If the US Navy had not terminated the NATF program would have been easier to adapt the YF-22 for aircraft carrier operations than the YF-23?
The Northrop YF-23A and the Lockheed YF-22A competed against each other in the late 1980s/early 1990s in the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program.
The ATF program trace back to late 1970s, when a new generation of Soviet fighters and Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) prompted the US Air Force (USAF) to find a replacement for the F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter.
The Advanced Tactical Fighter entered the Demonstration and Validation phase in 1986. The prototype aircraft (YF-22 and YF-23) both completed their first flights in late 1990.
The extensive flight tests conducted demonstrated that the YF-23 was stealthier and faster while the YF-22 was more agile.
The YF-23A, unofficially dubbed the Black Widow II, emphasized stealth characteristics: in fact to lessen weight and increase stealth, Northrop decided against using thrust vectoring for aerodynamic control as was used on the Lockheed YF-22A. Northrop built two YF-23A prototypes.
Eventually the YF-22 was selected as best of the two and the engineering and manufacturing development effort began in 1991 with the development contract assigned to Lockheed/Boeing.
The press speculated that the Lockheed team’s design was also more adaptable to the US Navy’s Navalized Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF), but by fiscal year (FY) 1992, the Navy had abandoned NATF.
‘The F-22 is the only design of the ATF program that could have been made carrier capable. Even then, it would have involved a major, expensive, and risky re-design. It would have, for example, swing wings such that it was compatible with carrier approach speeds….and lots and lots of other changes. It could happen, but it would have been a real stretch, and expensive.
‘The F-23 was simply too long for carrier operations; it would not fit on any of today’s carriers. the length of the aircraft was such that it would not fit into the space between the catapult and the JBDs (Jet Blast Deflectors). The JBDs protect the other aircraft and flight deck personnel from the exhaust of a jet in full afterburner before catapult launch and take off. Putting the F-23 on a carrier would have required a redesign of the catapults and JBDs on every carrier…a total non-starter.’
‘Neither candidate in the ATF program was really suitable for Naval operations and no such requirement existed in the ATF program. I do think, however, that a contributing factor to the losing YF-23 was the fact that it was non-compatible with carrier operations. Just a hunch…
‘Here’s a picture of the JBD at work, just prior to a catapult launch.’
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin and U.S. Air Force