McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger
Well aware of the startling technological advances of the Air Force’s Lockheed F-117 and Northrop B-2 programs, the Navy was desperate to acquire a low observable, all-weather, deep-strike aircraft. The A-6E Intruder was nearing retirement and the A-12 would secure a needed technological edge.
McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics won the contract to develop the A-12 on Dec. 23, 1987. Dubbed Avenger, the highly classified aircraft was touted as being superior to the F-117, for it combined stealth with a standoff capability. The A-12 was also being considered by the RAF under the HALO (High Agility Low Observability) program for its Future Offensive Aircraft (FOA). In addition, the fleet air wings were planning for variants to perform electronic surveillance and antisubmarine warfare missions.
A full-scale mockup was built, but the program began to encounter problems with the tooling and manufacturing techniques utilizing composite materials. The first flight article was about 30 percent overweight and the program slipped 8 to 12 months behind schedule. In April of 1990, after a series of briefings, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney seemed impressed with the A-12. This changed rapidly as he received conflicting reports on the progress of the program and especially on program costs. In a highly unusual move, Cheney announced the contract cancellations for the A-12 on Jan. 7, 1991. There was an immediate uproar in the industry, and much litigation ensued. Now, over 20 years later, the potential for the A-12 is sorely missed, for the Navy will not have a stealthy aircraft until the arrival of the Lockheed Martin F-35C.
Lockheed Martin F-117N Seahawk
Following the A-12 debacle, there was another opportunity in which the Navy could have recovered from its technological tailspin. In 1993, Lockheed Martin proposed a carrier-based version of its immensely successful Air Force F-117A Nighthawk. The F-117N Seahawk was to be a carrier-based, low-observable, all-weather, strike aircraft Even though the F-117N was basically a new aircraft, Lockheed Martin considered the program to be low-risk because 50 percent of the existing tooling would be utilized.
F-117N was proposed as a complement to the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The F414 powered F-117N would double the 5,000 pound internal payload of the original F-117A, plus carry an additional 8,000 pounds of external payload. In addition, the combat radius was increased from 570 to 680 nautical miles. The wings would have a reduced sweep of 42 degrees from the 67 degrees of the F-117A. Other features included folding wings for carrier operations and a new canopy design based on F-22 technology.
The F-117N Seahawk was to be a carrier-based, low-observable, all-weather, strike aircraft Even though the F-117N was basically a new aircraft, Lockheed Martin considered the program to be low-risk because 50 percent of the existing tooling would be utilized.
Although the proposal was highly regarded in many sectors, Navy budgetary constraints precluded acquisition of the F-117N. This is, perhaps, the saddest “might have been” of all.
This article was first published in Aviation 100: Celebrating a Century of Manned, Powered Flight – Volume 2. Author Erik Simonsen recently published Project Terminated: Famous Military Aircraft Cancellations of the Cold War and What Might Have Been.