Why were there no F-13 or F-17 fighter jets?
Why did it happen to the US Air Force’s F-13 or F-17 fighters? The designation of military equipment can sometimes be particularly confusing. Example: the M1. If we talk about armored vehicles, then, of course, there is the M1 Abrams main battle tank (MBT), but there was also the M1 armored car and the M1 combat car. It’s more confusing because there was also the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, M1 Thompson submachine gun, M1 “bazooka” rocket launcher, M1 flamethrower, M1 bayonet, and M1 steel helmet.
In the latter case, it should be added that the M1 helmet has in fact replaced the M1917A1 helmet; just as the M1 Abrams replaced the M60 MBT. Therefore, the M1 is not often the first item of the respective military hardware.
Throughout World War II, fighter aircraft designations were even more confusing, as the United States Air Force and United States Navy were generally not the same.
The US military had attempted to simplify the aircraft name set during the Cold War, with the introduction of the Tri-Service aircraft designation system in 1962. Initiated by the US Department of Defense, aimed to create a unified system that replaced the separate nomenclature systems. Almost all aircraft would receive a unified designation, whether operated by the United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN), United States Marine Corps (USMC), United States Army, or United States Coast Guard (USCG). Experimental aircraft operated by manufacturers or by NASA are also often assigned tri-service system X-series designations.
This included A for attack aircraft, B for bombers, C for freighter, E for special electronic installation, F for fighter, K for tanker, L for laser equipped, O for observation, P for maritime patrol, R for reconnaissance, S for anti-submarine warfare, T for trainer, U for utility, and X for the aforementioned special research.
This system was not perfect, however, and led to some confusion with multirole aircraft such as the F-35. However, generally speaking, an attack aircraft (A) is designed primarily for air-to-ground missions, while F would be for fighters, as well as aircraft that can be used in attack missions. Additionally, F has always been used as a designation for attack aircraft only, including the F-111 Aardvark and F-117 Nighthawk.
Discover the “Teen Series”
The introduction of the Tri-Service aircraft designation system essentially reset the F-# sequence. This actually coincided with the development of the American “Teen Series” of fighters that were built for the US Air Force and United States Navy during the Cold War.
These included the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet – and the variants that were to follow. However, unsuccessful experimental and prototype fighters are generally not considered part of the series.
Additionally, the designations of the F-13 and F-19 were never assigned. It has been argued that the F-13 was not used due to the problem of “triskaidekaphobia”, or fear of the number 13; while the F-19 remains one of the speculations that there may have been an experimental aircraft that was never publicly disclosed.
It should also be noted that when developing the YF-20 Tigershark, Northrop was offered the F-19 designation, but pushed for an even number because so many Soviet aircraft at the time had odd numbers!
So why not F-17?
Although there was never an F-17, there was the YF-17 Cobra, a prototype light fighter aircraft designed by Northrop aviation for the Light Fighter Technology Evaluation Program ( LWF) of the US Air Force in the late 1960s.
This program was started because many in the fighter community believed aircraft like the F-15 Eagle were too big and too expensive for many combat roles. The YF-17 was therefore the culmination of a long line of Northrop designs, beginning with the N-102 Fang in 1956, and continuing through the F-5 family. However, the YF-17 lost the competition to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, but was selected for the new Naval Fighter Attack Experimental (VFAX) program.
Northrop teamed up with McDonnell Douglas, and the enlarged aircraft became the F/A-18 Hornet, which was adopted by the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps to replace the A-7 Corsair II and F-4 Phantom II and to complement the more expensive F-14 Tomcat.
Today, two of the FY-17 prototypes are preserved in museums, including one at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, California; and the other at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama.
An editor since 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites with more than 3,000 articles published during a twenty-year career in journalism. He writes regularly on military hardware, the history of firearms, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a contributing writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.