The Best Fighter Jet Never Built

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A program was built in the 1970s to develop a unique model that could confront the MiGs without using any technology that could be compromised if it falls into the wrong hands. 

Thus, a light fighter, the Northrop F-20 Tigershark was born, meeting all the requirements. However, while it was one of the best fighters ever designed, it was never built.


In April of 1962, the US Air Force was looking for a new fighter that could serve as an equivalent for the Soviet MiGs as the latter became increasingly common, and a growing threat to the Allies. Thus, the birth of the Northrop F-20 Tigershark.


The Northrop F-20 Tigershark was an evolution of the F5E model series of the F5 Tiger 2 line. The main wing had swept back leading edge and straight trailing edges.

Moreover, the wings were clipped to hold the standard sidewinder missiles and the retractable undercarriage was a conventional configuration of two main legs and a nose leg. 


The F-20 had its maiden flight in late August of 1982, lasting 40 minutes. The prototype climbed 40,000 feet and reached Mach 1.04. The results were promising. 

Unique Characteristic

One notable characteristic of the Tigershark is its ability to fly 124 kilometers per hour at a 35-degree angle of attack. In contrast, the F-16 was only limited to 30 degrees.


In May 1983, the US Navy was looking for its top gun program of dogfight training. They specifically looked for an aircraft that could match the Soviet fighters, and they ultimately went with the F-16. This doomed the line of any further developments of the F-20. 

However, as author Steve Pace pointed out, the Tigershark was arguably “the best fighters that never went into production.”