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    The YF-23: A Marvel of Stealth and Speed That Came Close to Dominating the Skies

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    In the annals of aviation history, few stories are as captivating as that of the Northrop YF-23, a sleek and formidable contender in the race to become the U.S. Air Force’s first fifth-generation stealth fighter. This story, replete with cutting-edge technology and high-stakes competition, revolves around a jet that, despite its potential, ultimately did not soar into mass production.

    The saga began in the late 1970s when the U.S. Air Force, concerned about Soviet surface-to-air missile systems and new fighter jets, initiated the search for a next-generation air superiority fighter to replace the venerable F-15 Eagle. In 1986, the Air Force announced a competition for a new generation of fighter jet like the world had never seen, with two formidable teams vying for the contract: Lockheed, Boeing, and General Dynamics with the YF-22, and Northrop Grumman and McDonnell Douglas with the YF-23.

    Top view of the Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF-23 in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

    The YF-23 prototypes—dubbed “Black Widow II” and “Grey Ghost,” —embodied revolutionary design with their diamond-shaped wings and advanced stealth materials. These features, in conjunction with their powerful Pratt & Whitney and General Electric engines, respectively, allowed the YF-23.

    What the YF-23 had over its competitor was stealth. The Northrop Grumman team emphasized the stealth characteristics of its aircraft, opting to make it lighter. However, with less weight came decreased capabilities in some sectors. Contrary to its competitor, the YF-23 didn’t have thrust vectoring—the ability to direct the thrust of its engines for improved aerodynamic control—thus making it less agile in dogfighting.

    Both YF-23 airframes remained in storage until 1996, when each was transferred to a museum. The YF-23A PAV-1 is now in the Research and Development hanger at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The YF-23A PAV-2 was on display at the Western Museum of Flight until 2004, when it was reclaimed by Northrop Grumman and used as a display model for the YF-23 based bomber, but then returned to the museum in 2010 where it is again on display.

    related images you might be interested.

    Tucson, AZ – November 25, 2019: Silhouette with starburst effect on the 3 Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF-23 sculpture called “Beauty of Flight” at the entrance to the Pima Air and Space Museum.
    Gifu, Japan – Nov 10, 2019. JASDF Mitsubishi F-15J Eagle flying for display at Gifu Air Base (RJNG). The JASDF carries out combat air patrols around Japan.
    The F-15EX, the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft, arrives to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida March 11. The aircraft will be the first Air Force aircraft to be tested and fielded from beginning to end through combined developmental and operational tests. The 40th Flight Test Squadron and the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron personnel are responsible for testing the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ilka Cole)
    The Department of the Air Force awarded a nearly $1.2 billion contract for its first lot of eight F-15EX fighter aircraft, July 13, 2020. The contract, awarded to Boeing, provides for the design, development, integration, manufacturing, test, verification, certification, delivery, sustainment, and modification of F-15EX aircraft, including spares, support equipment, training materials, technical data, and technical support. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)
    990328-F-4728F-015 A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle takes off from Aviano Air Base, Italy, for an air strike mission in support of NATO Operation Allied Force on March 28, 1999. Operation Allied Force is the air operation against targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. DoD photo by Senior Airman Mitch Fuqua, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

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