In the latest of a series of embarrassments to the Northrop F-20, senior Defense Department officials have told Northrop that it may not fly the jet fighter at a military open house this Saturday after the Air Force had already scheduled a flight demonstration.
Northrop had sent out a large number of letters to members of Congress, foreign embassies and the press, inviting them to see the F-20 fly at the 1985 joint services open house at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
But on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Burch fired off a memo to the Air Force ordering that Northrop not be allowed to fly the F-20 at Andrews.
Complained About Treatment
"It is our position that an aerial demonstration and static display of the F-20 at the Andrews Air Force Base open house would not be appropriate since (the F-20) is not in the Department of Defense inventory," Burch said in the memo.
Northrop has long complained that the Defense Department has damaged the F-20's reputation and sales potential to foreign customers by clumsily treating the F-20 as equipment suitable only for second-class U.S. allies.
A Pentagon spokesman said military regulations do not permit "private aircraft" to be flown at military open houses.
"This is not a trade show," said Lt. Col. Larry McCracken on Wednesday. "This is an armed forces open house. We do not look at it as a slap to Northrop. We feel we shouldn't grant an exception to them."
McCracken said the Pentagon will permit Northrop to display the F-20 on the ground at Andrews. That was decided Wednesday after the Burch memo ruled out even a ground display.
"We are sorry the people won't be able to see the F-20 fly, but we will demonstrate it any way the Department of Defense allows us to," Northrop spokesman Les Daly said.
The snafu occurs just as support is building in Congress to force the Pentagon to buy the F-20. Northrop, which developed the fighter with its own money, originally intended to sell the jet to U.S. allies.