The F-19 stealth fighter: Would it have worked in the real world?



“Several different F-19 kits are available, I am going to comment on the Testors one, as I believe it was the first, and most successful. 


However, the one from Monogram, shown below, resembles closely a supposed Northrop F-19 concept, which, who knows, may have had some actual reality as a project.


The whole F-19 saga appears to be littered with guesswork and disinformation, but I have chosen to look at the Testors concept, partly because that is a kit I remember seeing when it first appeared.

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Before commenting on the design of the ‘F-19’ and the MiG-37B ferret, I should first say a few words about the F-117. I was in the States when this aircraft first appeared in public, working for the British Embassy in Washington. Through my role, I was at Nellis AFB on April 21, 1990 when the aircraft first appeared in public. One of the reasons I was there was that we had had a pilot flying the aircraft as a RAF exchange posting for a few years prior to its existence being acknowledged.

Here’s a couple of pictures from that day – the full story is in Two Up, a book by myself and my twin brother Ron (recently reprinted in hardback and also available as an e-book). 


I put these F-117 pictures in this article to remind readers just how bizarre and unlikely-looking this aircraft was at first sight. Consequently, it is important to have an open mind when looking at the F-19 and the MiG-37B.

So, the F-117 looks pretty unlikely, but what did the F-19 concept designers get right and wrong?

Well, one thing that was clearly in their minds was that attention needed to be paid to the Infra-red signature as well as the radar signature. Consequently, they seem to have made a couple of good guesses regarding the exhaust system. This resembles the F-117 letterbox style exhaust, and also incorporates (I assume) additional cooling by mixing the exhaust with additional air drawn from the intake louvres on the upper surface of the model. The F-117 achieves the same effect through using cool engine bypass air.

The fins on the F-19 model are canted inwards. The configuration is similar to that used in the initial Have Blue demonstrator aircraft which preceded the F-117. This was either a very good guess, or suggests some awareness of Have Blue.

At the other end of the propulsion system, a shielded NASA flush inlet is used. These inlets normally work by using the shaped inlet sides to create vortices which entrain flow into the inlet. I’m not sure the Testors solution would have worked very well as an inlet, but the triangular shield over the inlet is clearly intended to block a direct line of sight to the engine face.


This advert, probably from 1987, shows another notional stealth fighter. Perhaps Northrop wanted to promote their stealth work on the B-2 without sharing secrets? Artwork by Erik Simonsen, according to whom “I created the Northrop-Loral silhouetted artwork using a model, but I didn’t come up with that design. It was just one of the concepts around at the time. I don’t know who created the other Loral rendering (flying left to right) in your article, but the U.S. insignia star/bar is on the upper right wing, instead of the upper left. That always bothered me – I prefer accuracy. All that detail work and they got that wrong and never corrected it.”

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The F-117 solution may look crude, but is actually an elegant solution to this problem. A grid is placed in front of the intake with a mesh size smaller than the wavelength of the radar systems against which the aircraft is designed. This prevents RF energy from entering the intake and being reflected back towards the illuminating radar.


The F-19 and the F-117 share one design feature in having a largely flat underside. This avoids excrescences and apertures which could reflect radar over a broad range of scattering angles. However, the F-19 designers were clearly not aware of the simple and inelegant solution adopted by Lockheed in the F-117, of using faceting, surface and edge alignment to constrain radar reflections to very narrow spikes to reduce the probability of a track on the aircraft being maintained. As a result, the F-19 under-surface is smooth and uncluttered, but not as flat as that of the F-117. The optical sensor is under the nose, rather than in front of the cockpit as on the F-117, which would perhaps be more difficult to screen.

The F-19, instead of adopting the very highly-swept planform of the F-117, uses a narrow curved-delta design, in some ways reminiscent of a stretched F-4D Skyray, with a break in sweep where the fuselage transitions into the wing, and a curved leading edge and wing tip.

Would this work as a stealth configuration? The disadvantage is that the break in planform would probably cause a local return, and the curved planform would spread returns so that they were likely to be detectable over a broader aspect. Making this sort of shape work would probably require extensive use of tailored electro-magnetic materials to control the nature and aspect of radar returns, but this would not have been available when the model emerged, in 1986, four years before Stealth was unveiled at Nellis AFB.

Would the design work aerodynamically? Well, the F-117 is no paragon of aerodynamic efficiency, and the F-19 wouldn’t be either. Given the planform, I’d expect lift dependent drag to be pretty high, and given the intake design, I’d expect a long take-off run, and great care to be required to stay on the right side of the drag curve on the approach. With questionable intake efficiency, particularly at any significant incidence, and a slender low aspect ratio design, getting into a high sink rate on the approach could be a distinct possibility. But otherwise, noting the need to keep an open mind – why not?

I am puzzled by the curious upward pointing fins on the upper surface behind the cockpit. These appear likely to de-stabilise the aircraft in yaw, which is probably not what it needs.

Overall, inefficient, yes, but arguably little more implausible than the real F-117. Testors missed some of the simple but effective stealth features of the F-117, but did identify some of the other features.” 


