A jet fighter developed by Northrop Corporation (now Northrop Grumman) in the early 1980s.

Easily confused with the F-5 Freedom Fighter, if one is unaware that a mere three Tigersharks were ever manufactured, and that Northrop never succeeded in selling a single one.

Originally called the F-5G (indicating a single-seat modification of the F-5), it was similar to the F-5 but employed myriad design differences both internally and externally. The aerodynamics of the airframe were improved by redesigning the nose and adding leading edge extensions. This allowed the F-20 to manoeuvre at much higher angles of attack than other fighters of the time. In addition a panoramic canopy was included; this gave considerable improvements in the pilot's visibility over previous Northrop fighters.

Propulsion was provided by a single General Electric F404 engine, producing 17000lbs of thrust; 80% more than each of the F-5's twin J85-GE-21 turbojets. A variant of this engine (The F404-GE-400) is used to power the F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter.

The Tigershark's avionics system includes amongst others a GE multimode radar, capable of detecting and tracking targets up to 48 nautical miles, and a Honeywell laser inertial navigation system. This helped give the Tigershark the shortest scramble time of any aircraft in the world - able, as it is, to be airborne from a cold start with all weapon systems active in one minute. This was at least 90 seconds faster than any fighter of the time.

The computerized weapon delivery system of the F-20 meant that it could accept a wide variety of weapon systems with minimal wiring changes. It was able to carry around 9,300lbs of armaments and fuel on its five external pylons. Two internally-mounted 20mm guns were included as standard.

As well as considerable combat ability, the Tigershark is a highly efficient and maintainable fighter. Tests showed that the aircraft's operating costs were roughly half those of its contemporaries, and that it was four times as reliable.

The Tigershark was, at the time, the largest commercial military project ever. It cost Northrop 1.2 billion dollars before it was cancelled in 1986, still with no customers. The fact that two of the three prototypes built crashed at sales demonstrations could have contributed to this, but the USAF's choice of the F-16 Fighting Falcon for air superiority duties was probably largely responsible for the F-20's failure. The F-20 was designed for foreign military sales (as was the F-5, that it was designed to succeed), but potential export buyers are generally more willing to buy an aircraft that has seen use by the country that is selling it - hence the success of the F-16.

The remaining example of the Tigershark is on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Science.


Sources:

  • Federation of American Scientists; "F-20 Tigershark";
    <http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/f-20.htm>
  • D, Steven; "F-20 Tigershark Web Page";
    <http://www.angelfire.com/va/F20Tigershark/>
  • Wade, Mark; "F-20 Home Page";
    <http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/MarkWade/f20top.htm> and <http://members.aon.at/mwade/index.htm>

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