That date marks one of the most creative periods of conceptual design for any fighter aircraft

Wednesday, October 5th, 2022

When the F-22 design team struggled to meet its weight and unit-cost goals, it decided to step back and open up the design to more fundamental changes:

“After a bloody debate, we agreed to trash the current design and start over,” says Mullin. “Over that weekend, we brought in a new director of design engineering, Dick Cantrell, flew in people, and started a ninety-day fire drill. Work started on Monday 13 July. That date marks one of the most creative periods of conceptual design for any fighter aircraft. We looked at different inlets, different wings, and different tail combinations. One configuration had two big butterfly tails and looked somewhat like the F-117, though people did not know that since the F-117 was still highly classified. The configuration search was wide open, but the biggest single change that resulted from it was to go with diamond-shaped wings.”

The concentrated configuration search began with a slew of possible designs. The search complicates the numbering scheme considerably, as diamond wings, twin tails (two tails instead of four), various inlet shapes, and various forebody shapes were all considered and reconsidered simultaneously in the summer of 1987.


“The fundamental reason for going to a diamond wing was that it provided the lightest configuration and gave us the best structural efficiency and all the control power we needed for maneuvering,” Mullin explains. “The biggest consideration was its light weight. Weight drove the decision.”

“A diamond wing has more square feet of surface area, but is more structurally efficient,” adds Renshaw. “The longer root chord provides a more distributed load path through the fuselage. Multiple bulkheads carry the bending loads. The design provides more opportunity to space the bulkheads around the internal equipment. It also provides more fuel volume.”

“The structural engineers wanted a diamond wing because it provides a larger root chord, which carries bending moments better,” Hardy notes. “The aerodynamicists wanted a trapezoidal wing because it provides more aspect ratio, which is good for aerodynamics. Dick Heppe, the president of Lockheed California Company, made the final decision, and he was right. The aerodynamics were not all that different, but the structure and weights were significantly better. So we went to a diamond shape. The big root chord, though, moved the tails back. Eventually we even had to notch the wing for the front of the tails. If the tails moved farther back, they would fall off the airplane.”

Once the wings were set with Configuration 614, subsequent configurations dealt with the tail arrangement. “We spent a lot of wind tunnel time looking at the tails,” recalls Lou Bangert, the chief engineer for engine integration from Lockheed. “From late 1987 to early 1988, we were engaged in what we called ‘the great tail chase.’ We knew we would have four tails, but where they would go was a big deal. A small change in location often made a huge difference. We had to look at performance effects, stealth effects, stability and control, and drag at the same time. The tail arrangement and aft end design were important design considerations for all of these effects.”

Wind tunnel results showed an ultra-sensitive relationship between the placement of the vertical tails and the design of the forward fuselage. The interactions could not be predicted accurately by analysis or by computational fluid dynamics. The airflow over the forebody at certain angles of attack affects the control power exerted by the twin rudders on the vertical tails. Getting the airflow right was critical.

The cant and sweep angles of the vertical tails could not be altered too much because such changes increased radar signature. In finding a suitable arrangement, the control system designers were constrained by the radar signature requirements to moving the tail locations laterally or longitudinally and to shrinking or enlarging them while holding the shape essentially constant. By the end of the dem/val phase, the team had accumulated around 20,000 hours in the wind tunnel. A lot of this time was devoted to tail placement studies.

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