It's not a secret for anyone that in the American state not everything is beautiful with aviation. Or vice versa, everything goes according to plan. Instead of new developments of the fifth generation, the production and re-release of aircraft of the fourth generation continues. Like in Russia. How our method was written off.
Today we will think about a problem (thank God, not ours) called the Raptor. Or the most advertised and most unsuccessful plane in the history of mankind. 187 "Raptors", each of which cost taxpayers $ 379.5 million, taking into account the development.
In general, a lot of money and very little return. But there was a moment when, in fact, the NATF-22 model, which was being developed for the navy, was on the way. Indeed, a situation could well have happened in which the F-22 Sea Raptor would have frozen on the decks of the new US aircraft carriers. With the same problems as their land colleagues.
But it didn’t happen. They know how to stop in the USA on time. Although the confrontation between the prototypes Lockheed Martin YF-22 and Northrop YF-23 is worthy of a separate poem. And the fact that Lockheed turned out to be more successful in undercover games was also a kind of result, since the opponent, YF-23, was focused precisely on the use in the Navy. And if the brainchild of "Northrop" won the competition, it is still unknown how the US aviation structure would have developed today.
But the Raptor won, which was supposed to replace the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon in their obviously protracted confrontation with the MiG-29 and Su-27.
As a result, the situation became generally very confusing. The F-22, MiG-29 and Su-27 actually left the scene, unlike the F-15 and F-16.
Meanwhile, some experts and the media (of course, in the USA) still seriously believe that the Raptor is the best man-made fighter. This, of course, is more than controversial, but it is very difficult for some to prove the opposite.
Yes, at first the euphoria from the F-22 was not just high. On the verge of hysteria. Stealth technology, speed 2, 5 sonic, supersonic without afterburner, controlled thrust vectors … It seemed that the Raptor is really the best airplane in the world.
Not surprisingly, the US Congress immediately issued an assignment to practice the NATF (Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter) program, a new versatile aircraft for the US Navy. It looked quite logical, and it was time to change the F-111 a long time ago …
And the presence of two models (sea and land) of the same aircraft promised good savings. Indeed, the US Air Force, Navy and ILC are armed with more than a dozen different aircraft, universalization would be very useful both technically and financially.
But it turned out that the NATF program and its associated plans to create NATF-22 soon came to be viewed as prohibitively expensive. By 1990, about seven years before the F-22 first took to the skies, Admiral Richard Dunleavy, the man in charge of technical specifications for the new naval fighter, concluded that the fleet would not be able to integrate into their Air Force Raptor because of its exorbitant price tag.
As a result, the NATF-22 concept was canceled in early 1991. It is well known how successful the fate of the land colleague was.
If the US Navy decided to use a variant of the F-22, which would be based on an aircraft carrier, it (the Navy) would have to overcome a number of significant technical problems.
Aircraft intended for flights on aircraft carriers must solve completely different tasks during takeoff and landing than their ground counterparts. The fuselage must be more durable to withstand the force impulses that accompany catapult takeoff and hook landing.
The NATF-22 would also have to have not just a foldable wing for lift transport, but a variable sweep wing to reduce speed when landing on deck. This problem turned out to be very difficult, and it was not possible to solve it on a swoop. Basically, the Navy is no stranger to spending huge sums. The F-14 Tomcat, which had a variable sweep wing, cost the Navy a pretty penny. And many, by the way, sighed with relief when the F-14 was replaced by the F / A-18.
As the history of the F-22 in the Air Force proved, the Navy's decision was correct. Even with fixed wings, the F-22 remains the most expensive aircraft to operate.
In the end, it's easy to see why the US Navy chose not to mess with NATF-22. It would be difficult, expensive, and possibly only a small improvement over existing US Navy fighters. It so happened that 186 F-22 ground fighters became the stones that dragged the F-22 project with a variable sweep wing to the bottom.
The question remains, could the YF-23 be better than the F-22?
The history of the confrontation began in the distant 80s of the last century, when the United States began work on a new aircraft capable of unscrewing the tails of the Soviet Su-27 and MiG-29. They were beautiful machines of the time, and it was very difficult to cope with them. Moreover, they were developed specifically to counter the F-15 and F-16.
The competition, which was announced in the USA, was delicious. The winner was to receive a bold contract for 750 first-line fighters from Soviet aircraft to replace the F-15.
By the end of 1986, two teams were selected to develop the next generation fighter concepts: Northrop teamed up with McDonnell Douglas, and Lockheed, Boeing and General Dynamics joined forces.
