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Really short Flightline Friday – the father of the F-18 August 8, 2014

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, history, silliness, Society, Victory.

I have no time, but I planned on doing a Flightline Friday today on the Northrop P-600/YF-17 “Cobra,” the plane that competed with the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the 1970s USAF lightweight fighter competition.

This project was started in 1970 as a way to provide a “low end” compliment to the “high end” F-15 Eagle already in advanced development.  There has been much ballyhoo about this whole “lightweight fighter” issue, most of it put forward by a small group of not very influential but very media savvy analysts and pilots who called themselves the “fighter mafia.”  They took Colonel John Boyd’s revolutionary studies in energy-maneuverability theory and sort of claimed them as their own.  As the Vietnam War ground on, and shortcomings in many US aircraft became apparent, these “whiz kids,” none of whom had any experience either designing aircraft or fighting in combat, took it upon themselves to claim that the entire USAF fighter development system was broken and that they were the (only) ones who could fix it.

They claimed USAF brass demanded all kinds of baubles and advanced technologies in their fighters that made them weigh too much and performance suffer.  There was some truth to that, there had been a trend in that direction in the late 50s and early 60s, but most of that was simply circumstantial, and not the result of bad planning.  For one thing, Eisenhower had demanded a shift towards a “nuke first” type of defense policy, and the armed services responded.  There were some problems with aircraft like the F-4 and F-105, they were not meant to be dogfighters and had trouble in that role over Vietnam, where the rules of engagement took the advantage of long range armament possessed by  the F-4 in particular away.

But the “fighter mafia” went way, way too far. They wanted such a ludicrously light and cheap aircraft that it could be built it many thousands – maybe even 10,000 of one type.  It would have no radar, only a couple Sidewinders and a gun, and would be oriented towards super maneuverability.  Range, air-to-ground, everything else would be sacrificed in the single-minded pursuit of ultra-maneuverability.  But the USAF already had an aircraft that did just that, the F-104, and it was found to be perfectly worthless.  Another unstated assumption of the “fighter mafia” was that, in their desire to compete with Soviet numbers, they would produce such a low-tech aircraft that the USAF would lose thousands of them, and thousands of very expensively trained pilots, in any real war. These LWFs desired by the mafia would have no defense against SAMs or AAA, for instance.  They would have been sitting ducks in many cases.

Thankfully, wiser heads at USAF and DoD prevailed, and the LWF was not so stripped down as the fighter mafia desired.  There would be room for air-to-ground ordinance and sufficient advanced technology to make the aircraft a valid player in the modern battlefield.

Well, I am out of time, maybe more on Monday, but for now, one of the two LWF competitors, the Northrop YF-17.  This aircraft lost the USAF LWF competition, but later won a similar Navy competition and became the F/A-18 Hornet.  But USAF’s original concern over the F-17 always remained, even in today’s F/A-18E/F “Super” Hornet – lack of range.  But you know that already, don’t you?

far yf-17-4 f-16 YF-17-1 P530 Title

First Flight:



1. Brian E. Breslin - August 8, 2014

Ah, the F104, der Witwenmacher!

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