The U.S. Air Force Could Have Had a Fighter That Cruised at Mach 1.6

David Axe

David Axe

Security,

In 1991, the Air Force selected Lockheed’s YF-22 fighter over Northrop’s YF-23 as the basis for the service’s new air-superiority fighter. That wasn’t the only major decision the Air Force made at the time.

The U.S. Air Force Could Have Had a Fighter That Cruised at Mach 1.6

The U.S. Air Force came very close to buying a rocket ship.

In 1991, the Air Force selected Lockheed’s YF-22 fighter over Northrop’s YF-23 as the basis for the service’s new air-superiority fighter.

That wasn’t the only major decision the Air Force made at the time. The service also selected Pratt & Whitney’s YF-119 as the engine that would power that YF-22, in the process rejecting General Electric’s YF-120.

It’s apparent 28 years later that the Air Force preferred the YF-119 because it seemed it would be cheaper and easier to develop and build. The YF-120 demonstrably was more powerful. But that power came at a cost that the flying branch decided was unacceptable.

History flows in one direction and fantastical conjecture about long-ago weapons programs can be toxic. But in 2019 as the Air Force begins considering how eventually to replace the F-22, it’s worth considering the implications of choosing cheaper and more reliable technology over riskier, pricier but potentially more powerful tech.

The Air Force in 1971 began studying requirements for a new fighter to succeed the F-15, which itself at the time was still in development, recalled Paul Metz, a former Northrop test pilot who flew the YF-23.

Metz and fellow YF-23 test pilot Jim Sandberg in 2015 spoke at length about the YF-23 in a lecture series at the Western Museum of Flight in California.

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