YF-23A test pilot shares his thoughts on ATF program

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YF-23A test pilot shares his thoughts on ATF program
Paul Metz, chief test pilot for the Northrop YF-23

“The Air Force intentionally separated the two ATF teams physically in the sense that we were not allowed to communicate with each other. Interestingly enough, we were in the same hangar —the YF-22 on one side and the YF-23 on the other,” Paul Metz, chief test pilot for the Northrop 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.

As we have explained the YF-22A 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.

However the YF-23A remains one of the coolest (and most intriguing) aircraft ever built.

Test pilot Paul Metz, who subsequently joined Lockheed and made the first flight of the F-22A in 1997, was the chief test pilot for the Northrop YF-23. From 1992-2001, he served as Lockheed Martin’s Chief Test Pilot for the F-22, and made the first flight in the F-22A Raptor on September 7, 1997.YF-23A test pilot shares his thoughts on ATF program

Metz joined the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in 1968 and flew operational missions in the F-105G Wild Weasel in Southeast Asia. He flew 68 missions over North Vietnam including a series against SAM and anti-aircraft batteries in support of strike missions in North Vietnam, earning him two Distinguished Flying Crosses and six Air Medals. In 1976 he graduated from the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), before he joined Northrop Aircraft in 1980 as an Engineering Test Pilot. He and his team played a crucial role in the YF-23, which many to this day suggest was a superior design in many ways. Metz, with the unique position of having flown both the YF-23 and the F-22A, has never publicly commented on their comparative performance.

Explaining the flight test programme between the YF-22 and the YF-23, Metz told in Key Publishing F-22 Raptor magazine special:’The Air Force intentionally separated the two teams physically in the sense that we were not allowed to communicate with each other. Interestingly enough, we were in the same hangar —the YF-22 on one side and the YF-23 on the other. We honoured that requirement of the Air Force except that myself as Chief Test Pilot of the YF-23 and Dave Ferguson out. By USAF decree, no pilot flew the YF-22 and the YF-23. The USAF was very keen to avoid a situation whereby a pilot had flown both airplanes and was asked by a reporter ‘which is better’? Potentially causing the company to lose the competition. So the USAF was extremely strict but even-handed in the programme.’

Reflecting on his time in development of the YF-23, Metz says:’We started with simulations. Northrop had dome simulators with full-up cockpits and visual systems. We also had 12 Manned Interactive Consoles [MIC] stations, which back in 1986 were nothing more than a TV screen and computer console, each with a joystick and throttle. Each station had a pilot and they ran mock dogfights, multiple iterations, looking at radar detection ranges and how that affected your lethality. It was this data that decided what warranted us putting money into. Our ATF simulator runs each lasted five or six minutes and we would fly against a simulated Red Air aggressor. The guys on the Red Air side had a tough time against our flight test engineers. They were killed out time and time again and they had no clue how. It proved the power of stealth and it really changed the way air warfare was conducted.’YF-23A test pilot shares his thoughts on ATF program

Metz continues: ‘We called it ‘The Yeager effect.’ In his book, Chuck Yeager talks about getting into an argument in his squadron about what was a better airplane the Focke-Wulf 190 or the P-51. Yeager said ‘well we’ve got a captured Fw 190, let’s go try them out’ So he went out and flew against another guy in the P-51, with Yeager in the Fw 190. They flew a mock dogfight and Yeager won. They came back and said: ‘what does that tell you? The Fw 190 is a better airplane?’ They swapped and Yeager whipped him again, this time with the P-51. They concluded that it must have something to do with the skill of the pilot.

‘The thing people just don’t understand about this class of airplane [like the F-22] is what I call the’Farnborough phenomenon’. We all go and watch these airplanes put on spectacular demonstrations right in front of our faces. I once had someone in that situation say ‘what’s the best airplane here Paul?’ I said: ‘none of them — you’re looking at a circus act.’ The reason I said that is that with stealthy airplanes they kill by not being seen. They don’t engage in dogfights, in fact if you do engage in a dogfight you’re making yourself very vulnerable because anyone can jump on you if you’re visual, and you can be shot down.’

Metz concludes: ‘The power of a stealth airplane is to sneak into the battlespace and not be seen, shoot other airplanes and they don’t know where the missiles are coming from.’

YF-23A test pilot shares his thoughts on ATF program
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

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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