Northrop F-20 Tigershark Airplane Videos and Airplane Pictures

Northrop F-20 Tigershark Promotional Video

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Northrop F-20 Tigershark

Airplane picture - Airplane Pictures - Living Warbirds: Northrop F-20 Tigershark Crew: 1 pilot
Length: 46 ft 6 in (14.2 m)
Wingspan: 26 ft 8 in (8.1 m)
Height: 13 ft 10 in (4.2 m)
Maximum speed: Mach 2.1
Combat radius: 300 nmi (345 mi, 555 km)
Ferry range: 1,490 nmi (1,715 mi, 2,760 km)
Service ceiling 55,000 ft (16,800 m)
Rate of climb: 50,030 ft/min (255 m/s)

Northrop F-20 Tigershark Aircraft Information

Airplane picture - A mock-up of the prototype cockpit, showing the two multi-function displays and HUD.(Image: A mock-up of the prototype cockpit, showing the two multi-function displays and HUD.)

The F-20 Tigershark (initially F-5G) was a privately financed light fighter, designed and built by Northrop. Its development began in 1975 as a further evolution of Northrop's F-5E Tiger II, featuring a new engine that greatly improved overall performance, and a modern avionics suite including a powerful and flexible radar. Compared with the F-5E, the F-20 was much faster, gained beyond visual range air-to-air capability, and had a full suite of air-to-ground modes capable of firing most U.S. weapons. With these improved capabilities, the F-20 became competitive with contemporary U.S. fighter designs like the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but was much less expensive to purchase and operate.

Much of the F-20's development was carried out as part of a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) project called "FX", which attempted to sell less-advanced fighter designs to U.S. allies to limit the possibility of advanced U.S. technology falling into Soviet hands. FX developed out of a general re-working of U.S. military export policy started under the Carter administration in 1977. Although Northrop had high hopes for the F-20 in the international market, changes in policy following Ronald Reagan's election left the F-20 competing for sales with front line fighters like the F-16. No F-20 orders were ever placed, and the development program was eventually abandoned in 1986 after three prototypes had been built and a fourth partially completed.



Airplane picture - The F-20 launching an AGM-65 Maverick missile.(Image:The F-20 launching an AGM-65 Maverick missile.)

When the Kennedy administration took power in 1961, the Department of Defense was instructed to find an inexpensive fighter aircraft that they could offer to their allies through the Mutual Defense Assistance Act. A number of designs were studied, including stripped-down versions of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and Chance-Vought F8U Crusader, as well as the custom-designed Northrop N-156F. On 25 April 1962, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that they had chosen the N-156F for the role, which was given the U.S. designation F-5A and named the "Freedom Fighter". Designed primarily for the air-to-ground role, the F-5A had only rudimentary air-to-air capability.

As the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 started to become more common in foreign air forces, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) started the International Fighter Aircraft (IFA) program to find a fighter that could match it. Although "heavy" aircraft like the F-4 Phantom could best the MiG when flown by well trained pilots, smaller countries could not afford to buy or operate this expensive platform. What the USAF wanted was a low-cost, light weight fighter that could compete head-to-head with the MiG, but was still inexpensive enough that they could be purchased in large numbers by the DoD, and operated without breaking the budgets of the countries that received them.

Although a number of companies entered designs into the competition, Northrop's lead in the market with the F-5 put them in an almost unassailable position. They submitted an upgraded version of the F-5, the F-5E Tiger II, with the AN/APQ-153 radar and other changes that allowed it to fire the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile from wing-tip rails. On 20 November 1970, Northrop's entry won the IFA competition, and Northrop would go on to sell over a 1,000 Tiger IIs during the 1970s. Although slower than the MiG-21, the Tiger II matched its performance most other ways. Offsetting the difference in performance was a difference in armament. The MiG-21 was armed for much of its career with the Vympel K-13 based on the AIM-9B Sidewinder. Even with upgrades, this missile never gained all-aspect capability. The U.S., on the other hand, introduced a series of upgrades to the Sidewinder that dramatically improved its capabilities in almost every way, including all-aspect capabilities that allowed it to fire on a target from any angle. This balance of air power remained relatively even until newer Soviet designs like the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 started to be supplied to their customers, offering much higher performance and newer missiles as well.


