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Tigershark: When What Might Have Been Became What Never Was

Northrop’s F-20 Faced Stiff Competition From the F-16 But Was Shot Down By Politics.

Official US Air Force photograph

When this promotional film was produced during the early 1980s to extoll the virtues of the Northrop F-5G (F-20) Tigershark, the jet was in competition with the likes of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. Though it was an evolutionary development of Northrop’s by-then successful F-5E Tiger fighter bomber, the Tigershark was much more than just a single-engine Tiger. In the film the F-20 and its capabilities are described in great detail. This film was uploaded to YouTube by PeriscopeFilm. You Tiger and Tigershark fans should definitely enjoy it.

Official US Air Force photograph

The F-20 was powered by a modified version of the same General Electric F404-GE-100 engine as those found in the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B/C/D Hornet series of strike fighters. The single F404 engine in the F-20 was capable of producing 60% more thrust than the two GE J85 jets found in the F-5E, giving the Tigershark vastly improved performance. The F-20 was also equipped with a more modern and more capable avionics suite built round the AN/APG-67 multi-mode radar. At one time the F-20 was even envisioned as a dedicated aggressor aircraft for dissimilar air combat training (DACT).

Official US Air Force photograph

The F-20 cockpit had much more in common with the F/A-18 cockpit than the F-5E, with several large multi-mode displays. The F-20 was capable of delivering the Mark 8X-series unguided bombs and the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile along with the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles. But because the F-20 was not that much less expensive than the F-16 its sales prospects were slim. Despite the endorsement of Brigadier General Chuck Yeager, after two of the three prototype aircraft crashed (causing two test pilot deaths) and politics overpowered the program, Northrop pulled the plug on the F-20.

Official US Air Force photograph

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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