The Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23 was a prototype stealth fighter
aircraft developed during the 1980s and first part of the 1990s. It
was designed for a USAF brief which called for an advanced tactical
fighter. All the major US aircraft manufacturers of the time submitted
designs to the United States Air Force, including Lockheed, McDonnell
Douglas, Northrop, Grumman, Rockwell, General Dynamics and Boeing.
The Northrop YF-23 and the Lockheed YF-22 were the finalists, with
the production contract eventually being awarded to the YF-22.
The Northrop YF-23 was built in answer to the Soviet Union's most
advanced fighter jets, namely the Sukhoi Su-27 and the Mikoyan MiG-29.
The primary role of the YF-23 was to have been air-to-air combat,
and it used the latest technologies, including composite materials
and lightweight metal alloys, as well as the latest flight-control
systems and stealth technology to make it faster, more agile, and
more stealthy than almost every other fighter.
The YF-23, although originally designed by Northrop, was also developed
with the help of McDonnell Douglas, who joined the project after the
YF-23 was selected as a finalist in the competition.
The YF-23 was capable of super cruise (flying faster than the speed
of sound without requiring afterburners), and it also complied with
the USAF requirement regarding damage survivability and stealth.
The first prototype, was completed on 22 June 1990, and first flew
on 27 August of that year. The second aircraft took to the skies a
few months later in late October. The two aircraft had different color
schemes which earned them the nicknames "Black Widow II"
and "Gray Ghost".
Due partially to the stealth requirement, the YF-23 had a relativley
unconventional appearance. It had diamond shaped wings, a V-tail and
the engine exhausts were deeply recessed into the rear of the fuselage.
The two YF-23 prototypes had different powerplants. The first aircraft,
Black Widow II, was powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney YF119
engines. While the second prototype, Gray Ghost, was fitted with General
Electric YF-120 engines. The second aircraft was the faster of the
two, achieving Mach 1.6 in supercruise, and Mach 1.8 with the afterburners
The two prototypes logged 65.2 hours of flight over 50 seperate flights,
and the YF-23 met or exceeded all expectations. In comparison with
the YF-22 it was also judged to be stealthier and faster.
In the end however the USAF chose the Lockheed YF-22 as their new
fighter, it later being officially named the F-22 Raptor.
Both YF-23 prototypes have been preserved, one being held at the National
Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, while the
other is on display at the Western Museum of Flight at Torrance, California.