In the late 1970s the Republic of China (Taiwan) Air Force started looking for a new fighter aircraft to match improvements being made in mainland China's air forces. Their primary concern was gaining the ability to fire the AIM-7 Sparrow missile, which limited their options to some of the larger U.S. platforms. Foremost among these was the F-4 Phantom, but the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the land-based version of the F-18 Hornet, the Northrop F-18L Cobra, were also capable of firing the missile and might be available for export once widespread production was underway.

At the time the U.S. was in the process of opening up ties with the People's Republic of China after Nixon's famous visit in 1972. China considered U.S. support of Taiwan against their interests, and the U.S. State Department wanted to tread carefully. They blocked export of all of the AIM-7 capable aircraft, even early models of the F-4. The State Department suggested looking at the Israeli IAI Kfir instead, and gave IAI wavers so they could export the Kfir even though it included the US-designed General Electric J79 engine. However, the Kfir lacked the AIM-7 capability and was rejected in favor of U.S. designs.

Taiwan was already producing the F-5E locally under license, so the Department of Defense asked Northrop to study adding an AIM-7 capable radar to the Tiger II as an alternative solution. However, using existing technology of the era, the radar set was so heavy that the fighter lost too much performance and was rejected for not meeting their requirements.

Northrop had privately been studying major engine upgrades to the F-5F as early as 1975 under their "F-5X" program. Two designs were under consideration, one with a single much-larger General Electric F404 that was also used on the F-17/F-18, and another using two Garrett TFE-731 engines with a new afterburner. When the DoD asked Northrop to study a radar/engine combination that would meet the Taiwanese specifications, chief designer Welko Gasich decided to move ahead with F404 in June 1978.

Limiting exports

In the spring of 1977, Jimmy Carter's administration had announced a new military export policy that limited sales of front-line designs to countries within NATO along with Australia and Japan. Carter stated at the time that the U.S. could not be "both the world's champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of the weapons war." The basic outline of the new policy was that the U.S. would not be the first country to introduce high-tech weapons into a theatre, nor would they supply their most advanced systems or any item that was not already in the U.S. inventory.

Prior to this point the U.S. did not have a coherent export policy, and there were growing concerns that the U.S.'s latest technologies might fall into Soviet hands with a change of government in a former ally. As the USAF was in the process of introducing the F-16 at the time, limiting its export would greatly reduce the possibility that its systems would become available for study.

Numerous exceptions were made, however; Israel and Egypt were able to buy advanced designs as part of the Camp David Agreements, and Israel was even able to buy F-15 Eagle, the U.S.'s most critical design in technology terms. Iran was already in the process of receiving the F-14 Tomcat and continued to receive them, which would demonstrate the problem with advanced exports in February 1979 when it was believed that Iran sold an example of the AIM-54 Phoenix missile to the Soviets. South Korea's F-16 order was initially blocked under this new policy, but this was later rescinded to improve their defensive capability as the U.S. began a troop withdrawal.

In light of the new export policy, and the fact that the F-5G was a relatively modest set of upgrades to the existing F-5E, it seemed that the F-5G should be in an excellent position for sales given the limitations being placed on other designs. Thus it came as something of a shock to Northrop when Carter personally blocked the sales of the F-5G to Taiwan. Given the uncertainty of precisely what the export rules meant in light of this ruling, and with no other sales immediately forthcoming, Northrop turned its attention away from the F-5G.


In 1979 problems with the export policy were becoming obvious. The Soviets continued to sell newer aircraft designs to their clients, placing the U.S.'s own allies at a disadvantage. Denied modern U.S. designs, many countries were turning to other vendors for modern fighters, notably the French, who were actively promoting their Mirage 2000. Barry N. Blechman, Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, testified that the US reductions in foreign arms transfers had actually encouraged other nations and increased worldwide arms sales.

The State Department argued that the U.S. needed a modern design to fill in where the F-5E had in the 1960s and 1970s. However, they acceded to the spirit of Carter's original concerns and suggested that new aircraft be designed for the role, based on technology that could not be reverse-engineered to pose a threat to the U.S. After a lengthy study, in January 1980, President Carter decided to allow the development of a new export fighter: "FX". The FX aircraft had to outperform the F-5E while offering less performance than current U.S. front line fighters like the F-16A. Furthermore, it could not use any major avionics systems from the F-16 or other designs in the U.S. inventory. Unlike the Mutual Defense Assistance Act programs that led to the F-5E, however, FX would have to be built entirely with private money and the government would not support the development in any way. Additionally, the aircraft could not be marketed directly by the companies; all sales arrangements would have to be handled by the Secretary of Defense on a government-to-government basis.

