While you might know the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, you might not know its ugly duckling cousin that once almost became the future of the US Air Force – the Boeing F-32.
The JSF or Joint Strike Fighter Program was developed to complement the ATF program, leading to the development of the F-22 Air Dominance Fighter.
A new JSF aircraft was to be developed, and Lockheed came up with the X-35, while Boeing developed the X-32.
Boeing would eventually make cheaper design choices that would ultimately come back to haunt them. First was the delta wing without the folding mechanism. Then, they opted for a thrust vectoring nozzle instead of the lift fan.
The prototype measured 45 ft in length and had a wingspan of 36 ft. It was to be fitted with a 20mm M61A2 cannon or a 27mm Mauser BK-27 cannon, in addition to its capability to store 6 AMRAAMs inside its weapons bay.
A Pratt & Whitney YF-119-PW-614 at the back, capable of producing 28,000 – 43,000 lbf, gave the F-32 a max speed of Mach 1.6 with a range of 600 to 850 nmi.
Ugly Design Feature
There was, however, an ugly design feature of the F-32 that became the most controversial – that wide-open grin. Since it didn’t use a lift fan, the F-32 was designed with a large front intake that had to suck in a lot of air to operate in HOVER mode.
This would keep the compressor blades exposed and became an issue for the aircraft’s stealth performance.
Still, there is an upside to having a large and bulky design – the weapons bay. It can fit up to six AMRAAM missiles or a combination of AMRAAMs and sidewinders.
This made sense as the design would be much cheaper and simpler to maintain than the X-35 while also having a ton of firepower.
The problem, however, lies in the name of the program – Joint Strike Fighter. As the name suggests, both the Navy and the Air Force were looking for new aircraft, so both had parameters and requirements for the plane that they were looking for.
The delta wing, with a rather small wingspan, couldn’t fulfill the needs of the Navy. Although modifications were proposed, there wasn’t enough time to implement them. In the end, the X-35 proved to be the superior aircraft.
While some might say that the F-32 was a perfectly fine fighter, others might disagree, saying it doesn’t look like a serious fighter jet – more of a flying bathtub. What do you think about the F-32?