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This is a detailed comparison between the two ATF competitors YF-22 and YF-23, because of many rumours claiming that the YF-23 was a far better fighter.

The YF-22 (below) and the YF-23 (above) in formation

Round 1: Stealth


The YF-23 from above

The YF-23 has, no doubt, a stealthier shape than the YF-22. The special engine design with ventral exhaust troughs provides a great reduction of detectability by radar and Infrared Search and Track sensors and the diamond shaped wings are also a much superior stealth design than the conventional wings of the YF-22, as all edges form up a group of two parallels. The YF-23 is the stealthiest fighter aircraft ever built.


The YF-22 is not such a super stealthy design like the YF-23 is, it´s more like a conventional fighter design with strongly reduced Radar Cross Section (RCS), while it hasn´t got as many paralleled edges as the YF-23 Black Widow II, thus it´s an inferior stealth design.

YF-23 YF-22
1 0

Round 2: Manoeuvrability


The unconventional design of the YF-23 is very static unstable, which allows it, in addition of an advanced fly-by-wire system, to achieve excellent manoeuvre performance and new sources proof that the YF-23 was able to meet all the manoeuvrability requirements of the US Air Force (a.k.a it was more manoeuvrable than the F-16). However the ventral exhaust troughs make the addition of a Thrust Vector system completely impossible.[1]


The YF-22 was designed to achieve outstanding aerodynamic performance and with the addition of thrust vectoring the YF-22 was able to perform barrell rolls at an AoA of over 60° and other extreme manoeuvres that no other fighter was able to perform at this time. Thrust vectoring allows it to manoeuvre at great altitudes as good as at low altitude; a conventional fighter has better manoeuvrability at low altitudes because the control surfaces are more effective but if it flies at high altitudes the stabilizators are less effective because of the thinner air, but if a plane has thrust vectoring, this is not going to happen. And what many people simply don't understand is that thrust vectoring also provides a significant advantage at high speeds and not only at low speeds, just as the following statement by Paul Metz proves:

"Thrust-vectoring is often thought of in terms of the classic 'dogfight' where one aircraft is trying to out-turn his opponent at ever decreasing airspeeds. Whether a pilot should ever engage in these slow speed fights is a matter that is hotly debated within the fighter pilot community. Certainly, there is general agreement that it is best to not get slow - ever. With the advent of the helmet mounted sight, 4th generation heat seeking, off-boresight missiles the slow dogfight becomes even more dangerous. 'To slow or not to slow' are questions of tactics and best left to the expert fighter pilots of the future. The F-22's thrust-vectoring can provide remarkable nose pointing agility should the fighter pilot choose to use it. What is not widely known is that thrust-vectoring plays a big role in high speed, supersonic maneuvering. All aircraft experience a loss of control effectiveness at supersonic speeds. To generate the same maneuver supersonically as subsonically, the controls must be deflected further. This, in turn, results in a big increase in supersonic trim drag and a subsequent loss in acceleration and turn performance. The F-22 offsets this trim drag, not with the horizontal tails, which is the classic approach, but with the thrust vectoring. With a negligible change in forward thrust, the F-22 continues to have relatively low drag at supersonic maneuvering speed. . But drag is only part of the advantage gained from thrust vectoring. By using the thrust vector for pitch control during maneuvers the horizontal tails are free to be used to roll the airplane during the slow speed fight. This significantly increases roll performance and, in turn, point-and-shoot capability. This is one of the areas that really jumps out to us when we fly with the F-16 and F-15. The turn capability of the F-22 at high altitudes and high speeds is markedly superior to these older generation aircraft. I would hate to face a Raptor in a dogfight under these conditions." [2]

To conclude it can be said that the YF-22 was definetely the more manoeuvrable fighter.

YF-23 YF-22
1 1

Round 3: Speed and Supercruise

According to the USAF, the YF-23 achieved a supercuise speed of 1.6 Mach but it achieved probably Mach 1.8, while it´s counterpart reached a top supercruise speed of only Mach 1.58. With the use of afterburner the Black Widow was probably able to reach speeds of Mach 2.4+ (2,655 km/h), while it´s counterpart was able to reach speeds of over Mach 2.2.

