Thirty years ago, the U.S. Air Force held a momentous competition that pitted the Lockheed YF-22 and the Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23 fighter, or what could have become the F-23A stealth fighter jet.
In the end, it was the YF-22 that came out on top—and that success led to the eventual development of the F-22A Raptor—a single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft that is considered to be one of the deadliest fighter jets ever built largely due to its unmatched maneuvering and dogfighting capabilities.
“The Collier Award-winning F-22 Raptor has delivered on its promise to provide unprecedented air dominance,” Lockheed Martin states on its website. “The 5th Generation F-22’s unique combination of stealth, speed, agility, and situational awareness, combined with lethal long-range air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry, makes it the best air dominance fighter in the world.”
However, even after the passing of three decades, there are still people out there who passionately argue that the YF-23 should have been selected over the YF-22. If one pretends that actually occurred, then what would the plane have looked like?
F-23A Stealth Fighter: Offering Real Look
“The process to create these renderings was painstaking, to say the least. Every detail available was pored over to give birth to the most accurate portrayal anywhere of what this aircraft would have looked like,” he writes.
“You will notice that the F-23A would have been longer and more smoothly molded than the prototype technology demonstrator that came before it. The YF-23’s big trapezoidal nacelles would become more blended into the F-23’s fuselage and its engines would be spaced closer together at slightly toed-in angles. Without the requirements for thrust reversers, which was baked into the YF-23 design but the hardware was never fitted, a more efficient low-observable flap-nozzle could be installed and the flat exhaust troughs would get updated heat-resistant coverings,” he continues.
F-23A Stealth Fighter: Other Imaginative Details
As for the plane’s nose, it “would be redefined to accommodate a powerful active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and its intakes would be drastically changed. Gone was the innovative but high-risk ‘gauzing panels’ that worked to separate turbulent boundary layer air from entering serpentine intakes. In their place was a diverterless supersonic intake-like configuration similar to what is seen today on the F-35 and J-20, among other aircraft. The intake leading edges would be serrated as well, giving them a menacing look and enhanced low-observable properties.”
In addition, the fighter’s “boat-tail would also be simplified, with a simpler overall ‘W’ shape, with the additional indentures found on its YF-23 predecessor deleted. The F-23A’s weapons capacity was expanded and offered more relevant weapons storage than the single bay found on the YF-23. The bays were arranged to carry a pair of AIM-9 Sidewinders in the front bay and four to five AIM-120s in the rear bay. Air-to-ground munitions could also be carried, including much larger weapons than what the F-22 is capable of carrying today due to the greater depth of the F-23’s rear weapons bay.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.