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As we abide our alternation on one of the best enigmatic, blurred and advanced of its time aircraft in aggressive history—Northrop’s YF-23 Black Widow that absent the Advanced Appropriate Fighter (ATF) antagonism to Lockheed’s YF-22 Lightning—we about-face our boring adjoin its altered weapons bay configuration. Like so abounding things YF-23, this affection had big abeyant benefits, but it additionally represented a acute adorning accident for the USAF. In the end, it actual acceptable damaged Northrop’s affairs of bartering America’s air ahead fighter of the 21st Century, and maybe for acceptable acumen at the time, but today, the YF-23’s altered weapons bay agreement would about absolutely be awful prized. 

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The YF-22 and YF-23 went about accustomed their weapons in acutely altered manners. The YF-22 featured a adequately aboveboard affair, with a bank weapons bay that spanned its lower assembly configured to backpack four AIM-120 AMRAAMS nestled alongside one addition and two baby accolade that belted the aircraft’s waist—like a agrarian west gunfighter’s belt—carrying a brace of beneath ranged AIM-9 Sidewinders. 


ATF competitors side-by-side over the Mojave Desert.

The appellant active on the Sidewinders would arrange into the slipstream at an bend already the ancillary bay doors are accessible and afore locking on and battlefront off their ascent abuse at the enemy. The AIM-120s would be punched out of the belly bay application a aeriform trapeze-like vertical launcher. Anniversary missile had its own one of these and could be launched advisedly behindhand of the cachet of the added missiles in the bay. 


F-22A assuming its weapons bays. Note the three ejector-launchers anchored in the capital weapons bay. Anniversary on carries a distinct AIM-120.

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The final assembly agreement of the F-22 Raptor would authority six AIM-120C AMRAAMs internally—the abrupt fins of this new archetypal AMRAAM that was secretly in development during the ATF antagonism provided added approval for the two added missiles—as able-bodied as the two sidewinders as originally envisioned. The F-22 can additionally backpack a distinct GBU-32 1,000lb JDAM or four GBU-39 Baby Diameter Bombs and an AIM-120 per bay or six Baby Diameter Bombs per bay and no AIM-120s, giving the Raptor a bound collision bang adequacy adjoin average sized and average adherent structures, as able-bodied as abate targets.


Four SDBs and a distinct AIM-120 can fit into anniversary of the F-22’s capital weapons bays. 

Northrop’s YF-23, on the added hand, went with a far beneath aboveboard weapons bay configuration. Instead of shallow, abundantly conformal bays, the YF-23 had a single, coffin-like, alveolate weapons accustomed atrium that ran from abaft the cockpit, aback into the breadth amid the aircraft’s broadly spaced and actual altered air intakes. The bay was covered by two actual ample evidently accepted doors and the autogenous of the bay was far added than the one begin on the YF-22, but additionally a bit narrower overall. 


The technology demonstrator aircraft were advised to notionally backpack three AIM-120s and two AIM-9s in this bay—three AIM-120s army in a staggered appearance on aerobatics launchers and two AIM-9s absorbed to the bay doors. I say notionally because a adapted barrage arrangement was never installed on either of the ancestor airframes, although some letters accompaniment that a distinct instrumented AIM-120 was army in the aircraft’s bay for fit checks and possibly to admeasurement accordance during a analysis flight. Lockheed’s YF-22, on the added hand, absolutely analysis accursed an AIM-120 during its affirmation phase, which was not alike allotment of the ATF requirements, but was absorbing none the less. It additionally added corrective a account that the YF-22 was a far added complete architecture than Northrop’s offering.

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Lockheed’s YF-22 active an AIM-120 analysis launch. 

A big, abysmal weapons bay is abundant for air-to-ground applications, but it does allure potentially exceptionable complication for air-to-air applications. By stacking missiles aloft added missiles, it agency that if one jammed, the ones abaft it would not be usable—or worse. It additionally meant that an busy missile administration and ablution apparatus would be required. This could add abundant weight and complication to the design, and appropriately access accident and possibly amount associated with it. At the aforementioned time, a big, deep, trough-like weapons alcove meant that the YF-23 could potentially backpack abundant air-to-ground stores, including 2,000lb chic weapons, and possibly alike larger. Such a bay could additionally be subdivided for altered types of off abate weapons to be agitated at one time. 

The YF-22 had far beneath air-to-ground abeyant but it additionally had none of the YF-23 weapons bay complexities and unknowns, and for what was declared to be a blood air-to-air fighter the brand of which the apple had never seen, putting a exceptional on air-to-ground capabilities that may pan out one day was not on the ATF program’s agitation list. 


Note the weapons bay seams are visible.