But the problem is that the YF-23 was only theoretically faster than the YF-22, while both aircraft had the same engines and the YF-23 was even a heavier design, the theoretical advantage of the YF-23 was that it had less drag than it´s counterpart, but this was never officially proven. But in the end the production F-23A (if it had been built) would be probably as fast as the production F-22A, while the F-22A has many differences in comparison to the YF-22 and it is all in all a much more advanced design with less drag and more stealth.

YF-23 YF-22
2 1

Round 4: Cockpit and technology

While the YF-23 had the same cockpit as the F-15E Eagle and similar technology,

The cockpit of the YF-23


800px-Lockheed-Boeing-General Dynamics YF-22 Raptor cockpit 3 USAF.jpg

YF-22 had a completely new cockpit with 5 LCD displays and new technologies, which were ahead of the Black Widows. Another advantage of the YF-22 was the control stick, the YF-23´s was mounted in the middle, but the YF-22´s on the side, which was preferred by the pilots.

YF-23 YF-22
2 2

Round 5: Armament and weapon bays

A YF-22 launching an AIM-120A missile.

Unlike the YF-23, the YF-22 performed missile shots (even if that was not required by the Air Force) to proof the success of their weapon bays, this was a great advantage to win the competition. The YF-23 on the other hand showed some massive problems with the weapon bay and it was unable to launch a missile, because Northrop focused development on the EMD F-23. In this round the YF-22 wins out the YF-23.

YF-23 YF-22
2 3

Round 6: Cost and maintainability

Because of inferior stealth and a conventional airframe the YF-22 was all in all a cheaper and less risky design, while the Black Widow, having an exotic and new shape, was much more expensive than the more cost-effective YF-22, which was also easier to mass produce.

YF-23 YF-22
2 4

Round 7: Range and Combat radius

One of the major requirements for the Advanced Tactical fighter program was a great range to fly and attack behind the enemy lines and to have a high flight endurance for long missions. In terms of range the Black Widow (4500 km ferry range) was definetely ahead of the YF-22 (3200 km ferry range).

YF-23 YF-22
3 4

Specifications compared

Type YF-22 Lightning II YF-23 Black Widow II F-22A Raptor EMD F-23[3]
Length 19.65 m 20.26 m 18.87 m 21.5
Wingspan 13.1 m 13.21 m 13.56 m 13.21 m
Wing area 77.1 m² 87.80 m² 78.04 m² 87,80 m²
Height 5.39 m 4.20 m 5.08 m 4.51 m
Empty weight 14,970 kg 16,783 kg 14.365 kg ~16,783 kg[1]
Loaded weight 28,120 kg 23,327 kg 19.700 kg ~23,327 kg[1]
Maximum takeoff weight - 29,029 kg 27,000 kg ~29,029 kg[1]
Number of flights 74 50 Not necessary here Unbuilt aircraft
Internal armament
  • 2x AIM-9M Sidewinder
  • 4x AIM-120A or 6x AIM-120C AMRAAM
  • 2x AIM-9M Sidewinder
  • 3x AIM-120A or ~4x AIM-120C AMRAAM
  • 2x AIM-9M/X Sidewinder
  • 4x AIM-120A or 6x AIM-120C AMRAAM
  • 2x AIM-9M/X Sidewinder
  • ~4x AIM-120A or 6x AIM-120C AMRAAM
Manoeuvrability Superior Inferior Superior Inferior
Stealth Inferior Superior Inferior Superior
Maximum speed Mach 2.2; 2335 km/h Mach 2.4+; 2655 km/h Mach 2.42+; 2574 km/h+ Probably around Mach 2.4; 2600 km/h
Cruise speed Mach 1.6;1704 km/h Mach 1.8; 1706-1900 km/h Mach 1.82; 1963 km/h Probably around Mach 1.8; 1900+ km/h
Thrust to weight ratio


1.36 1.43+ ~1.36
Range 3,200 km 4,500 km 3,200 km ~4,000-5,000 km
Wing loading ~258 kg/m² 266 kg/m² 252 kg/m² 266 kg/m²
Total advantages (only performance relevant ones and advantages to change the decision) 5 4 5 4
  • [1]: Nothing is known about the weights, in this case the weights of the prototype were used.

