Northrop YB-49, YF-17, F-20, YF-23: good airframes, commercial failures......

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Elmas, Mar 9, 2014.

  1. Elmas

    Elmas Active Member

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    From what I have read all those airplanes were of the same quality and performance level than, to say the least, those that were produced by the hundreds by other firms, but is a matter of fact that all those airplanes lost the competition for mass production.

    I can’t understand as Northrop could even survive after all those commercial failures.

    I can understand for the YB-49, as the design was too far in advance of his times and probably Northrop too small a Company in those times to handle such a big and costly program, but for the others?

    I know that the word “Mafia” cannot limited just inside the Italian borders but, as I know that in this Forum there are some guys that seems to have had “the hands in the flour” I’d like to know if there could have been other reasons for these commercial failures, different from the “official” ones......
     
  2. swampyankee

    swampyankee Active Member

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    I think that the YF-23 lost a fair fly-off (about as fair as the H-60/H-61 comparison), as did the F-17 (two engines means twice the chance of engine failure ;)).

    The reason Northrop could survive all those commercial failures is that there was no company money risked in any of them except the F-20. I also think that Northrop was getting money no later than the mid 1970s for the program that would result in the B-2.
     
  3. oldcrowcv63

    oldcrowcv63 Well-Known Member

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    I think you may have been kidding here but, to be fair, because the YF-17 had two engines, an attractive feature of modern Carrier based a/c to the USN, it could evolve into the F-18 ultimately purchased by the navy among others.

    Also, Elmas, In my opinion, US internal and occasionally external politics seems to play a significant role in what survives to be government-purchased in large numbers.
     
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  4. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    When big money is at stake, politics ALWAYS comes into play.

    The YF-23 met the original stealth spec and the F-22 never did. So the govenment relaxed the spec, but did not allow Northrop to revise their design to take advantage of the relaxed spec. As a result, the YF-23 wasn't quite as maneuverable because it MET THE ORIGINAL spec. If they had known all along that the spec was going to be relaxed, they'd have bolstered their air-to-air a bit more instead of cutting it slightly to meet spec.

    All in all, it was another case of the government screwing Northrop, whose design met the spec. Today, if you want to kill an F-22, the best attack aircraft is still starts with an F-23.

    Northrop should decline to respond to proposal for future fighters unless the contract has a clause in it that states the specs won't be relaxed for acceptance testing. But seeing as how they are part of Northrop-Grumman, maybe they don't exactly have the autonomy to do that.

    I'd like to see a change in procurement whereby the service that is going to get any new aircraft are required to be the agency that selects the new aircraft based on performance testing. At least that way, the end customer would be making the weapon selection.
     
  5. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

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    Except for the YB-49, I worked at Northrop during all these aircraft efforts and, while I was not working these because of my efforts on other aircraft programs such as the F-18L and black programs, I can comment about them. Two other programs should be included in the list, one is the already mentioned F-18L, and the other is the Navy Advanced Tactical Aircraft, ATA (A-12). Lets start with the YF-17.

    YF-17. On its own money, Northrop developed a follow-on fighter to the F-5 however the US government was anticipating forcing foreign sales to its Light Weight Fighter Program (LWF) and squelched sales of the Northrop effort. Northrop decided to compete the LWF but was already at a significant disadvantage due to the requirement to use the same engine as the F-15 and have a single engine. While the YF-17 performed well (it was aerodynamically much better and was lighter than the fatter follow-on F-18a/b), it had no chance and the F-16 was given the contract. In my opinion, this was a major error. The PW engine was immature and substantial losses of the F-16 due to engine failure (been unable to fine data on early engines), and follow-on dedicated F-16 engine designed, eradicated any benefit of the concept of similar engines to the F-15. In addition, the F-16 had very limited growth and its inability to carry the AIM-7 meant that it was only a day VFR fighter for thirteen years until the introduction of the AMRAAM, a considerable disadvantage in cloudy Europe.

    F-18L. In the LWF program, the Navy demanded a lead for the Navy version be an airframe manufacturer with Navy experience (something not required with the F-35). As such, Northrop teamed with McDonald Douglas. The deal was that Northrop would be the lead for all much lighter Land based F-18, denoted by the F-18L model, and MD would be the lead for Navy versions. When the LWF contract split, an issue arose. Against the initial contract agreement, MD competed with the F-18L. A law suit was ensued and MD ended up giving some money to Northrop but taking over the entire program, certainly an uncomfortable conclusion for Northrop but basically forced by business decisions. Definitely screwed.

    F-20. Another self-financed attempt by Northrop to replace the very successful F-5 was the F-20. An excellent aircraft, was relatively cheap, very efficient, and had great maneuverability. However, the F-16, the AF and government again swashed already agreed-to sales. Northrop was unable to legally challenge the government due to the risking B-2 contract. Another screw job.

    Navy ATA. The US Navy requested proposals for a stealthy attack aircraft. Northrop and McAir-General Dynamics were competing. Northrop’s proposal was a mini-B-2 with two engines. McAir came back at a billion dollar less bid. Northrop, with B-2 experience, already knew what the cost of building a stealth aircraft was going to be and would not meet McAir cost and withdrew and McAir got the contract. Three years later the program was cancelled due to massive cost overruns. Was Northrop screwed? Well let’s just say the Government use poor decision making techniques.