  1. Jim Smith

    The F-117 event ‘Stealth Unveiled’ was fascinating and fun. For reasons of their own Tactical Air Force decided they couldn’t invite me as ‘an honoured guest’, but I could go as part of the media. This was cool, as we had about 35 minutes close access to the aircraft before the ‘honoured guests’ were allowed access. We were then taken to the Red Flag de-briefing theatre for a press conference with Tony Tolin, who was the detachment commander out at Tonapah, and had flown one of the two aircraft presented.

    A couple of gems from the press conference:

    “OK, so it’s a pretty strange looking aircraft, and looks as if it might have some strange characteristics. What ere you thinking as you taxy out to fly it for the first time?”

    “Well, you have to realise, it’s at night, pitch black, probably, no moon, because that’s how we operate. You’re sat in a pretty unusual cockpit, and as you turn on to the runway and line up, you’re thinking ‘I hope it flies like the Sim'”

    Sounded pretty authentic to me.

    “So, we’re hearing this rumour that there’s an alien flying the airplane, can you comment?”

    I should explain in this context, and the aircraft’s connection to places like Area 51, that alien is American for foreigner. Had the questioner meant to refer to little green men, he would have asked about a ‘space alien’.

    Tolin “Yes, we’ve had an RAF Pilot on the unit for a couple of years. It’s a standard RAF exchange posting”.

    Gasp, from audience, realising that the RAF had been flying the black jet for at least 18 months when its existence was not even acknowledged to the American public.

    The pilot was Graeme Wardell, who was project pilot on the Eurofighter project, and whom I got to know when I was working as mass and performance advisor to the EFA team.

  2. Jim Smith

    Graeme sadly died in a Hawk 200 crash in Hungary. I also met Chris Topham, who was the next RAF exchange pilot on the F-11. And NASA is the organisation formerly known as NACA.

  3. CJ

    Vaguely recall an article circa 1986 from the industry only publication “Nato’s Sixteen nations” where they examined the alternative concept of using nap-of-the-earth guidance to achieve ‘stealth’ in the European theatre with an air-frame resembling that of the F-19/Testors launching munitions from concealed bays on the upper fuselage. This may be where the design confusion started.

  4. Pingback: The F-117 – Nine Amazing Facts About America's Legendary “Stealth Fighter” -
  5. Mic

    Hey so et this. These big companies sell their products to other governments that are usually but not always US Allies. Many units have been sent to Israel, UK NATO, UN, France, Switzerland, S Africa and others recently. Historically speaking the US armed Iraq and Iran at different periods, before they fought a war against each other. It is likely that Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, India, Nepal, amd Sri Lanka have purchased Stealth Planes not used by the US miitary.

    So the point here is that so.e of these plane do exist, openly. They just do not belong to us and the compqnies have “diplomatic treaties” upholding the secrecy of their products. Obviiusly the Government will only publicise the planes that lost the bid or were already retired. The B2 was publicized in 1989? The F117 was sometime around 1991? They were basicalpy out of service by that point. The only reason we used them in Iraq was they were “expendable”.

    So, many of these planes are likely also in service at foreign bases. It would be quite easy to edit the photos either way to add or remove strange planes. I am less impressed by anything than the Models. Testers was known to be were William Thompkins got some of his most u usual design requests by shady government types.

  6. Richard D. Fox

    The Testors version of the kit released in the US had much better instructions than the one in the Italieri kit released elsewhere (probably because they only had to be in English), including technical notes (a hallmark of Testors kits that made them my go-to for a long time, as they helped educate me more about the prototype). From having had one of the Testors kits in the 80s, I can confirm that the instructions included a technical note stating that the grilles on the upper surface were indeed cold-air intakes for mixing with the exhaust to reduce the IR signature… though they *didn’t* mention how the vertical stabilizers also would shield IR detection of the exhausts from all but a narrow angle behind the aircraft.

    The canards were probably because, at the time, just about every “advanced design concept” out there included canards (look at the F-15 AFTI, for probably the ur-example of oversized grafted-on canards!) and they were sexy; in a prototype, they probably would have been movable control surfaces and might also have been used like some of the aerodynamic surfaces on Formula One cars, to smoothly guide airflow into the intake (though I have my doubts they’d help much with that design and placement).

    As for faceting… even when designing the “F-19” kit, Testors wasn’t *completely* unaware of it; the kit had two canopy options. One was the standard semi-faceted version seen here, for the “combat version” of the aircraft, and one was a “non-stealthy” bubble canopy for a training version (which may have been a two-seater, I can’t recall at the moment) that provided better visibility at the cost of higher RCS. I suspect the inspiration for that may have been the faceted anti-glint canopies for later-model AH-1s and the assumption that radar reflections worked in much the same way as visible light reflections.

    As a side note, apparently, when the Testors kit was released, the hobby shop nearest the Skunk Works sold out in a matter of hours. Even if it wasn’t accurate, it was cool, and those in the know could laugh a bit at the expense of the general public’s perception of their airplane!

  7. Pingback: Little Plastic Pieces: Stealth, Stealthier, Stealthiest – Testors’ 1/48 F-19 “Stealth” Fighter Plastic Model Kit, as Reported in The Wall Street Journal – 1986 – History, at Random

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