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This Month in Aviation History

Aircraft of the Month for February 2001

Northrop YF-17

by Alex Stoll

In 1966, Northop began designing an advanced lightweight tactical combat aircraft, which had received the P-530 Cobra designation by 1971. When the details were made available for the USAF's Lightweight Fighter (LWF) Program, Northrop used the P-530's powerplant and advanced aerodynamics on its P-600 submission to the program. Out of four submission, General Dynamics' and Northrop's submissions were picked to build two prototypes each, designated YF-16A and YF-17A respectively. The two YF-17s were built in 1973-74. YF-17 Number 1's delayed but successful first flight occured on 9 June 1974 at Edwards AFB piloted by Northrop Chief Test Pilot Hank Chouteau. On its second flight, it exceeded Mach 1 in level flight without afterburner. The second YF-17 made its first flight on 21 August. The two YF-17s eventually were flown by over sixty pilots and completed more than 600 flights.

The P-530 Cobra

The YF-17 had twin vertical tails which were canted outwards to keep them out of the wing's wake and was one of the first aircraft to feature leading-edge root extensions (LERXs), which blended into the forward fuselage and allowed it to fly at unprecedented angles of attack. Full-span leading-edge and half-span trailing-edge flaps gave good low-speed performance. The two GE turbojets were located close together, to minimize asymmetric thrust if one engine went out. The simple landing gear featured high-pressure tires and single shock struts. The semi-monocoque fuselage was constructed mainly of light alloys but made use of some graphite composites. It had no radar and not much avionics, to reduce weight, and could not carry much air-to-ground ordnance. The YF-17 was optomized for close-quarters combat maneuveing at high angles of attack. One test pilot said of the YF-17: "It is the best dogfighter I ever flew."

In the end, the General Dynamics F-16 was chosen for production. The YF-17 was evaluated by pre-revolutionary Iran, and testing of the YF-17 by the USN convinced McDonnell Douglas and Northrop to further develop it to meet the USN's requirement for a combat/strike fighter. This led to the successful McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, which is a major weapons system for both the USN and USMC as well as some foreign countries such as Canada or Finland. Both YF-17s were used as F-18 demonstrators from 1976-1979. The second YF-17 prototype was bought by the Navy and became the F-18 prototype.

The prototype F-18, which used to be YF-17 Number 2

From 1980 to 1985, the two YF-17s were placed in a preservative cocoon state at the Northrop Palmdale, California facility. YF-17 Number 1 is on loan by the USMC to the Western Museum of Flight in Hawthorne, California for restoration and long term static display. YF-17 Number 2 is at the US Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida.

Northrop YF-17 Specifications
ManufacturerNorthrop Corporation, Aircraft Division, Hawthorne, CA
TypeSingle-seat fighter prototype
PowerplantTwo 64.1 kN (14,415 lb) thrust with afterburning General Electric YJ-101-GE-100 turbojets
ArmamentOne 20-mm GE M61A1 Vulcan cannon located on the centerline under the nose; two AIM-9s on wingtip launch rails; two Mk 84 bombs
Max speedMach 1.95; 2119 km/h (1144 kts/1316 mph) at 12,192 m (40,000 ft)
Cruise speedMach 0.85
Service ceiling18,225m (59,800 ft)
Ferry range4492 km (2424 nm/2790 mi)
Empty9516 kg (20,960 lb)
MTOW13,877kg (30,567 lb)
Wingspan10.67 m (35 ft)
Length16.92 m (55 ft 6 in)
Height4.42m (14 ft 6 in)
Wing area350 m² (1150 sq ft)

This Month in Aviation History
(Bold indicates anniversaries of multiples of five)
1 Feb 1950 - First flight of the MiG-17 prototype
1 Feb 1951 - The number-one XB-43 crash-lands
2 Feb 1989 - The Gripen prototype crashes during landing
3 Feb 1961 - IOC of the EC-135
3 Feb 1983 - First flight of the Mirage 2000N
4 Feb 1958 - First flight of the first of three D-558-2 Skyrockets
5 Feb 1960 - First flight of the PZL Iskra
5 Feb 1972 - First flight of the EC-137 (E-3 prototype)
7 Feb 1954 - First flight of the XF-104A
7 Feb 1956 - First flight of the F-104B
8 Feb 1967 - First flight of the Viggen
9 Feb 1963 - First flight of the 727
9 Feb 1969 - First flight of the 747
11 Feb 1990 - First flight of the HX-2 Rooivalk prototype
11 Feb 1998 - First flight of the C-32
14 Feb 1975 - First flight of the Turboméca-powered Ecureuil prototype
15 Feb 1946 - First flight of the YC-112 (predecessor to DC-6)
15 Feb 1975 - First flight of the preproduction A-10
15 Feb 1994 - First flight of the EC 135
16 Feb 1967 - First flight of the BO 105
17 Feb 1956 - First flight of the F-104G
19 Feb 1982 - First flight of the 757
19 Feb 1987 - First flight of the E-6
21 Feb 1945 - First flight of he Sea Fury
22 Feb 1975 - First flight of he T-8-1
23 Feb 1972 - First flight of the CT-4A Airtrainer
24 Feb 1940 - First flight of the Typhoon
24 Feb 1969 - The Fokker F28 enters service
25 Feb 1954 - First flight of the Convair R3Y-1
25 Feb 1963 - First flight of the Transall C-160
25 Feb 1965 - First flight of the DC-9 prototype
26 Feb 1957 - First flight of the second F-106A prototype
27 Feb 1965 - First flight of An-22
27 Feb 1986 - First flight of the XH-1 Alpha
28 Feb 1946 - First flight of the F-84
28 Feb 1998 - First flight of the RQ-4A
29 Feb 2000 - First flight of the MiG 1.44
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