    YF-23. This competition was tough to lose. The YF-23 met all maneuverability requirements without the complex thrust vectoring, was faster in super cruise, and had better stealth characteristics. Plus, it looks totally cool. The proposal evaluation team selected the YF-23 as the technical preference. However, Lockheed Martin was considered a better at program management than Northrop (Northrop was struggling with the highly complex B-2 at the time) and was given the contract. As it turns out Lockheed Martin was no better, possible worst, in developing the F-22 and F-35. I must admit I don’t know how much the government adds to the difficulty of these program but I suspect it is not little. In general, a poor decision, I think.

    F-35. Northrop competed with Boeing and Lockheed for the JSF program. The Northrop proposal used a separate lift engine for the V/STOL version a la Russian Forger. In my opinion, an idiotic idea, and I would not have selected this. Boeing proposal was too ugly to win. So Lockheed Martin won. The jury is still out.

    Northrop has had some great planes but some bad breaks, some political.

    Northrop has had some great successes. The F-5 program was a great success with over 3000 T-38/F-5 units built. Of course the B-2, 50% (?) of the F-18, Global Hawk, and many others with the procurement of other companies such as Grumman and TRW, have made it quite profitable. Its expertise in drones places it in a good position for future growth.
     
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  6. BiffF15

    BiffF15 Well-Known Member

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    Davparlr,
    Thanks for the history refresher!
    Cheers,
    Biff
     
  7. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    Great info and insight, Dave. The F-20 had real promise and should have been the choice for smaller, less well funded armed forces. I remember reading that the Indians were interested at one point. The NZ Prime Minister was given a nice desk top model of an F-20 with Kiwi roundels on it and it would have been ideal for the RNZAF's needs, but they bought second-hand ex RAN Skyhawks, which the RNZAF was already equipped with.

    [​IMG]
     
  8. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    Hey Biff,

    What do YOU think of the F-35 and the restricted g limits while carrying a load? Are you free to say your personal pinion or are you somewhat "constrained" in that regard?
     
  9. eWildcat

    eWildcat Member

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    By "loads" do you mean "air-to-ground weapons" ? I ask because even current fighters are limited to about 5.5 G when they carry bombs or air-to-ground missiles.
     
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  10. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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  11. BiffF15

    BiffF15 Well-Known Member

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    Sent you a PM.

    Biff
     
  12. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    It all boils down to aircraft selected on the basis of keeping airframe builders in business and busy. Even if it means the 2nd place design getting the nod.

    How else can you explain it?
     
  13. Elmas

    Elmas Active Member

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    #13 Elmas, Mar 13, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2014
    And I think also that both Pentagon and Air Force wanted to "avoid" a "monopoly" on certain segments of the aircraft market, so that technical knowledges coud be spread over several firms: after the very successful Northrop F-5 it would have been for sure easier and cheaper to build an F-20 or an F-17. To the contrary for the air superiority fighter F-22 as Lockheed wasn't building a fighter (in numbers) from the F-104 times, as far I can remember.....
     
  14. BiffF15

    BiffF15 Well-Known Member

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    Elmas,
    Between the F-104 and the F-22 Lockheed bought General Dynamics which produced the F-111 and the F-16.
    Cheers,
    Biff
     
  15. Elmas

    Elmas Active Member

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    #15 Elmas, Mar 13, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2014
    Thanks Biff for the reminder. But, apart F-111 that was not a figther in strict sense, wasn't the F-16 developed well before that General Dynamics was bought by Lockheed? First fly of the F-111 was in 1964, first fly of F-16 in 1974: Lockeed acquired GD in 1993.....
    See the very interesting pages about the LWF Figther competition in "Skunk Works" by Ben Rich......
     
  16. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    And also bought/ merged with Martin.
     
  17. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Not really true - what you don't see is the subcontractor work that's sometimes granted to other airframe manufacturers. For example, boeing built the wings for the B-2, Lockheed built the first 5 wing sets for the C-17, Northrop built the 747 fuselage for years - there are dozens more.
     
  18. Elmas

    Elmas Active Member

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    #18 Elmas, Mar 13, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2014
    Lockheed merged with GD in 1993, as said, and with Martin in 1995, well after the times of LWF, ATF and ATB competition, of wich I'd like to talk in this post.
    In the '60s and '70s Lockheed, McDonnel-Douglas, Northrop et. were all archenemies.
    It was really at the ATB times that some joint-ventures did begin to be made, as the morsel was really getting too big, namely Lockheed with Rockwell and Northrop with Boeing. I'm not speaking of WWII production, of course.
    "If you can't beat an enemy, make it a friend" the Romans used to say..... ".......buy it" we say in modern times.....
     
  19. swampyankee

    swampyankee Active Member

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    A lot of the companies did subcontract work for others: Northrop built part of the DC-10 fuselage (and reported the badly designed baggage door, the failure of which killed a plane load of people), Vought survived in the aerospace business, at least partly, as a sub-contractor, Kaman built blades for Bell, AVCO Aerostructures built, among other things, the wings for the BAe146. When you get a chance look at how the work was split on the 747/DC-10/L1011 generation of aircraft. The all did it.

    There is, of course, also a lot of specialized bits that all the airframers sub out: ECS, landing gear, and some that most of the airframers sub out, engine nacelles (Rohr).
     
  20. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    It really has become the way of life today for them.
     
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