As you can see, the firms are not newcomers, besides, Lockheed and Northrop already had their own experience in developing stealth platforms for the US Air Force.
Lockheed created the world's first operational stealth aircraft, the F-117.
Northrop lost to Lockheed in that competition, but continued to work on its concept of stealth until it evolved into the B-2 Spirit, which remains in service to this day.
The F-22 Raptor was quite innovative in appearance, but the design of the YF-23 was generally unconventional. Like the F-22, it used diamond-shaped fenders to reduce radar signature, but its fenders and empennage could blow any imagination. The nose with the cockpit pulled over it was also very aesthetic, and the tail unit gave the fighter impressive maneuverability, despite the fact that the aircraft did not have a controlled thrust vector.
Only two YF-23 prototypes were built. The first, dubbed Black Widow II, was completely black and powered by a pair of Pratt and Whitney engines that allowed the aircraft to reach Mach 1.43 during its first round of tests in 1990.
The second YF-23, painted gray and dubbed "Gray Ghost", flew on General Electric YF120 engines, which accelerated it to Mach 1.6. The YF-22 showed Mach 1, 58 on the same tests.
It is believed that the YF-23 could fly at speeds greater than 2M. The data is classified, but leaks do happen. The F-22 flies at a maximum speed of 2.25M.
In addition, the YF-23 proved to be more secretive than its competitor. But for the sake of stealth, "Northrop" had to sacrifice a controlled thrust vector. Instead, the developers used the large surfaces of the YF-23's unique V-tail so that the fighter could be competitive despite the lack of a controlled thrust vector.
And the F-22 surpassed the competitor in maneuverability, although in essence they were very similar.
It's hard to say which is more useful, super-maneuverability and speed versus radar stealth.
Ultimately, while the YF-23 almost matched the F-22 in terms of speed and maneuver, Lockheed won the marketing war with clear advantage.
Lockheed's test pilots have demonstrated the aircraft's ability to use a large angle of attack, launch missiles and perform maneuvers with an acceleration vector of more than 9g, and so on.
Why Northrop did not show the same circus is difficult to say today. Their project was no less promising, especially since the YF-23 had advantages over the YF-22. For example, in terms of flight range. By combining long range and radar stealth, the YF-23 was able to fly in real theater space (where refueling was impossible) much farther and more efficiently than the F-22.
The US Naval Command was faced with a difficult choice: speed + maneuver against range and stealth. The winner was to replace the F-14 at the combat post.
Both the YF-23 Northrop and the YF-22 Lockheed were efficient fighters. And both firms were recognized giants of the aircraft industry. As a result, we know who became the winner.
Another question is that already in 1997 sobering up came. "Only" $ 17 billion in budget overruns - and the US realized that the F-22 was not that good. The total cost of $ 379.5 million a piece signed the death warrant for this aircraft.
Therefore, only 187 out of 750 aircraft were built according to the program.
Even today, Americans consider the F-22 the most combat-capable air superiority fighter on the planet, but at the same time calmly watch how the number of aircraft in the US Air Force is decreasing. And how the F-22 gives way to the F-35.
Yes, it is possible that the Raptor is really capable of conquering dominance in the skies of any country. A completely different question is that today it is not required yet. And when such a need really arises, this (in the sense of conquest) can be carried out in a cheaper way.
For example, by releasing a cloud of Tomahawks at enemy airfields. Something will fly.
And the Raptor is like a Ferrari in a Russian village, 150 kilometers from the regional center. Can I go shopping in the regional center by car? Yes, theoretically you can. If the roads allow. Well, it will come out a little expensive compared to the "Largus" (in this role is the F-15D). But you can.
So the fifth (fourth according to the American system) fighter, created to gain air superiority, was left without work and is a truly endangered species. Moreover, the "old man" F-15D can do all the same, only at times cheaper.
Could the F-23 theoretically have avoided the same cost overruns and early retirement? Impossible to say, but Northrop Grumman is still involved in stealth plane games.
Today the company is working hard on the B-21 / B-3 "Raider" superbomber, about which we can still say that it will be a unique aircraft, if not in terms of flight characteristics, then at a price for sure.
As a result, only one conclusion can be drawn. A very useful skill today is to stop on time. This does credit to the American military and the designers. It is difficult to calculate how much money the sea-going Sea Raptor project or the land-based version of the F-23 could consume. But we know that in the United States they know how to master money from the military budget and are very smart.
Therefore, it is difficult to calculate, but the fact that the YF-23 is in the museum, and the F-22 is on its way there, suggests that not everything is as bad with the American military as we would like.