Both Northrop and General Dynamics (GD) responded to the FX requirement. GD's F-16/79 was a downgraded version of the F-16A that replaced the Pratt & Whitney F100 engine with the venerable J79 and downgraded the aircraft's avionics. However, it was deliberately designed to allow these systems to be upgraded in the future, back to full F-16 performance. Northrop originally intended to offer the F-5G with either the upgraded AN/APQ-159, or a newer AIM-7 compatible radar proposed by Westinghouse that was based on the F-16's APG-66. The F-5G would meet or beat the F-16/79 in most performance measures, and would be much less expensive to buy and operate.

Selecting a radar

Earlier, in May 1979, Northrop had decided to make the F-5G an "Engine Change Only" design, keeping the original F-5E avionics with the APQ-159. With the creation of the FX plan, a more advanced avionics suite was developed under the "F-5G Phased Improvement Program". The set of upgrades includes in the Program were finalized in August 1980 as the F-5G-2, the original engine-change version becoming the F-5G-1. The new radar would have to have a full suite of air-to-air modes along with AIM-7 capability, as well as a full suite of air-to-ground modes and sea-search. This would give the fighter all-weather strike capability, which had been lacking in earlier versions. Requests for Proposals for the new systems were sent to industry in the fall of 1980, and the selection was slated to be carried out in early 1981.

Westinghouse again proposed adapting the APG-66 from the F-16 with a smaller antenna, a fairly straightforward development. However, with the same basic electronics and less antenna, this approach would always leave the F-5 with less performance than the F-16. Northrop was also concerned that Westinghouse would always be beholden to General Dynamics due to the large orders they were placing, which might place Northrop at a disadvantage for production quotas or upgrades. Hughes offered a high-end set using technologies from their F-14 and F-15 radars, but this was considered to be too expensive for use in what was supposed to be a low-cost offering. Emerson offered an entirely new radar with greatly increased performance, the AN/APG-69, but the company had no experience in modern digital sets and the choice of this unit was considered somewhat risky. Finally General Electric (GE) offered a system based on technologies from their advanced airborne early warning radars from the E-2 Hawkeye.

GE's CEO, "Neutron Jack" Welch, stated that every division within GE had to become the number one or two within its market or face elimination, so the GE radar team was under intense pressure to deliver a world-beating system. In spite of its small size, performance of their system matched the F-16s in every way, including range, and was one of the least expensive offers as well. In spite of the development risk, a Master Agreement for design, development, and options for 512 production F-5G aircraft based on the GE G-200 set was signed on 5 June 1981. This unit was later re-designated AN/APG-67.

FX stumbles

When the Ronald Reagan's administration took power in 1981, the export restrictions put in place by the Carter administration were slowly relaxed. At first the FX program continued as the primary export aircraft design, but a number of events would further erode the value of the program and conspire to limit the F-5G's potential sales.

A major event in the history of the F-5G was the signing of the 1982 US-PRC Joint Communiqué on arms sales, which once again blocked the sale of the F-5G to Taiwan. By this point the Taiwanese had already started their own light-fighter project, the AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-kuo, so sales of the F-5G were no longer certain anyway. With the signing of the Communiqué, the U.S. was signaling to Taiwan that any new aircraft sales were off the table, and the Ching-kuo became the Taiwanese primary focus. In light of this change, concerns about the F-5G's sales potential were expressed in the press.

In the summer of 1982, Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci sent a memorandum to the Air Force and Navy actively encouraging them to seek out potential foreign customers to procure FX aircraft. But, only four months later, Carlucci sent a classified memo to the same services abandoning the FX policy and opening the door for the sale of front-line fighters to other countries. In December, after prompting from the White House Carlucci reversed himself again, and directed the Air Force to fund a small number of F-20s in the fiscal year 1984 budget. While the government continued to talk about FX, there had still been no sales, and Carlucci's flip-flops on the program did nothing to instill confidence.

F-20 emerges

With the future of the FX program in doubt, and the possibility of a "momentous policy reversal" in terms of the F-16A sales to Pakistan, Northrop realized that it could not simply be the least expensive offering; the F-5G would need to match the performance of the F-16 in every way it could. By this time the F-16 was undergoing the first in a long series of upgrades, producing the F-16C/D with the new Westinghouse AN/APG-68 radar. General Electric responded by further improving the APG-67, once again matching the performance of the F-16's set.

