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The two most advanced planes ever designed competed for a coveted United States government production contract 27 years ago.

Some say the wrong plane won.

According to an insider, both were worthy of winning, Lockheed simply sold their plane better than the engineering geeks at Northrop did with the astoundingly beautiful YF-23.

To date nothing designed anywhere else on the world comes close to what the runner up did 27 years ago. For those doing the math that puts the Russians and Chinese more than three decades behind the Americans.

For Europeans talking about the Typhoon, both of the F-22 Raptor and YF-23 Black Widow were faster, more maneuverable, had better avionics, and oh yes one other thing, absolutely invisible to radar. Ghosts that rule the sky at 65,000 feet. An altitude where the air is so cold the masked engine exhausts get an extra muffle on Infrared.

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Screen Shot 2019 04 08 at 13.51.28YF-23 and YF-22 side-by-side during advanced Tactical Fighter competition flight demonstration phase

In what may be my favorite installment in our ongoing series on Northrop's YF-23 Black Widow, we hear directly from famed test pilot Paul Metz. Metz started his career as an F-105G Wild Weasel pilot in Vietnam and went on to become one of America's preeminent test pilots. He flew Northrop's YF-23 on its first flight during the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition that pitted the jet against Lockheed's YF-22 and also went on to do the same for the F-22A. In the video below, he describes what the ATF program was like from the inside and just how good the YF-23 actually was. In addition, we get extra color on the accelerated flight test program Northrop executed for the competition from test pilot Jim Sandburg. Their testimony combined gives us an unprecedented look into the YF-23 program and paints a clear picture that YF-23 was indeed equal if not superior to its competition.

The lecture was put on at the Western Museum Of Flight—where one of the YF-23 is on display—to a seniors group. This gem of historical reference has been largely overlooked even as the YF-23 has risen to near legendary status, becoming one of the most enigmatic and fascinating modern aircraft in history. What's so important to underline is that Metz worked for both Northrop and Lockheed and is not known for hyperbole. Yet even after flying the pre-production F-22, a far more mature machine than the YF-23 ever was, he makes it quite clear that Northrop's offering was on par with Lockheed's, if not superior.

To read more on The Drive:

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