YF-23: The Stealth Super Plane the U.S. Air Force Almost Built Instead of the F-22

    Robert Farley


    The F-23 included some characteristics that may eventually find themselves in a sixth generation fighter.

    As is the case with the X-32, the YF-23 never faced the most dramatic problems to afflict the F-22 Raptor. It never experienced cost overruns, technology failures, software snafus, or pilot-killing respiratory issues. Those problems, which regularly afflict new defense projects (in fairness, the pilot suffocation is largely idiosyncratic to the Raptor) were consequential. In context of the broader demands of the War on Terror, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates curtailed the F-22 production run at 187 operational aircraft, just as the fighter was working through its teething troubles. Although understandable at the time, this left the USAF with a fighter deficit that only the F-35 could fill.

    The Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition, staged at the end of the Cold War, yielded a pair of remarkable fighter designs. The United States would eventually select the F-22 Raptor, widely acknowledged as the most capable air superiority aircraft of the early twenty-first century. The loser, the YF-23, now graces museums in Torrance, California and Dayton, Ohio.

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    How did the Pentagon decide on the F-22, and what impact did that decision have? We will never know, but going with the F-22 Raptor may have saved the Pentagon some major headaches.

    ATF Competition:

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