The new avionics and engine did much to address the performance issues, but Northrop felt the F-5G was still seen as the "FX fighter", a low-cost option for second-tier air forces. To help change the perception of the design, Northrop made an initial request for the "F-20" designation in 1982. The request was initially turned down, with the USAF proposing F-19 instead, which ended up not being used at all. The USAF finally gave approval for the F-20 designation in November 1982, and of the name Tigershark in March 1983.


The primary design change between the earlier F-5E and the F-5G was the use of a single General Electric F404 engine that had originally been designed for the F/A-18 Hornet. The change meant that the F-20 was now a single engine airplane, the previous versions having two General Electric J85's of considerably less combined power. With the new engine providing 60% more thrust, the thrust-to-weight ratio of the aircraft was improved to 1.13 to 1, which gave it performance roughly equivalent to the F-16 in many ways. It had a top speed over M2.0, a ceiling over 53,000 ft, an initial climb rate of 54,000 ft per minute, and improved overall climb performance to 40,000 ft that decreased from 2.2 minutes to 1.1 minutes. Internal fuel capacity was unchanged, but the F404's lower specific fuel consumption improved combat radius by 10%.

The wing profile remained the same as the F-5E, but had modified leading edge extensions, which improved the maximum lift coefficient of the wing by about 12% with an increase in wing area of only 1.6%. The original aircraft was fairly sluggish in pitch, so the horizontal stabilizer was increased in size by 30% and a new dual-channel fly-by-wire control system was added. Destabilizing the aircraft in pitch and adding the LEXes improved the instantaneous turn rate by 7% to 20 degrees per second. Sustained turn rate at Mach 0.8 and 15,000 ft rose to 11.5 degrees per second, which compared well with the F-16's 12.8 degrees per second. Supersonic turn rates were 47% higher than those of the F-5E.

The F-20's avionics suite was all-new and greatly improved over the earlier designs. The General Electric AN/APG-67 multi-mode radar was the heart of the sensor suite, offering a suite of air-to-air and air-to-ground modes. The new unit was larger than the original Emerson unit of the F-5E, which required changes to the bulkheads in the nose area. The radar was tied to the rest of the electronics and the cockpit displays with the new MIL-STD-1553 data bus. They also added the AN/ASN-144 ring laser gyro navigation system; with no moving parts, the ASN-144 did not require any warm up time that older mechanical inertial platforms needed to spin up their gyroscopes. Time from power-on to being able to launch was greatly reduced as a result, to about 22 seconds, and Northrop boasted the aircraft had the shortest scramble time of any contemporary aircraft.

Finally, the cockpit area of the F-5 was completely re-worked with a large heads up display (HUD) and two monochrome multi-function displays set high on the control panel. A complete hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) control system was added, matching the F-16's famed ability to control most of the fighting capability of the plane without moving the pilot's hands. The canopy, originally quite small, was enlarged by 44% and offered some rearward visibility, although it still did not offer the all-round view of the F-16.

The F-20's new avionics allowed it to fire most common weapons in the current U.S. inventory, including the entire range of Mark 80 series bombs, the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile, and the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles. The General Electric heads up display offered a variety of cuing displays for the various weapons. Like the earlier F-5s, the F-20's internal weapon was a set of two M39 cannon mounted high in the nose.

While the F-20's performance was greatly improved over earlier versions, the airframe had a number of drawbacks as a result of its basic layout. The position of the landing gear and the way they retracted along the wing toward the fuselage meant that the F-20 had to place its wing-mounted hardpoints fairly far from the aircraft centerline. This limited their load capacity to 1,000 lb or less. The only hardpoint capable of carrying heavier ordnance was under the aircraft centerline, which was close to the ground and had limited room in which to work. Even the low-mounted location of the wing meant that it was difficult to carry bulky items on those hardpoints, and made it more difficult for ground handlers to re-arm it. In overall terms the weapon capabilities in the air-to-ground role were fairly limited compared to the F-16.

Although the wing profile had been changed somewhat, the overall size remained much the same as the earlier versions of the F-5. This did not present a problem in the fighter role, but it did severely impact its payload/range figures. In spite of the wing loading being similar to the F-16 at "clean" takeoff weights, 81 lbs/ft² vs 80 lbs/ft², the lower weight of the F-20 meant that any payload represented a relatively higher payload fraction than it would on the F-16, and would effect performance more noticeably. It also meant that any additional dry weight, new avionics for instance, would also have a greater impact on the F-20 than F-16.

