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Check out the futuristic YF-23 stealth prototype and more

Curious what the incredible YF-23 looks like up close? How about the prototype YF-17, which would become the F/A-18? These and more at the Western Museum of Flight. Here's a full tour.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Western Museum of Flight

Located at Zamperini Field in Torrance, CA, 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, the Western Museum of Flight is a relatively small museum. Nonetheless its collection is impressive.  

For more info about this tour, check out my full writeup

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YF-23

Though nearly 30 years old, Northrop's YF-23 looks more futuristic than most modern aircraft. More on this crazy plane later.

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Models and more

Though there are a bunch of real planes, this museum also features dozens of models, most design studies and wind-tunnel testers from the pre-computer days.

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Hornet model

Amusingly, this model of the F/A-18 Hornet is bigger than the next aircraft you'll see...

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Bede

The tiny Bede BD-5, restored by the museum and painted colors to match its "Octopussy" sibling. That movie featured the jet-powered BD-5J, whereas this has a pusher prop and an air-cooled, 650cc, two-cylinder engine that produced 55hp.

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Tiny plane, tiny cockpit

As you'd expect, it's a tight squeeze to fit inside the simple cockpit.

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Saber

The F-86 Saber. This one was built in 1952 for the Japanese Air Self Defense Force

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6 gun

There were six .50-caliber machine guns in the nose.

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Open wide

Somewhere deep in there was a GE J47 that generated 5,910 pounds of thrust.

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Climb in

This F-5 was donated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force. 

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Cannons

One of the feed lines for the starboard 20mm cannon.

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Supersonic

The F-5A was capable of Mach 1.4 thanks to its GE J85 which produced 4,080 pounds of thrust.

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Cockpit

Far more serious of a cockpit than the Bede, for far more serious of an aircraft.

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Analog

Just slightly different from the glass cockpits found in modern planes such as the Cirrus VisionJet I flew this summer.

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It's only a model

That one in the middle isn't a model at all, but a Northrop JB-1 Bat, one of Jack Northrop's flying-wing designs. This is the only remaining airframe of the manned version.

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Turbofan

A Pratt & Whitney TF30, the first production turbofan with afterburner. It powered the F-111 and F-14A, among others.

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Slightly older

A few examples of some engines from the pre-jet age. On the left is a Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9-cylinder radial that developed over 1200hp. On the lower right is a 35hp Righter/Kiekhaefer O-45-35 two-cylinder used by the Navy for target drones. The big one in the back is a Pratt&Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major. It's got 28 cylinders and produced about 3,500 hp. This engine was used by a variety of big aircraft, including the B-36, which I saw at the incredible Pima Air and Space Museum.

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Jump Jet

A British Aerospace Sea Harrier "Jump Jet." Notably, the trainer variant.

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T.4

Apparently adding an extra seat up front messed with the weight balance, so they elongated the tail. The result is a rather unique-looking Harrier.

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In-flight

The appendage jutting out above the fuselage is an aerial refueling probe.

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Pegasus

Inside is a single Rolls-Royce Pegasus 11 Mk 103 was was capable of producing a massive 21,000 pounds of thrust.

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Hover mode: engaged

Two nozzles on each side directed thrust anywhere in a 98.5-degree arc.

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Texans

Not affiliated with the museum, there are three T-6 Texans at the Zamperini Field.

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Choppers

Also at the field is Robinson Helicopter, who make lightweight and relatively inexpensive helicopters.

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4-seat

Two Robinson R44s going through some final testing. 

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YF-17 Cobra

One of two YF-17 prototypes built by Northrop. Though the Air Force would choose the F-16 over this plane, the Navy would like the general design and it would become the F/A-18 Hornet.

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17-to-18

Because it was originally designed for the Air Force, many components were changed to evolve the YF-17 into the F/A-18, including the landing gear, folding wings, and more.

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Proto-Hornet

Small and light, the F/A-18 is still in service today, 39 years after it first flew.

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Skyhawk

This A-4 Skyhawk was stationed in California and Japan in the late '50s. Some Skyhawks are still in service around the world.

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Big cat

Ah yes, the iconic F-14. According to Neil, the docent who showed us around, visiting kids from around the world always recognize this aircraft above all the others and say "Tomcat."

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Top Gun

This F-14 is actually from the "Top Gun" school in Miramar.

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YF-23

Back to that futuristic YF-23. Only two were built, as demonstration craft for the Air Force's search for a new stealth fighter. The other is at National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.

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Stealth offset

Note the offset air intakes. There's an S-duct inside so radar couldn't bounce off the engines themselves (which are mounted more inboard than the intakes). 

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Unmade

Though it was well liked, and rumor has it preferred, by its test pilots, the Air Force chose Lockheed Martin's plane that would become the F-22

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Exhaust

The engine exhaust is mounted above the fuselage to help reduce the heat signature.

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Expensive tile

These are the same tiles that were used on the Space Shuttle.

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One last try

There was one last chance for the YF-23, a possible light bomber based on the design from Northrop. That didn't happen either, however.

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F-5A

The small F-5A was mostly exported by Northrop. Many of its design ideas were used to develop the YF-17 and F/A-18. It's also closely related to the T-38 Talon trainer aircraft.

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Pusher prop and canard?

This flew over when we first arrived at the museum, and I saw it parked a while later. Not sure what it is. Velocity XL perhaps? Rutan Long-EZ or VariEze? Any guesses?

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Simulator

This surprised me. It's an analog flight sim from before WWII. There are a few dozen level, and I just recently saw another one at a different small and not-well-known air museum: the Malta Aviation Museum

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Goodyear Blimp!

This is the actual gondola of the last of the GZ-20 Goodyear Blimps. The new models are no longer blimps, but semi-rigid airships.

And so ends my visit to Western Museum of Flight. It may be small, but the planes are fascinating and the people are lovely.

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