"Cobra leader to cobra flight, bandits at twelve . . ." While the Lockheed T-33 T-Bird's took the Philippine Air Force into the Jet Age, it was the Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighters that took Filipino fighter pilots soaring into the skies at the speed of sound, supersonic. Northrop manufactured 636 of these variants in which 19 A and 3 B models found their way into the alert pads of Basa Air Base in Pampanga province to service the 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 5th Tactical Fighter Wing codenamed "Cobras" arriving on the 25th October 1966.
The Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter was trumpeted as a low cost, no frills warplane for a third world budget. A lightweight, nimble fighter-bomber effective in close supporrt operations. Its twin-engined configurations offered extra insurance of survival against hits from low level ground fire coupled with its supersonic speed reducing its chances of getting hit in the first place. The small size of the aircraft is also an advantage when compared to some of the state-of-the-art aircraft flying today such as the F-14 and F-15's. It's very small frontal cross section makes the aircraft a tough aircraft to get a visual on. That's why it is referred to as the "flying razorblade". In the arena of aerial combat, it is tough and hard to see and this drives the mid-air potential up quite a bit, especially in multi-aircraft scenarios. It is hard to track in a close-in fight. F-5 fighter jocks can always assume enemy pilots sees them when in fact they don't. You always have to assume he does not. The aircraft also perform well in a slow fight. When engaged against bigger fighter jets, it can speed up to an excess of mach one, pull up some impressive 'g's, has an extremely fast 720 degrees per second roll rate and turns well.
The F-5 is not rated as a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) aircraft. It's radar having only a range of forty miles. Also at night, the F-5 do not fly because they specialized in dissimilar ACM and at night, a visual is not possible.
Engineering wise, the F-5 is maintainance-free and cost efficient. When problems crops up it is usually solved quickly. Engine changes for example are fast. The cost per flight hours is phenomenally low. One of the aircraft's most formidable trait is its turn-around time. In a critical situation, these agile and nimble fighter could be in the enemy's face several times a day.
The "Freedom Fighter" is an easy aircraft to pre-flight with it's very few panels to inspect. Pilots walk around the jet for only 20 minutes before take-off for the jets is easty to fire up and get airborne. The ranges are only five to ten minutes away for a usual three to four engagements per sortie. This rapid and speedy maintenance is important in the arena or aerial warfare when pitted against faster fourth generation jets.
Designed as an air to ground support aircraft with limited tactical air to air capabality, the PAF utilized it as an air defense and air superiority fighter using its twin 20mm cannon and up to 4 sidewinder air to air missile carried under the wings. Though not equipped with a fire control radar, weapons are aimed with an optical sight in conjunction with an emerson ranging set installed in the nose. It can fly at 818 mph and could can dive at mach 1.4. It has a maximum range of 1,300 miles. In peacetime the F-5's maintains combat alertness and at times entertains the public with the Blue Diamonds, the PAF's aerial demonstration team. In times of crisis, they have proven their worth in preserving Philippine air space. During the December 1989 coup a flight of F-5's destroyed the rebellious PAF planes in Sangley Air Base and helped boost morale for government troops and turn the tide in favor for the government forces. Today, in service for more than 30 years,the PAF F-5's are in need of replacement possibly the Israeli Kfir's or the American F-16's. But until that materialized, the Philippine skies will be preserved by Northrop's agile "Freedom Fighter".
"When you're out of F-8's, you're out of fighters". That's the ballad of the Crusader. The MiG Master, the last of the Gunfighters. The Philippine Air Force has the reputation as the only Asian nation to fly the F-8 next only to the United States Navy/Marines and the French Aeronavale which operates them from the deck of their aircraft carriers, making the PAF the only air force in the world to fly the "Crusader". No other air force does. It was designed in the 1950's as a fighter-interceptor-air defense fighter for day operations. Its fighting envelope required her to perform only one task - Dogfighting.
The Crusader was what traditionalist fighter jocks insisted it should be, a single -seater with guns, nimble and agile. It was an aircraft that during the Vietnam War, it was all the F-4 Phantom was not. Pilots sang its praises often to the point of over-rating it. F-8 pilots at that time had something that the F-4 Phantom pilots envied - a choice of guns or missiles since all Navy F-4's at that time were not equipped with guns.
In late 1977, 35 ex-US Navy F-8's were taken out of storage from Davis Mothan Air Base to serve the Philippine Air Force in which 25 were refurbished and 10 as replacement aircraft. Vought also trained the PAF air crew as part of the deal. The outstanding feature of the F-8 is the 2 position variable incidence wing providing high angle of attack for take off and landing permitting it to almost remain parallel to the runway giving the pilot good visibility. It is the plane whose wings have no flaps. Cruising at almost mach 2 at the speed of mach 1.7 it is the fastest aircraft in the PAF inventory in its time. Because of its speed and dogfighting design, it is the gun and missile Crusader, the ACM (air combat master) jet unknown to many Filipinos that were scrambled from the alert pads of Basa and Bautista Air Base to intercept Soviet bombers that violated the northwestern air space of the Philippines during the height of the cold war. Designated as the F-8H it was armed with 4 20mm colt cannon with 84 rounds per gun and up to 4 sidewinder air to air missiles mounted externally in the fuselage. It served under the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron codenamed "Bulldogs" of the 5th Fighter Wing based in Basa Air Base which previously operated the F-86F Sabre Jets. However in the later years of the 1980's due to economic reasons and high fuel cost, the F-8's were prematurely retired from service and were finally phased out on Janaury 23, 1988. During its 9 years of colorful service, 5 F-8s and 2 "gunfighter" pilots were lost to major accidents.Thanks to Mr. Richard Pagarigan for the F-8 Photos
Part of the inventory serves with the 7th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 5th Fighter Wing based in Basa Air Base partnering the F-5 equipped 6th Squadron in the air defense of the nation. The 7th also fields the Red Aces aerobatic team. These Basa based aircraft are painted in camouflage to differentiate them from the day-glo painted trainer type which are under the command of the 100th Training Wing.
The S-211 represents the simplest, easiest to maintain basic jet close support aircraft and trainer offering state-of-the-art technology with economy. Yet it represents the only alternative to the similar class, in weight and cost, big turboprop, while offering a true jet cockpit environment, jet flight behavior and performance. These qualities make it possibie, still within a reasonable budget, to maintain the necessary share of flight hours flown on jet aircraft in a training syllabus tailored to "combat-oriented' Air Forces as opposed to 'service-oriented' Air Forces.
The aircraft has five hardpoints: two under each wing and one under the centre fuselage. The hardpoints can carry a range of weapon systems, including bomb and rocket dispenser for MK76, MK 106 or 50/68 mm rockets; bombs and practice bomb containers up to 250kg; bomb and napalm containers up to 350kg; rocket launchers from 50 to 100mm; gun pods for 7.62mm, 20mm and 12.7mm guns; and 74mm cartridge launchers installed under the cockpit. The hardpoints can also carry smoke generators, parachuting containers, photographic and reconnaissance pods, and two auxiliary tanks, each with a capacity of 270 litres of fuel.
The aircraft has a single engine, a small shoulder wing and can cruise at a speed of 713 kph. As a tandem two-seater, it was basically designed as an advance jet trainer.