Offered as a low-cost option compared to earlier designs, the F-20's fly-away price was quoted a $8 million, about three times as expensive as the F-5E even after adjusting for inflation, but still much less expensive than other designs from the 1970s, like the $30 million F-15 Eagle or $15 million F-16 Fighting Falcon. In service the F-20 would consume 53% less fuel, required 52% less maintenance manpower, had 63% lower operating and maintenance costs and had four times the reliability of average front-line designs of the era.

Operational history

Airplane picture - The first F-20 in Northrop colors(Image: The first F-20 in Northrop colors)

On 30 August 1982, the original engine-change-only F-5G, GG1001, made its first flight. GG1001 demonstrated outstanding reliability; by the end of April 1983 it had logged 240 flights, including evaluation flights by 15 pilots from 10 potential customer nations. GI1001, featuring the complete new avionics suite, joined GG1001 in August 1983. In September, it flew 12 simulated air-to-air sorties in one day at Edwards Air Force Base, and in December. made a 2,308 mile unrefuelled transcontinental flight. GI1002 joined the first two prototypes in May 1984, and made a huge impression in September at the Farnborough Air Show.

During its flight test program, the F-20 fired the AIM-9 Sidewinder and, in February 1985, before the F-16 had done the same, the AIM-7 Sparrow. In air-to-ground testing, it fired the AGM-65 Maverick, 2.75-inch folding fin aerial rockets, dropped Mk. 82 bombs, and fired rounds from a 30 mm gun pod in addition to the two internal 20 mm M39 cannon. Northrop's chief test pilot, Hank Chouteau, noted that the F-20 was an outstanding gun platform. When you slewed the aircraft in air combat, the nose stayed on its target easily, without a heavy pilot workload to keep it there. The YF-17 had not been a good aircraft in this regard.

Northrop signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Air Force in May 1983 that made the Air Force responsible for certifying the F-20's performance, air worthiness and fixed-price program. Aerospace legend Chuck Yeager, who worked as a spokesperson for Northrop during the F-20's development, frequently touted the aircraft and was regularly featured in its advertising.

In November 1982, Bahrain signed on as the first customer. South Korea started exploring local production of the F-20 as part of comprehensive development of its aerospace industry. As negotiations with Korea continued, a number of improvements were worked into the design in order to fully compete with the F-16C. These included additional avionics upgrades and expanded fuel tankage, among other changes. The changes were extensive enough that a fourth prototype was added to test them. By 1983 Northrop was involved in a number of simultaneous negotiations for the F-20, and its prospects finally appeared to be looking up. But right when sales prospects were looking up, a number of events quickly reversed their fortunes.

The test flight program did not always go smoothly. On 10 October 1984, GG1001 crashed in South Korea on a demonstration flight, killing Northrop pilot Darrell Cornell. An investigation cleared the F-20 of any mechanical or design fault; it concluded that Cornell had blacked out due to excessive g-forces. GI1001 crashed in May 1985 at Goose Bay, Labrador, killing Northrop pilot Dave Barnes. Once again the crash was blamed on G-LOC; Barnes had been practicing his acrobatic routine at a stop on the way to the Paris Air Show. The remaining GI1002 appeared at the Dayton Air Show in July, and by May 1986, completed the 1,500th flight of an F-20 aircraft.

Battle for sales

In December 1981, President Reagan, reacting to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, signed a major economic and military aid package for Pakistan that included forty F-16As. The offer was in keeping with general U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union, which was based on the idea of "containment" within a ring of U.S.-friendly countries. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was initially viewed as an attempt to break out of the carefully arranged containment system, and the U.S. was extremely interested in building up a new layer of defense as quickly as possible. However, other US allies saw this as a potential break in the FX policy, and began requesting only "the very best."

Then, late in 1983, the US government made a financial commitment to help Israel develop its own new fighter, the IAI Lavi. Northrop objected to this because the aircraft would be a potential competitor in the export market, and while Northrop had to privately fund the F-5G, here the government was directly subsidizing a foreign competitor. Congressional support for Israel overruled Northrop's complaints, as well as the complaints from many other branches of the U.S. government.

