The Northrop F-20 Tigershark (initially F-5G) was a privately financed fighter aircraft, designed and built by Northrop. In 1975, Northrop began development on the F-20 Tigershark, a fighter plane designed to be reliable, easy to fly and inexpensive to maintain. Northrop didn’t accept any funds from the government to develop the plane, so the company didn’t have to consult the Air Force or any other government agency to make design decisions. As a result, the development process went fairly quickly. Northrop built three planes to take around the world to fly in demonstrations for potential customers.
The first flight of the Tigershark was made August 30, 1982. The Mach 2 class F-20 Tigershark’s basic single-seat configuration was formally designated the F-20A. The F-20 combined propulsion, electronics and armament technologies with improvements in reliability to sustain high sortie rates in adverse weather.
The F-20 incorporated a combination of advanced technology features. The F-20 could carry more than 8,300 pounds of external armaments and fuel on five pylons. It could carry six Sidewinder missiles on air-to-air missions. For air-to-ground missions, more than 6,800 pounds of armament could be carried. Two internally mounted 20mm guns were standard equipment on the Tigershark.
The avionics system features a General Electric multimode radar, Honeywell laser inertial navigation system, General Electric head-up display, Bendix digital display and control set and Teledyne Systems mission computer.
The F-20 is powered by a General Electric F404 engine, with 17,000 pounds of thrust. The F404 is recognized as one of the world’s most reliable advanced technology engines. It is also used to power the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps F/A-18A Hornet strike fighter.
Once airborne, the F-20 pilot utilized his multi-mode radar, which could detect and track targets at ranges of up to 48 nautical miles “look up” and 31 nautical miles “look down.” The F-20 mission computer coordinated the aircraft’s weapons systems. The head-up display placed critical weapons, target and flight data at the pilot’s eye level. This allowed him to fight without having to look down. Northrop designed a new panoramic canopy for the F-20 that gave the pilot a 50 percent increase in rearward visibility over previous Northrop fighters. An improved seat and headrest design combined to substantially expand over-the-shoulder visibility, which is critical in air-to-air combat.
Aerodynamic features of the F-20 included an enlarged leading edge extension to the wing, which generated up to 30 percent of the lift maneuvers. The “shark-shaped” nose allowed the F-20 to maneuver at much higher angles of attack than current operational fighters. The F-20 airframe could withstand nine G’s.
According to many pilots, the Tigershark was an excellent plane. It could be ready for combat just one minute after takeoff, and it could climb 53,800 feet per minute. Northrop planned to sell the plane to foreign countries for use in their military. However, as a result of many political changes as well as competition from other aircraft such as the F-16, the market for the plane never developed.
The F-20 was reliable and easy to maintain. Based on comparisons with the average of contemporary international fighters, the F-20 consumed 53 percent less fuel, required 52 percent less maintenance manpower, had 63 percent lower operating and maintenance costs and had four times the reliability.
Maximum Speed Mach 2 class
Sea level rate-of-climb 52,800 feet/minute
Combat ceiling 54,700 feet
Takeoff distance 1,600 feet
Takeoff Distance 4,200 feet
Scramble order to brake release 52 seconds
Scramble order to 29,000 feet 2.5 minutes
Time to 40,000 feet from brake release 2.3 minutes
Acceleration Time 0.3M to 0.9M, at 10,000 feet 28 seconds
Sustained Turn Rate 0.8M at 15,000 feet 11.1 degrees/second
Maximum Load Factor 9g
Length 46 ft 6 in
Height 13 ft 10 in
Wing Span 26 ft 8 in
Internal Fuel 5,050 lbs
External Fuel 6,435 lbs
Takeoff Weight clean 18,005 lbs
Combat Thrust/Weight ratio 1.1
Combat Weight 50% fuel, 2 AIM-9 missiles 15,820 lbs
Maximum Weight 27,500 lbs
Armament Two AIM-9 missiles
Five pylons, more than 8,300 lbs external armaments