In 1965 the Acadian Marine Royale was still using the American built F2H-3 Banshee fighter as its primary fleet defense fighter from its aging light carriers. The Banshee was a credible fighter, and still adequate for Acadian service in the low-intensity operations the Marine Royal was involved in, but not for the high intensity fleet defense it was expected to provide. The Marine Royale sought to rectify this, and in 1966 gained approval to place a piggy-back order for a number of A-4G aircraft alongside the Royal Australian Navy. These aircraft were virtually identical to the Australian aircraft save for the translated cockpit labels. By 1974 all Banshees in Acadian service had been retired, and the Skyhawk was the only fast jet flying from Acadian carrier decks.
The Skyhawk, however, was only a stop-gap solution. The Acadian government had long sought to increase the local aerospace industry's capability, and set out a call in 1968 for proposals for an indigenous fighter to operate from the Marine Royale's carriers. A number of proposals were put forward, with approval being given to the Surrette Aerospace Corporation to begin low rate production. The SAC design was a locally produced version of the Aero L-39 Albatross gained through a partnership the company had with Aero Vodochody. The aircraft was little more then a lightly armed variant of the L-39 with folding wings. It was unsatisfactory as a fighter, but was ordered into production in 1974 to augment the Skyhawks, which were ordered in too few number to adequately provide the Marine Royal with enough aircraft. The SAC produced L-39 had a notable advantage over the Skyhawk, however, as its lower weight and stall speeds allowed it to operate from the number of Second World War escort carriers still in service for anti-submarine work. This allowed the Marine Royale to retire its last piston fighters, locally produced Hawker Sea Furies, which were almost as old as the carriers themselves, and keep a small organic fighter compliment on its ASW carriers. Although this process was slow, as the carriers had to be modified to operate the L-39, the last Sea Fury was retired from active service in May of 1985, forty years after the type was introduced into service.
In 1978 the Marine Royale made two changes that would start the development of a high performance naval fighter. First, the aircraft classification scheme was revised. The new scheme transferred the older "take what it is" system and provided a uniform grouping of all active systems. This took what had been a motley group of foreign aircraft and provided some sense of nationality to them as being "Acadian", despite not being from Acadia. Under this system the Sea Fury, still in service, was re designated from FB.11 to F/A-1, the Banshee from F2H-3 to F/A-2, the L-39 to F/A-3, and the Skyhawk to F/A-4. The second was a request for proposals for a concept for the future of Acadian naval aviation, issued at the end of 1978. Both foreign and local offers were accepted, and a competition for these paper designs was conducted. All in all, fifteen designs were submitted, mostly from aerospace companies, but a few were paper designs provided by the Aerospace Engineer faculties of Acadian Universities. These were designated F/A-5 through 19 as they were accepted to consideration. The designs were put through intense scrutiny by the Marine Royale, with the list of potential candidates slowly withered down. By the end of the 1982 Falkland Island war, the Marine Royale had whittled the pool down to five proposals. The first, from Hawker Sea Harrier, designated F/A-15, had originally been dropped as not adequate in 1979. It was quickly re-added to the list after the Marine Royale witnessed the versatility the design had given the Royal Navy in the Falkland Islands. A Highly evolved variant of the L-39, provided by a joint Aero-SAC venture was also kept as the F/A-9, slightly enlarged with a more powerful engine, better avionics, and more capability. The F/A-5, the first design submitted, was a navalized version of Northrop's F-5E light fighter, provided by Comeau Aerospace Ltd., who had just signed a contract in 1976 to produce these aircraft for the Acadian land forces. The last two proposals, F/A-11 and F/A-17 were proposals from the Acadian Universite du Nord's Aerospace Engineer program and from the American Massachusetts Institute of Technology respectively. The Marine Royale was unable to reduce the list further as it had begun to conduct its own internal review of future aircraft carrier procurement.
By the end of 1979, the Marine Royale had seventeen aircraft carriers listed as in service, with half of them able to put to sea at any given time. Largely due to reduced manpower and the high crewing needs of these ships, the Marine Royale started to consider their replacements. Seven British Majestic class ships, five of them locally built in the 1950s, three American Independence class ships, and seven American Casablanca class escort carriers were the prime Marine Royale carrier force from the end of the 1950s into the 1980s. Many of these were at the end of their lives, and needed to be replaced regardless. The Marine Royale, unwilling to cut the number of ships needed down from the existing seventeen, was forced to reconsider. In 1984 the Marine Royale awarded two contracts to the Halifax and Meteghan shipyards for production of two new classes of carriers to replace the existing ships. The first, awarded to Halifax Shipyards was for a light fleet carrier intended to provide fleet air defense and light attack, it would replace the Majestic and Independece classes in service. The second, intended to provide fleet anti-submarine, escort seat control, and patrol capabilities, would replace the Casablanca class and was awarded to the Meteghan Shipyards.