Adding to the problems was the fact that other companies competing for the same sales could market directly to the foreign air forces, but, as part of the FX program, the F-5G could only be marketed by the State Department. Under this policy umbrella, Northrop had to submit every piece of marketing material to a lengthy U.S. government review, which could take months. Unlike Northrop's sales team, the State Department had no vested interest in selling the FX in particular, from their perspective it was simply one aircraft offering among many, and their approach was lackadaisical. General Dynamics, having lost FX and operating entirely as a private company, was free to market the F-16 directly. All that stood in their way of a successful sale was the State Department's approval.

Such approval was increasingly granted starting in 1982. In May, Venezuela, who had been looking at the FX project for some time, signed an agreement to buy 18 F-16As and six F-16Bs to replace the fleet of Mirage III interceptors and Mirage 5 ground-attack aircraft. Sweden decided to develop their own design, the JAS 39 Gripen, but were able to license production of the F404 engine as the RM12. In September 1983, Turkey announced plans to buy 132 F-16Cs and 28 F-16Ds to replace their Lockheed F-104G/S Starfighter and Northrop F-5A/B. Greece, stung by its long-time enemy receiving the F-16, purchased 34 F-16C and six F-16Ds in November 1984. In a major reversal of previous policy, the State Department was now willing to sell the F-16 to all comers.

Congressional investigation

Having watched the FX program for several years, and Northrop's continued difficulties battling for sales, Congress chaired a series of hearings on FX in March 1984. A key witness was William Schneider, Jr., the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology. Schneider testified that the current FX policy might not result in any future sales, in spite of any government support. He also stated that the sales of arms, including FX, was primarily a tool of foreign policy, and secondarily a commercial venture.

Thomas V. Jones, Northrop's CEO, stated that there was little point in having companies develop aircraft on their own if they were utterly reliant on the government to sell them. He suggested that the entire FX concept be dropped, and Northrop be allowed to sell the F-20 on the market like any other vendor.

Brigadier General Thomas Baker, USAF Director of International Programs, testified that the U.S. Air Force was not actively marketing the FX. He noted that over the last four years the US had sold 100 fighters to 29 countries, yet not one had been an FX. He further noted that France had sold a matching number of aircraft to foreign users, which demonstrated that a market for a new low-cost fighter definitely existed.

Concluding congressional remarks from this committee accused the State Department and DOD of FX policy rhetoric that had not been actively supported.

Pressure on the Air Force

In April 1984, soon after the Congressional hearings, the Air Force was directed in to promote the FX more actively. Specific comparison briefings were given to several potential customers during May and June 1984, detailing the performance and cost advantages of both the F-20 and F-16/79.

The Air Force published an internal report in late June 1984 summarizing the status of the program. The F-20 was characterized as having outstanding performance against all realistic threats. It was also seen as a viable candidate for upgrading the Air Force's aggressor units — a requirement that had been stated by the services earlier in 1984. The report also stated that the F-20 had been contractor-funded, totaling more than $750 million, compared to $60 million for the F-16/79. In addition, General Dynamics had leased a modified F-16B from the Air Force, which was then used for development testing. Yet in spite of all of this, the report concluded that while the F-20 was an excellent aircraft, it had little or no market to sell into.

Foreign governments saw no need to purchase an aircraft that even the USAF did not use, when it appeared that a small amount of arguing would result in the F-16 being supplied to them. At the same time, the USAF had a vested interest in selling the F-16 to foreign users, because every addition to the production line numbers drove down the overall cost of the program, making it less expensive for the Air Force to buy F-16s for themselves. It was also noted that the success of the F-20 might cast the Air Force in a bad light, as the aircraft had been developed without their input. In contrast, the F-16 had endured the entire USAF procurement hierarchy, and in the process was loaded down with additional electronics that had raised its weight by 20%, its cost by 75%, and dramatically lowered its reliability.

By 1985 the future of the FX policy and the F-20 was unclear. In March 1985, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of State were actively reconsidering the policy and their recommendation to President Reagan. Although some observers suggested that the government was "morally obliged" to help Northrop, the entire FX project was eventually ended.

Aggressor role

Airplane picture - F-20 "GI1001" carrying its Paris Air Show identity number "340"(Image: F-20 "GI1001" carrying its Paris Air Show identity number "340")

Another possibility for a U.S. purchase evolved in 1984 as a candidate for a small number of "aggressor aircraft" for dissimilar air combat training. This style of training had been introduced by the U.S. Navy at their TOPGUN school in order to improve their kill ratios against MiG-21's over Vietnam. The Air Force quickly introduced a similar program after the success of the Navy's program became evident.

