Losses and Aviation Safety

SHOCKING FOOTAGE SHOWS THE CRASH OF F-20 TIGERSHARK FIRST PROTOTYPE

The following investigation cleared the F-20 of mechanical or design issues since it concluded that Cornell had blacked out due to excessive g-forces

Taken on Oct. 10, 1984 the impressive video in this post features the first prototype (serial 82-0062, c/n GG1001, registered N4416T) of the Northrop F-20 Tigershark crashing at Suwon Airbase, South Korea, killing Northrop pilot Darrell Cornell.

Actually the clip shows the aircraft crashing at 0:39 while it was performing a demonstration flight.

The following investigation cleared the F-20 of mechanical or design issues since it concluded that Cornell had blacked out due to excessive g-forces. Nevertheless the second prototype of the F-20 (serial number 82-0063, registered N3986B, c/n GI1001) crashed in May 1985 at Goose Bay, Labrador, killing Northrop pilot Dave Barnes, while he was practicing for the Paris Air Show. Again the crash was blamed on G-LOC.

The F-20 Tigershark (initially F-5G) was a privately financed light fighter, designed and built by Northrop. Its development began in 1975. The aircraft which was a further evolution of Northrop’s F-5E Tiger II, was powered by a new engine that greatly improved overall performance, and a modern avionics suite that included a powerful and flexible radar. Compared with the F-5E, the F-20 was much faster, gained beyond-visual-range (BVR) air-to-air capability, and had a full suite of air-to-ground modes capable of firing most U.S. weapons. Thanks to these improvements, the F-20 became competitive with contemporary fighter designs such as the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, but was much less expensive to purchase and operate.

Much of the F-20’s development was carried out under a US Department of Defense (DoD) project called “FX.” FX sought to develop fighters that would be capable in combat with the latest Soviet aircraft, but excluding sensitive front-line technologies used by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) aircraft. FX was a product of the Carter administration’s military export policies, which aimed to provide foreign nations with high quality equipment without the risk of U.S. front-line technology falling into Soviet hands. Northrop had high hopes for the F-20 in the international market, but policy changes following Ronald Reagan’s election meant the F-20 had to compete for sales against aircraft like the F-16, USAF’s latest fighter.

The F-20 Tigershark program was abandoned in 1986 after three prototypes had been built and a fourth partially completed.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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