|The familiar Boeing 707|
When it comes down to it, an aircraft's purpose dictates its shape. Passenger airliners are all designed with efficiency in mind. This leads to the almost identical shape of a long tube for carrying passengers in pressurized comfort, swept wings to provide a quick cruising speed, and engines mounted in nacelles for easy maintenance. This general shape originated on the first really successful airliner, the Boeing 707, first flown almost 60 years ago.
|Different sizes, but familiar design. Airbus A380 (top) and Embraer E-170|
While over 50 years of development has brought us new construction techniques, new engine technology, and new materials, modern airliners still resemble the classic 707. They might be of a different size, with fewer engines, but the layout is still pretty much the same, whether it's a massive 583-passenger Airbus A380 or a 50-passenger Embraer E170.
Unlike single-purpose airliners, military aircraft are purposed with varied missions, and cost efficiency is not usually the defining characteristic. This leads to a myriad of different shapes, sizes, and configurations. While a Boeing 737 from an Airbus A320 may be hard to tell apart at a distance, it's quite easy to differentiate an A-10 Thunderbolt II and a SR-71 Blackbird. Also, military aircraft tend to evolve over time as new technology and new tactics drive design.
Sometimes, the end result looks nothing like the original.
|Northrop's N-102 "Fang"|
While the U.S. military had little interest in the YF-5 as a fighter, they were in the market to replace the venerable T-33 Shooting Star trainer. This led to the quick development of the two-seat T-38 Talon.
Both the T-38 and F-5 are still being used to this day.
The F-20 showed amazing potential. No less than the legendary Chuck Yeager praised its performance. The F-20 even offered BVR capability, something the F-16A lacked at the time.
Two events conspired against the Tigershark, however: First, the F-16 would be upgraded to allow full BVR capability with the F-16C. Second, the newly appointed Reagan administration relaxed export restrictions, allowing the more expensive F-16 to be sold. This had the additional benefit of lowering the overall costs of the F-16 for the USAF, as economies of scale turned the F-16 into the ultimate fighter bargain.
The F-5's lineage doesn't end there however.
|Northrop's YF-17 Cobra|
While the YF-17 was unsuccessful in beating out the YF-16 in the LWF competition, its twin-engined design was enough to earn the interest of the USN. With little experience developing naval aircraft, Northrop teamed up with McDonnell Douglas to develop the YF-17 into the multirole F/A-18 Hornet. McDonnell Douglas would be responsible for the F/A-18 naval variant, while Northrop would be responsible for the F-18L, a simpler land based variant that found no buyers. Thus Northrop would be edged out of its own fighter design.
|McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A|
|F/A-18F Super Hornet|
While the similarities are impossible to ignore, the Super Hornet is mostly an entirely new aircraft compared to the legacy Hornet. It shares very few components with its older sibling. It is also much larger, closer in size to a F-15. The Super Hornet is also the platform from which an EW platform, the EA-18G Growler is based.
To complicate matters further, McDonnell Douglas has since merged with Boeing. Northrop still exists, but has little to do with the Super Hornet.
”Is the Growler the same aircraft as the F-5? Absolutely not... But it sort of is. because