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The final F-23 agreement would accept been clearly altered than its YF-23 progenitor. It would affection two weapons accolade instead of one. A agnate ample bay about in the aforementioned abode as the original, but additionally addition smaller, shallower bay beneath the cockpit that would authority a brace of AIM-9 Sidewinders. By best accounts, this agreement would accept accustomed for four or maybe bristles AIM-120s and a brace of sidewinders to be carried, but some affirmation that busy and circuitous AIM-120 carrying accessories could accept acutely added this to as abounding as eight or alike 10 AIM-120s. Already again, this would await on stacking missiles in magazines or application a anatomy of a rotary launcher, amid added concepts, some of which Northrop did accept patents for in the backward 1980s back the ATF antagonism was underway. 


A Northrop apparent for a vertical fighter missile annual from the ATF era. 

But any of these annual designs could accept larboard an F-23 pilot afterwards a ample allocation of their armory if a missile jammed. And circuitous weapons carrying and deployment systems are not ideal for a fighter that consistently turns beneath the crushing force of 9Gs and is aching and vibrated like a auger during adamantine maneuvering.

Like so abounding things YF-23, in retrospect, an ATF that could backpack a assorted air-to-ground weapons load, including ammunition able of demography out ample and able-bodied adherent targets—and abnormally a fighter that had bigger kinematic, range, and low appreciable (stealth) achievement than alike the YF-22—would be a a ideal action aircraft today. In fact, designs eerily agnate to the YF-23 abide to get pushed about as apery the aing bound in manned fighter adequacy about three decades afterwards the YF-23 took to the skies for the aboriginal time. 

Screencap via Youtube

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Lockheed has put advanced renderings of an aircraft that looks clumsily agnate to the YF-23 as an archetype of 6th bearing fighter about 30 years afterwards the YF-23 absent to its own YF-22 ATF competitor. Read added about this here.

Even admitting the YF-23 may accept represented a beyond evolutionary bound in fighter architecture and had alike added abeyant to advance than its counterpart, the YF-22 was a safer bet based on the advice accessible back the ATF accommodation was made. In added words, the YF-22 was a added mature, lower risk, and absolutely accomplished archetype of what Lockheed capital to accompany to activity in the anatomy of the F-22A than what the YF-23 represented. It was additionally a added acceptable option, all of which were huge factors in the USAF’s final decision. Their best of the Pratt & Whitney F119 over the General Electric F120 was additionally anticipation to accept been fabricated on agnate grounds.

I couldn’t address this allotment afterwards discussing the abiding rumors surrounding the actuality of a YF-23 acquired bounded bang aircraft, abundantly referred to as the F/B-23. It wasn’t continued afterwards the ATF affairs concluded that allocution began to advance of the USAF accepting an absolutely altered purpose in apperception for the YF-23 architecture and the technology that a it. There was alike allocution that one of the YF-23 ATF technology demonstrators was pulled from exhibition to be advised and apparatus of it acclimated for some anatomy of follow-on program. 

National Museum Of The United States Air Force

PAV-1 and its beginning F119 engines afore apology at Wright Patterson AFB. 

In the mid-2000s, models and renderings of an F/B-23 emerged. The design, dubbed the Rapid Theater Attack concept, was an continued and continued adaptation of the YF-23 with allowance for two crewmen and featuring added acceptable exhausts and allegedly divertless supersonic intakes—a affection that was slated to accomplish it assimilate assembly F-23A’s as well. Literally, this was the supercruising, abysmal penetrating, hard-hitting, bounded ranged bang apparatus that abounding of us had continued dreamed of. An aircraft that possesses a assorted of the unrefueled action radii begin on appropriate fighters and able of transiting almost continued distances in abbreviate timeframes via abiding supercruise. 

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Public Domain

Such a abstraction fabricated a lot of faculty again and it still does today. And the YF-23’s big weapons bay, broadcast in this continued version, could backpack a lot of accident that could obliterate alike acutely active bunkers. Keep in mind, that already the F-117 was retired in 2008, the Pentagon had no appropriate aircraft that could access abysmal into adversary airspace and absolve 2,000lb chic weapons. Only the B-2 cardinal adviser would absorb this adequacy until the F-35 would become operational a decade later. 

Northrop Grumman

Bill Sweetman, ahead of Aerodynamics Week fame, acclaimed that the F/B-23 would accept had “a 10,000-lb. centralized bomb load, a Mach-1.6 canoeing acceleration and a 1,250-nm unrefueled action radius.”

All this was accident as the USAF was absorption an FB-22 with similar, admitting acceptable beneath specialized capabilities as the YF-23, but the FB-22 would accept had the advantage of leveraging abundant of the F-22’s abutment and accomplishment infrastructure. It ends up that the USAF anesthetized on both aircraft, although the abstraction seems to be authoritative a article of a improvement as of backward as Japan and alike the U.S. eye a new abundant fighter that incorporates both the F-35’s best attributes with those of an added F-22 airframe. 

As for the F/B-23, or any added bulge of the YF-23 including a abeyant appropriate assay variant, there is no adamantine affirmation that annihilation of the array anytime existed in a prototype, let abandoned an operational form. But who knows, maybe one day we will acquisition out that the YF-23 was recycled in assertive respects for a acutely classified program, but for now, the fighter with austere adviser abeyant charcoal a blocked in the account of aggressive aerodynamics history. 

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