-22 Raptor we now hear so much about.


The YF-23 was designed to meet the requirements of the ATF competition, which was stealth, the ability to supercruise (sustained supersonic flight without afterburner), survivability, and ease of maintenance. However, although the YF-23 was stealthier and faster, the F-22 won as it was more agile. The two YF-23's built, the "Black Widow AII" and the "Gray Ghost" and now put on display in museums. The "Black Widow" currently rests in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The "Gray Ghost", which used to be on exhibit at the Western Museum of Flight in Hawthorne, California, was loaned to Northrop Grumman in 2004 and put on display in the car park of the company's factory in El Segundo but will eventually return to the museum's new location at Torrance Airport, Torrance, CA.


The YF-23 is a very unconventional aircraft. It has trapezoidal wings, substantial area ruling, and a V-tail. The engine exhausts are also quite different from conventional aircraft. Northrop, drawing ideas from its experience with the B-2, decided to use the same engine exhaust configuration of the bomber on the YF-23. This configuration greatly reduces the YF-23’s heat signature as the exhaust from its engines is deflected upwards through troughs lined with heat-ablating tiles. This shields the plane from Infrared (IR) missile (heat seeking missile) detection from below. The YF-23's engines have fixed nozzles.

How this aircraft works...

To provide role, the wing flaps and ailerons deflect inversely on either side. Pitch is achieved by moving both V-tails and yaw is provided by opposite movement. For aerodynamic breaking, the wing flaps are deflected down and the ailerons up on both sides.

Black Widow II and Gray Ghost...

  • The Black Widow II was the first YF-23 made. It was named after Northrop's P-61 Black Widow of World War II and had a red hour glass marking in a midst of black which resembles the underbelly marking of a black widow spider but was removed on the insistence of Northrop management. Black Widow II was fitted with Pratt and Whitney YF119 engines. Black Widow II first flew on August 27, 1990. It supercruised at Mach 1.43 on September 18, 1990.

  • The Gray Ghost, named after its gray paint coating, was the second YF-23 made. The plane first flew on October 26, 1990. It was fitted with the General Electric YF-120 engines and reached Mach 1.6 on November 29, 1990.

Data from Sweetman, Bill. YF-22 and YF-23 Advanced Tactical Fighters. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International Publishing, 1991, pp. 44-45


Note that some of the specifications are estimated

Data from Winchester, Jim, ed. Concept Aircraft (The Aviation Factfile) Rochester, Kent, UK: Grange Books plc, 2005, Miller, Jay. Lockheed Martin F/A-22 Raptor, Stealth Fighter. Aerofax, 2005, Pace, Steve. F-22 Raptor: America's Next Lethal War Machine. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 (pilot)
  • Length: 67 ft 4 in (20.50 m)
  • Wingspan: 43 ft 7 in (13.20 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 10 in (4.20 m)
  • Wing area: 900 ft² (88 m²)
  • Empty weight: 29,000 lb (14,970 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 51,320 lb (23,327 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 62,000 lb (29,000 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2× General Electric YF120 or Pratt & Whitney YF119 , 35,000 lbf (156 kN) each


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.2+ (1,650+ mph, 2,655+ km/h) at altitude
  • Cruise speed: Mach 1.6 (1,060 mph, 1,706 km/h) supercruise at altitude
  • Range: 700 miles (1 200 km)
  • Combat radius: 865-920 mi (750-800 nmi, 1,380-1480 km)
  • Service ceiling: 65,000 ft (19,800 m)
  • Wing loading: 54 lb/ft² (265 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 1.36


None as tested but provisions made for

  • 1 × 20 mm (.79 in) M61 Vulcan cannon
  • 4-6 × AIM-120 AMRAAM or AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles
  • 4 × AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

McDonnell was the last name of the founder James S. McDonnell of McDonnell Aircraft the became McDonnell Douglas not McDonnel.

Bob Axsom
Clock #86305, McDonnell Aircraft Co.