Today in AFJ History

August 7, 2013  

1983: A hopeful debut for the F-20A

An F-20 Tigershark fires a Maverick missile. (Air Force)

An F-20 Tigershark fires a Maverick missile. (Air Force)

From the archives: August 1983

The fighters that weren’t there

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Airshows are many things to many people, but to most aircraft buffs, they are fighter planes. The 1983 [Paris] airshow had these in abundance: the F-20A, the Mirage 4000, and the Tornado. At the same time, the show may be remembered most for three “non-events” that either hadn’t yet happened or weren’t there:

  • A fighter sale that hasn’t yet been made.
  • A fighter that hasn’t yet been built [the Saab JAS 39 Gripen]
  • A fighter that hasn’t yet been designed [the Eurofighter]

The Northrop Tigershark was undoubtedly the hit of the show. While the Mirage 4000 and Tornado are impressive, neither is suited to the kind of tight, low-altitude acrobatics the F-20A can fly. It flew up to 7.2 g’s at Le Bourget — higher into its performance enveloped than normal for any plane whose first prototype is being demonstrated before a second one was completed. The F-20A also generated the kind of excitement that comes when a fighter faces its key test: whether it will be purchased in large enough numbers to join the world’s top ranking aircraft. Accordingly, the first “non-event” was the fact that Northrop has still not made a major sale. This may be a “make-or-break” year for the F-20A, and for reasons that have increasingly little to do with the aircraft and increasingly more to the American presidential campaign…