In line with the production of these new ships, the larger of which would become the Beausejour Class CVL, the reviewed its existing aircraft choices. F/A-5 and F/A-9 were chosen as the remaining candidates in 1986 and a Future Capabilites Review was conducted. In 1986 Comeau Aerospace pulled its F/A-5 proposal out of the running, and replaced it with a proposal to buy Northrop's F-20 and modify it along the same lines. It was accepted and awarded the designation F/A-20 in 1987, with the first production aircraft being delivered at the end of 1990 to replace the aging F/A-4 Skyhawks.
The F/A-20 is based on the Northrop F-20A fighter design. The initial variant, the F/A-20A was almost identical to the F-20A except for a reinforced airframe, provisions for bridle launch from a carrier, a strengthened arrestor hook, and Comeau Aviation's folding wing developed for their F-5E proposal. It was a vast improvement as a fighter of the Skyhawk, but did not provide the large area fleet defense the Marine Royale wanted. The F/A-20B was the two-seat version used for training and strike missions. The A and B versions were considered by Comeau Aerospace to be interm products.
The second series, introduced in 1994, was the F/A-20C and D models. They replaced the A and B models respectively. The C/D model had a new airframe, largely redesigned for the reinforced needs of carrier use, and featured a newer, nose design which was blunted slightly and dropped for improved visibility. The new nose also included space for a new radar. The aircraft's guns were repositioned, with the two 25mm cannon located now underside the engine air inlets. Although it began to replace the A/B first series by the end of 1994, the C/D series was still considered an interm aircraft.
The third and final series is the F/A-20E and F variants. These aircraft build upon the new airframe and nose design of the C/D series, but include a slightly stretched fuselage, larger wing and elevator, all-moving canards and a new phased array radar. The first F/A-20E was accepted for fleet service in 2001, and has since replaced all previous versions. The F/A-20F being the dual-seat version.
The F/A-20E shares the shape of the F-20 family of aircraft, but is slightly larger in length and wingspan, with a different nose. The larger fuselage allowed an increase in internal fuel, and therefore range. Additionally, new engine air inlets were designed to allow more air to a new F414 derived engine, providing even more power to the already high power to weight ratio fighter. The new inlets incorporated shoulder mounted all moving canards for increased maneuverability. The new wing provides full length leading edge slats, with a wing fold to provided an overall width of 4.5m when stowed. The new wing is power folded, and has two underwing hard points per wing, and a tip hard point. The avionics were redesigned and the entire aircraft was rebuilt from an internal electronics viewpoint, with advanced digital systems and open architecture avionics. The new phased array radar provides increased performance with the ability to track most naval fighters in current use at two hundred kilometers claimed by the manufacturer. A retracting inflight refueling probe is provided in the nose of the aircraft, off-set to the right side. Both aircraft are capable of acting as buddy tankers for in-flight refueling with a drogue-line pod and additional fuel tanks.
The F/A-20E is provided with two hard points under each wing, on the outer wing half beyond the fold point, as well as a wingtip hard point on each wing for air to air stores. The top hard points and inboard wing hard points are plumbed for wet stowage and can carry drop tanks. A single centerline hard point is provided as well, with capacity up to two tonnes, and is also plumbed for wet stowage. Two recesses are provided for the R-91 Advanced Air Combat Missile (MBDA Mica) just aft of the landing gear in the fuselage. Additionally, the 25mm autocannon are retained, with two guns and 110 rounds per gun provided.
The F/A-20F is a two-seat version with an aft cockpit which has a duplicate of all controls forward. The F variant reduces gun ammunition to 55 rounds per gun and reduces internal fuel to provide for the second seat, but is otherwise identical in capability to the E design.
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Aircraft and space ships.
F/A-20 Tigershark Family
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Proudly Canadian“I believe that the sound of racking the pump of a shotgun is universally recognized as ‘kiss your ass goodbye’."
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