The Navy already used the F-5 to simulate the MiG-21, While the MiG-21 remained a common threat, the Soviets were introducing improved aircraft that had no counterpart at the schools. Early in 1984, the Navy had expressed an interest in purchasing a plane that could simulate the MiG-29. In November 1984, Congress directed the Navy and Air Force to study the use of a single aircraft type to fill similar aggressor roles for both services.

In January 1985 the Navy announced they had selected a specially configured version of the F-16 for its aggressor aircraft. The aircraft was rumored to have been sold at a loss just to keep Northrop's F-20 out of the U.S. market. This ended any possibility of a joint Navy-Air Force purchase and the study was shelved.

ANG role

A final possibility for rescuing the F-20 project came about as part of an effort to upgrade the Air National Guard (ANG). The ANG had been flying a variety of "hand-me-down" aircraft from the Air Force, notably the F-106 Delta Dart and F-4 Phantom, but these were generally high-time airframes and expensive to maintain. At the same time, the Air Force was in the process of handing off its continental air defense role to the ANG in order to free up modern aircraft in the USAF fleet for deployment in active combat roles.

Northrop noted that the F-20's fast scramble time made it a natural fit for this role, that its lower cost would allow the ANG to operate larger numbers of aircraft, and that the ANG would not be competing with the Air Force for production quotas, so they would be able replace their older aircraft more quickly. However, the Air Force's own vested interests once again intervened; if the ANG flew the F-16, they would further lower the unit cost of the aircraft, maintain commonality between the ANG and AF, and also be in a position to deploy ANG units in front line combat roles. On 31 October 1986, the Air Force informed Northrop that the F-16C had been selected for the Air Defence Requirement.


After six years with no buyers, in late 1986 Northrop cancelled the $1.2 billion project. Ongoing negotiations with the Royal Moroccan Air Force for 20 F-20s were cancelled. To add to the woes, the efforts to market the F-20 to South Korea resulted in a bribery scandal that led to the resignations of several Northrop managers and the reprimand and retirement of Thomas V. Jones as chief executive of Northrop in 1989.

In the 1990s the entire F-20 project was offered to India to start local production, but the negotiations broke off.

Of the many components of the F-20, the radar set would end up being the most successful. It was selected by Taiwan for the Ching-kuo, and later for the South Korean T-50 Golden Eagle trainer aircraft. It was also selected for the FMA IA 63 Pampa. However, as sales were not immediately forthcoming, Jack Welsh followed his own advice and sold off the radar division, which eventually ended up at Lockheed-Martin.


The one surviving F-20A, registered N44671 (Northrop serial number GI1002), is on display at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, Los Angeles, California, United States.

Specifications (F-20)

General characteristics

- Crew: 1 pilot
- Length: 46 ft 6 in (14.2 m)
- Wingspan: 26 ft 8 in (8.1 m)
- Height: 13 ft 10 in (4.2 m)
- Wing area: 186 ft² (17 m²)
- Empty weight: 11,220 lb (5,090 kg)
- Loaded weight: 15,060 lb (6,830 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 26,290 lb (11,920 kg)
- Powerplant: 1× General Electric F404-GE-100 turbofan, 17,000 lbf (76 kN)


- Maximum speed: Mach 2.1
- Combat radius: 300 nmi (345 mi, 555 km)
- Ferry range: 1,490 nmi (1,715 mi, 2,760 km)
- Service ceiling 55,000 ft (16,800 m)
- Rate of climb: 50,030 ft/min (255 m/s)
- Wing loading: 81.0 lb/ft² (395 kg/m²)
- Thrust/weight: 1.13


- Guns: 2× 20 mm (0.787 in) Pontiac M39A2 cannons in the nose, 280 rounds/gun
- Rockets: 2× CRV7 rocket pods
- Or 2× LAU-10 rocket pods with 4× Zuni 127 mm rockets each
- Or 2× Matra rocket pods with 18× SNEB 68 mm rockets each
- Missiles: 2× AIM-9 Sidewinders (mounted on wingtip launch rails, similar to F-16 and F/A-18)
- Bombs: 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) of payload on five external hardpoints, including a variety of air-to-ground ordnance such as the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles, Mark 80 series of unguided iron bombs (including 3 kg and 14 kg practice bombs), CBU-24/49/52/58 cluster bomb munitions, M129 Leaflet bomb and drop tanks for extended range

Source: WikiPedia

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