Northrop submitted 3 proposals for the AF 1982 formal RFI; all Air To Air fighters, and all compact. Being the champion of the light fighter, it was only natural that Northrop would submit the smallest of all: Concept 1. This tiny little thing barely tipped the scales at 17,700 lbs and was just 47.5 ft long. Northrop called it the Future Compact Fighter (FCF) and the AF SPO nick-named it the 'Co-op Fighter'. It was a very distinctive design based on a single engine delta wing planform tipped with slanted fins, shallow air intakes set into the leading edge of the wing, and a vectoring thrust nozzle set well aft of the CG. Northrop completely rethought the concept of a light fighter and came up with many ingenious, innovative ideas all designed to maximise the effectiveness of this little jet for the least expense possible. Northrop developed the concept of the low profile cockpit, complete with steeply raked canopy, which had the pilot reclined at a similar position to a sports car, the intention being to reduce the effects of G. Cockpit instruments were rearranged to accomodate the position by relocating to a larger HUD than normal and ultilising a helmet mounted display. Northrop did away with the existing inventory of space-inefficient weaponry; instead the idea was to integrate missiles with foldable fins which were launched from retractable tubes: an extremely space-efficient idea. (The concept of folding fins has long been used by the Army and Navy; for some reason the Air Force has not caught on. Imagine how many missiles the F-22 could carry if the fins folded...) Modular pallets could be pre-loaded with various combinations of weapons ready to be installed in the aircraft for quick sortie turnaround. Concept 1, more than any other, demonstrated conclusively how the tide of rising cost associated with fighter procurement and deployment could be turned. This concept showed how America, if it ever had to, could turn out the numbers to equal a massive numerical threat and still retain quality. If this jet had ever been produced for the 3rd World export market, imagine...
Concept 1, the Future Compact Fighter.
Concept 2 was also for a compact fighter, of 28,000 lbs weight, and nick-named the 'Missileer' by the AF. No information has surfaced on this concept but it is very intriguing, firstly because it was a very close precursor to the YF-23 layout, and secondly because it was the first and only concept presented to give an indication of the true methodology in relation to stealth: that of planform alignment.
Concept 3 was called the 'Enhanced Agility Fighter' and projected to weigh between 30,300 and 50,500 lbs, with engine thrust at 2 x 21,250lbs, giving a thrust to weight ratio of approx 1.4. It was the direct ancestor of the YF-23. It employed a diamond wing planform although not as severe as Concept 2, and there was no horizontal tail, just canted vertical fins. Weapons were carried on the wingtips and tangential to the belly like an F-4 or F-15. It was essentially a monolithic layout, but the intakes were positioned in a similar location to the F-18 Hornet and YF-23.
What is interesting is that out of all the 19 concepts submitted for the RFI, Northrop's concepts were far closer to the final product presented in 1986 than any of the others. It is clear that Northrop ultilised the configuration of Concepts 2 and 3 to come up with the configuration for the YF-23. In that sense, it appears that Northrop took this RFI more seriously than any other company: whereas all the others were not much more than flights of fancy, Northrop got down to business creating practical, do-able ideas.
Last updated May 2012.
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