Flightline Friday: The Best Book on the ATF Program and YF-23, Ever February 24, 2017Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, foolishness, fun, history, reading, sickness, technology.
I did a Flightline Friday about a year and a half ago discussing, among other things, the YF-23 Advanced Tactical Fighter prototype produced by Northrop. The Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program was initiated in the 1980s by the USAF to produce not just an F-15 replacement, but a fighter that could finally and decisively sweep the skies over Central Europe during an all-out conflict with the Soviet Union. It was designed to be the most comprehensively advanced and dominant air combat aircraft ever produced.
The program evolved over the course of the 80s. From many disparate concepts from a whole lot of companies – very few of which exist anymore – the program was eventually narrowed down to a competition between a team led by Northrop (with McDonnell Douglas) and Lockheed (with General Dynamics and Boeing). Northrop produced the YF-23 (and this was ALL Northrop, McAir had almost nothing to do except some cockpit layout and providing the landing gear from an F-15), and Lockheed the YF-22 (here the situation was entirely different, GD contributed TONS to the Lockheed design and may have saved their bacon. Lockheed massively redesigned their aircraft proposal in 1987-8, requesting 6 additional months from USAF to do so, because the original concept had so many problems).
At any rate, history shows, for reasons that are still inexplicable to some, that USAF preferred the ugly, block-like YF-22 to the graceful YF-23. Both aircraft had advantages over the other – the YF-23 was faster, in most respects stealthier and had superior supersonic maneuverability, while the YF-22 was better in the close-in, subsonic fight and carried substantially more missiles internally.
Even though the aircraft were designed nearly 30 years ago, much data on them has remained classified. Particularly classified has been concrete data on the production aircraft proposed by Northrop for the F-23. The actual production F-23 would have differed significantly from the YF-23, for a variety of reasons, though not nearly so much as the F-22 has wound up differing from the YF-22 (of course, USAF had a great deal to do with that, and details on Lockheed’s original engineering and manufacturing development version of the YF-22 – basically their vision of the production aircraft – have been even harder to find than those of the F-23).
Also somewhat limited has been extensive detail on the numerous other submissions made over the early phase of the ATF program from companies like Grumman, North American (Rockwell), McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, etc.
Well all that has ended, as former Northrop Chief Test Pilot and YF-23 lead pilot Paul Metz has now, in conjunction with Steve Ginter, produced THE seminal book on not only the F-23 but the entire ATF program. And this thing is an absolute gem. I was up way past 1 last night because I could not put the book down.
Just a few of the highlights:
- Loads of never-before seen photos of ATF submittals and YF-23
- Incredibly detailed construction drawings of YF-23
- Extensive sections of the F-23 EMD submittal (upon which the USAF judged the winner of the competition – again, this was the manufacturer’s plan for final production design, maintenance, operations, etc) are repeated
- Incredibly detailed construction drawings of the F-23 EMD design. There has been one of these outted before but Metz adds several more
- Detailed history of YF-23 development including key players involved, like Yu Ping Liu, who designed the aircraft’s stealth characteristics
- Detailed history of Northrop’s internal design progression towards a stealthy air combat fighter over the years 1971-1986. The YF-23 design was basically fixed by late 1985 (!!)
- An unprecedented amount of material on the Naval ATF version. During the late 80s, it was planned that the Navy would buy a navalized version of the ATF winner to replace the F-14. The end of the Cold War killed that idea.
The book is brand new (hit shelves Christmas last year) and a bit high (~$38). It’s not real long but it is jam packed with information. One of the things I have noted from those involved in the YF-23 program is the fact that it was a labor of love, the people working on it really loved each other and the amazing product. That really shows through in this book, even though Metz eventually went to work for Lockheed and became chief test pilot on the rival F-22 team (after Lockheed won the competition), I get the sense from this book that his heart was always with the F-23. As well it should have been. It is still, as of this writing, conceptually the most advanced and capable aircraft ever produced.
A quick addendum: I noted in the post linked in the top some deficiencies with the YF-23 design that may have helped inform USAF’s decision to prefer the F-22 concept. Because we knew so little about the F-23 EMD proposal, it was assumed some of those problematic features would have remained the same. No more. The F-23 EMD corrected both the engine fan blade viewing problem and, for the most part, the shortfall of internal carriage of AMRAAMs compared to the F-22 (still would have been one short, but that’s a pretty small difference). The F-23 EMD was MUCH different from what people thought based on the limited info that was out there. If anything, it made the aircraft even more attractive. If only they could have gotten rid of that canopy brace……
If you have anything more than a passing interest in the F-23 or F-22, get this book.