Volume of main weapons bay of F-22A and production F-23A

F-22A Raptor( A 1:72 scale model was used to find out the dimensions of the main bay)

  • 2.16 m wide
  • 4.32 m long
  • 0,43 m deep

=2.16 x 4.32 x 0,43 = ~4 m³: Enough space to fit 6 AIM-120C AMRAAMs

F-23A (dimensions estimated from the Northrop EMD F-23 drawings[3])

  • 1.27 m wide
  • 0.91 m deep
  • 4.3 m long

=1,27 x 0.91 x 4.3 = ~4.970 m³: If we can now assume that 6 AMRAAMs will need about ~4 m³ space the F-23 would have been theoratically able to fit more, but the problem is that the launch system of the F-23 would´ve needed space as well, while a single AIM-120C needs about 0.67 m³ space the F-23 would have been theoretically able to fit 7 missiles but the complex launcher system would´ve taken too much space for that, so that in the end the F-23 would´ve been able to carry six missiles internally, just like the F-22A Raptor.

Final Conclusion

Both ATF competitors were excellent aircraft but the decision of the Air Force to chose the YF-22, instead of the YF-23 was right. Of course it´s true that the YF-23 was a stealthier and probably faster design, but the YF-22 was much more manoeuvrable, mainly because of the vectoring nozzles, which cannot be added on the YF-23. It seems that the USAF preffered manoeuvrability over stealth. The reason for that is that a highly manoeuvrable aircraft is more survivable, while the YF-22 could outmanoeuvre enemies with ease, the Black Widow would´ve struggled with doing that (this goes only if the enemy has TVC, like Su-35, PAK-FA etc. but conventional aircraft would be outmanoeuvred by the YF-23) and it was also able to dodge missiles much easier than the less manoeuvrable Black Widow would have done it. But high manoeuvrabilty wasn´t the only single advantage of the YF-22, it also had much more advanced cockpit technology and electronics, while the Black Widow had the same cockpit as the F-15 Eagle, being another disadvantage. And concerning the weapons bays, the volume of the YF-22´s was larger than the YF-23´s, so that more missiles could be fitted, but it is true that the YF-23´s bay was deeper, allowing it to carry its weapons one over another, but this is too risky because if one missile is jammed the other one behind it is automatically jammed as well. The next disadvantage of the YF-23 was that it was actually only a technology demonstrator and Northrop focused it´s work on the unbuilt EMD F-23, a big mistake because Lockheed´s design was very close to production, only a few changes had to be made and it could enter service, but however Lockheed completely redesigned their design to make it more aerodynamical, stealthier and manoeuvrable.

In fact Northrop´s design is more tailored to an Interceptor, to intercept Russian bomber fleets during the Cold War, while Lockheed´s design is more tailored to an Air-superiority fighter and this is the next problem of the YF-23, the Cold War has ended, so there´s no need for a very fast interceptor aircraft, making Lockheed´s design a better choice.

Production F-22

Lockheed Martin probably realized the advantages of the YF-23 (but this doesn´t mean it was better) and then they redesigned their YF-22; the F-22 being now operational cruises faster than the Black Widow and is almost as fast on burner and it is also much stealthier than the YF-22 and nearly as stealthy as the YF-23 (however its stealth is still superior, even though F-22 caught up in both Radar- and IR-stealth).

The design of the production F-23 is basically the same as of the YF-23 but with an enlarged nose (to fit a larger radar, aka APG-77, like on the F-22A), changed access panel lines and a small second weapons bay, added ahead of the first bay to store two additional AIM-9 Sidewinders and because the main bay was greatly enlarged it would have been able to carry six missiles in it, all in all two Sidewinders in the second bay and six AIM-120C AMRAAM in the main bay, just like the F-22, but the YF-23 was only able to carry 3 AIM-120A and 2 AIM-9M, which was less than the YF-22 , while four AIM-120A were required by the USAF. The weapons bay's doors were slightly canted, like on the F-22A, to improve stealthiness. Unfortunately the recountered fuselage, to accomodate the changes on the weapons bay reduced conformity of the area rule, resulting in more drag and causing less speed. The aircraft would've been enlarged from 67 ft 6 inches to 70ft 5 inches but the wingspan remained the same as on the prototype.[4]


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