Aviation History

US Naval Aviator explains why although would have been easier to adapt the YF-22 for aircraft carrier operations than the YF-23, neither candidate in the ATF program was really suitable for Naval operations

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.

YF-22 and YF-23

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.

But if the Navy had not terminated the NATF would have been easier to adapt the YF-22 for aircraft carrier operations than the YF-23?

‘I can answer that because I was involved in an analysis to determine the answer to exactly this question,’ David Tussey, former US Navy A-7E Corsair II, says on Quora.

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.’

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-22A Raptor 192nd Fighter Wing, 149th Fighter Squadron, FF/04-4082 – Langley AFB, VA – 2014

Tussey concludes;

‘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

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
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.

View Comments

  • Your right that the nither ATF was never really suited for carrier duty (when will people learn that you need to start with the carrier problem first then move down to ground, not the other way around, like how the French handled the Rafale or the F-4) but the size issue isn't really one, we have the picture of what the NATF f-23 looked like and it was specifically cut down inorder to fit (i mean it literally looks like they put a saw to its back side) honestly that probably would have been a lot easier to do then somehow adding swing wings to the raptor. Also why didn't you put the picture of the NATF f-23 up it isn't 2006 anymore we know how it was going to look like.


  • This site desperately needs an editor. Even the story headline sounds like it was written by an ESL student.

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