In 1986, as speculation about Lockheed’s Northrop built what it called the YF-17 technology demonstrator to compete with General Dynamics’ YF-16 in the lightweight fighter program. When the F-16 won, the U.S. Navy hired Northrop to base the Navy’s next fighter on the -17, with the result designated F-18.) Testors assumed that in order to deflect radar waves, the F-19 would be sleek and streamlined and would somewhat resemble Lockheed’s other-worldly SR-71. Testors stuck a pair of standard-issue vertical stabilizers on its 1/48-scale model and packaged it up. Some 700,000 sold almost immediately, making it the best-selling model ever, surpassing even AMT’s Star Trek USS Enterprise.
Would that art imitated life. When the Air Force unveiled the F-117 Nighthawk in 1990, it was not a pretty sight. Lockheed’s stealth fighter was as angular as the house of seven gables.
Aviation sleuths conclude that the F-117 designation came from the numbers—YF-110, YF-113, YF-114—the Air Force gave to captured Soviet aircraft it test-flew in the high-desert base in Nevada nicknamed Groom Lake, which was also the site of the F-117 test flights.
And the Testors F-19 model kit? Last seen on eBay for $8.