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YF-23 vs. F-22 Raptor Stealth Fighter: A Pilot Who Flew Both Has Answers

YF-23 vs. F-22
Image: Creative Commons.

YF-23 vs. F-22: Who wins?: Test pilot Paul Metz—who began his long storied career as an F-105G Wild Weasel pilot in Vietnam and eventually went on to become one of the United States’ top test pilots—is known to have plenty of flight hours to his credit.

And some of those hours came from flying Northrop’s YF-23, which he accomplished on its first flight during the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition that went toe-to-toe with Lockheed’s YF-22 and later the F-22A.

But what big-time aviation enthusiasts really want to know is which aircraft, in the end, was deemed superior.

YF-23 vs. F-22: Experience on Both Aisles

According to Tyler Rogoway at the War Zone, “Metz worked for both Northrop and Lockheed and is not known for hyperbole. Yet even after flying the pre-production F-22, a far more mature machine than the YF-23 ever was, he makes it quite clear that Northrop’s offering was on par with Lockheed’s, if not superior.”

During one insightful lecture to a seniors group at the Western Museum of Flight, where one of the famed YF-23s is on full display, Metz stated: “Never hang your head in shame about what we did. We built a tremendous product that would stand side-by-side with anything else, and in many cases exceed the capabilities of anything else. And we can always be proud of that.”

Metz and another test pilot Jim Sandburg added that “both aircraft met the ATF requirements and that Lockheed was chosen because the Air Force had greater confidence they could better manage the program.”

YF-23 vs. F-22: Lockheed’s Salesmanship, Pizazz

Perhaps, according to Metz, Lockheed had a distinct advantage because it was able to showcase and market its airframe much better than Northrop.

“He notes that not everyone who would be in a position to select a fighter aircraft would be an engineer and that they may not even be technically astute. So leaving ‘lasting impressions’ on a conceptual level, even if they don’t tell the whole story technically, can give one side an advantage over the other,” Rogoway writes.

“Northrop’s team was made up of brilliant engineers—Metz says they were beyond compare—but they thought and spoke almost exclusively in engineering terms. Meanwhile, Lockheed infused far more marketing, salesmanship, and pizazz—’lasting impressions’ as Metz eloquently puts it—into their YF-22 flight demonstration program. They fundamentally understood how to sell their aircraft and how ‘showmanship’ heavily impacts the acquisition decision-making process. Northrop didn’t and that fact may have proven fatal for the YF-23,” he continues.


Image: Creative Commons.

Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF-23 front right view.

Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF-23 front right view.

YF-23 from Above.

Top view of the YF-23, showing the trapezoidal wings and separation between the forward fuselage and engine nacelles.

Sandburg also mentioned “how the YF-23’s massive tailerons were so powerful that they largely mitigated the perceived advantages of the YF-22’s thrust vectoring.”

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.

Written By

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.



  1. Slack

    October 11, 2021 at 11:20 pm

    Thr YF-23 is said to be better in stealth and faster top speed but slightly less agile, but why should a stealth jet with good sensors want to fly like a triplane doing acrobatics during dogfights.

  2. Daniel Zacha

    October 12, 2021 at 11:09 am

    We should have built both, a number of each would have been double trouble for our enemy!

  3. Jeffrey

    October 12, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    The Raptor had in all respects the rollout capability as a JIC need of transformation when avoiding low altitude issues with radars. With both the lack of weaponry leaves little to try and outrun a missile but having roll out capabilities it may be a point to allow one to return to the tarmac that it left from. Which is a promise to maybe return to another deployment engagement in its future.

  4. In Kim

    October 13, 2021 at 12:57 am

    Look guys! You can say YF-23 is better than YF-22. YF-23 starte flawlessly 6 months ahead of YF-22 and better performances in Low Observables and super cruise, etc. But Northrop had two major USAF contacts already at the time. AGM-137 Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile (TSSAM) and B-2 Bomber programs. I had a hunch they wouldn’t give another major program to Northrop. I strongly believe that’s the most important reason YF-22 was awarded to Lockheed. Remember Lockheed proposed merger with Northrop and government blocked due to anti monopoly reason. Government’s usually views are on aspects of business not on just a technology or technical merits. It’s political wars among defense industries in Washington.

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