Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF-23 (Black Widow II) History

The YF-23 Black Widow II was Northrop Grumman's (teamed with McDonnell Douglas Corporation) answer to the American ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) challenge proposed by the United States Air Force (USAF). The YF-23 competed unsuccessfully with the Lockheed / Boeing / General Dynamics offering - the YF-22 "Lightning II" - later adopted into service as the F-22 "Raptor. The YF-23 ended its days as a museum showpiece and only two flyable prototypes were completed during the project run.

The curvy, low profile YF-23 was a stark contrast from the sharp edges of the YF-22 and featured a wide, almost pancake-like airframe structure with blended wing elements. The pilot sat within the forward section of the fuselage and given access to a completely digital, then-ultra-modern cockpit offering relatively excellent vision. Intakes, to aspirate the twin engine arrangement, were positioned along the underside of the fuselage. The twin tail fins were outward-canted and straddled the thrust-vectoring engine outlets. No horizontal tailplanes were featured.

As built, the YF-23 exhibited a running length of 67.4 feet, a wingspan of 43.6 feet and a height of 13.10 feet. Empty weight was 29,000lb and a MTOW of 62,000lb was reported. Performance included a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 (Mach 1.6 on supercruise) with a range of nearly 3,000 miles and a service ceiling of 65,000 feet. Combat radius equaled 800 miles.

Despite proving faster and more stealthy than the competing Lockheed submission, the YF-22 outshone the Black Widow in ability. It won out the ATF completion and quickly ended the hopes of the YF-23 design team. For a short time, the United States Navy (USN) was interested in a navalized version of the YF-23 to succeed its aging line of Grumman F-14 "Tomcat" fleet defense fighters but nothing came of this. A dedicated fighter-bomber version of the YF-23 was also briefly on in the works (for the USAF) in 2004 but this initiative ultimately fell to naught by 2006. After the fly-off, the YF-23 prototypes were handed over to the Dryden Flight Research Center (Edwards AFB) to undergo additional testing under the NASA banner but, again, nothing came of this.

The YF-23 prototypes ended their days as separate museum displays, one residing at the Western Museum of Flight (Torrance, California) and the other at the National Museum of the United States Air Force (Dayton, Ohio).

Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF-23 (Black Widow II) Specification




[ 2 Units ]:
Northrop Grumman - USA


- Fighter

- Interception

- X-Plane / Developmental



67.59 ft (20.6 m)


43.64 ft (13.3 m)


14.11 ft (4.3 m)


Empty Weight:

28,881 lb (13,100 kg)


51,434 lb (23,330 kg)

(Diff: +22,553lb)


PAV-1: 2 x General Electric YF120 jet engines; PAV-2: 2 x Pratt & Whitney YF119 jet engines.


Maximum Speed:

1,451 mph (2,335 kph; 1,261 kts)

Service Ceiling:

64,961 feet (19,800 m; 12.3 miles)

Maximum Range:

2,796 miles (4,500 km; 2,430 nm)


None fitted. Production version would have carried an internal cannon for close-in work and internal bays would have provided housing for various short-range and medium-range Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs) with the airframe eventually cleared to also carry conventional drop bombs, guided missiles, and precision-guided ordnance.


YF-23A - Official Prototype Variant of which two were constructed as "PAV-1" and "PAV-2".

PAV-1 - Fitted with 2 x Pratt & Whitney YF119 powerplant.

PAV-2 - Fitted with 2 x General Electric YF120 powerplant.

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