Aircraft And Military Development & Applications
45-Northrop F-20 Tigershark
The Northrop F-20 Tigershark 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 fighter designs such as the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, but was much less expensive to purchase and operate.
In the mid-1980s the RAF finally made the decision which aircraft would replace its remaining ageing Lightnings after the F-17 Cobra purchase was derailed by McDonnell's legal action against Northrop. Due to budgetary concerns the wholly UK development of a new aircraft was ruled out, once again allowing foreign manufacturers to propose aircraft to meet the requirement. Whilst the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle were considered they were deemed too expensive, whilst the F-16 lacked the range to address the medium range requirement, leaving the F-18 as the perceived leading contender against the Mirage 2000.
However in an interesting move the RAF selected a mix of types - the XL experimental variant of the F-16 as the basis for the medium range platform ( designated F-16E & F in RAF service ), with the Northrop F-20A & B Tigershark fulfilling the short range element ( and also finally resolving the issue of the aborted F-17 contract with Northrop, McDonnell's role in which was rumoured to have counted against the F-18 ). An additional factor was the American manufacturers willingness to once again negotiate favourable licence production contracts in an attempt to recoup their development costs in the absence of a large domestic order, as had been the case with the F-17. Concerns were raised about overwater operation of these single engined fighters, but their engines demonstrated reliability in US and European service sufficiently mitigated against these fears to allow them to be selected.
Tigershark F.1 and F.2 ( F-20A and F-20C)
This aircraft was used to replace the Lightning in the short range air-defence role. Whilst capable of carrying Skyflash missiles, the weight and drag penalty of these missiles on the relatively small Tigershark were considerable ( the effect of the 30kg heavier Sparrow was even worse ), so the normal load consisted solely of Sidewinders. Fortunately the lighter AIM-120 became available in the late 80s, and was successfully deployed on the Tigershark F.2 ( F-20C ) along with the AIM-132 ASRAAM. The F.2 is externally identical to the F.1, but had numerous internal revisions, including enhanced avionics, and all F.1s have now been upgraded to F.2 specification.
Following their introduction into RAF service, BAe were successful in selling the Tigershark to a number of other customers, some of whom had previously operated the F-5.
Single seat version carrying a photorecon package developed from the earlier RF-5. Armed with a pair of Sidewinders for self defence, the RF.1 also normally carries an external ECM pod, and has even been seen carrying the AGM-122A SideArm anti-radar missile as a survivability aid when penetrating enemy airspace.
Tigershark T.1 ( F-20B)
Two seat advanced trainer version which retains most of the combat capability of the single seat version, but lacks the internal guns in the nose and has slightly reduced performance and range.
Tigershark T.1A ( F-20B)
When the Red Arrows began flying the Tigershark, the nose of the aircraft used by the team were modified to include a spotlight. This modification was made purely in the interests of showmanship to allow the 'lights-on' displays developed during their Hawk years to continue.
Tigershark T.2 ( F-20D)
After 48 T.1s had been delivered, production switched to the more capable T.2 . This has a longer nose than the T.1, allowing the internal guns to be re-instated. The enhanced combat capability of this version led to its use in a number of other roles, including advanced weapons training and the Shrike equipped SEAD version shown here ( the RAF purchased a large number of the obsolete Shrike missiles from the USAF and updated them with a new programmable seeker developed by BAe Systems based on that designed for ALARM ).
Crew: 1 pilot
Length: 47 ft 4 in (14.4 m)
Wingspan: 27 ft 11.9 in / 8.53 m;
with wingtip missiles (26 ft 8 in/ 8.13 m; without wingtip missiles)
Height: 13 ft 10 in (4.20 m)
Wing area: 200 ft² (18.6 m²)
Empty weight: 13,150 lb (5,964 kg)
Loaded weight: 15,480 lb (7,021 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 27,500 lb (12,474 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × General Electric F404-GE-100 turbofan, 17,000 lbf (76 kN)
Role: Fighter aircraft
National origin: United States
Manufacturer: Northrop Corporation
First flight: 30 August 1982
Number built: 3
Program cost: US$1.2 billion
Developed from: Northrop F-5
Maximum speed: Mach 2, 1320 mph, 2,124 kmh
Combat radius: 300 nmi (345 mi, 556 km) ; for hi-lo-hi mission with 2 × 330 US gal (1,250 L) drop tanks
Ferry range: 1,490 nmi (1715 mi, 2759 km) ; with 3 × 330 US gal (1,250 L) drop tanks
Service ceiling: 55,000 ft (16,800 m)
Rate of climb: 52,800 ft/min (255 m/s)
Wing loading: 81.0 lb/ft² (395 kg/m²)
Guns: 2× 20 mm (0.79 in) Pontiac M39A2 cannons in the nose, 280 rounds each
Hardpoints: 5 external hardpoints with a capacity of 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) of bombs, missiles, rockets and up to 3 drop
tanks for extended range
Rockets: 2 × CRV7 rocket pods Or
2 × LAU-10 rocket pods with 4 × Zuni 5 in (127 mm) rockets each Or
2 × Matra rocket pods with 18 × SNEB 68 mm rockets each
Missiles: 2 × AIM-9 Sidewinders on wingtip launch rails (similar to F-16 and F/A-18)
Up to 4 x AIM-7 Sparrows on underwing launch rails
AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles on hardpoints
Bombs: Various air-to-ground ordnance such as 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.
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Nigel G Wilcox
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