The F-5 is a supersonic fighter combining low cost, ease of maintenance, and great versatility. More than 2,000 F-5 aircraft have been procured by the USAF for use by allied nations. The F-5, which resembles the USAF Northrop T-38 trainer, is suitable for various types of ground-support and aerial intercept missions, including those which would have to be conducted from sod fields in combat areas.
The development of the Northrop F-5 began as far back as 1954, when a Northrop team toured Europe and Asia to examine the defense needs of NATO and SEATO countries. The result of the tour was a 1955 company design study for a lightweight supersonic fighter that would be relatively inexpensive, easy to maintain, and capable of operating out of short runways and secondary airstrips as well as from small aircraft carriers. The powerplant was to be the General Electric J85 turbojet, which had originally been intended as a powerplant for the GAM-72 Green Quail decoy drone
The F-5 first flew on July 30, 1959 and deliveries to the Tactical Air Command for instructing foreign pilots began in April 1964. Pilots from Iran and South Korea were the first to be trained in the F-5, followed by pilots from Norway, Greece, Taiwan, Spain, and other Free World nations which have adopted the F-5. A two place combat trainer version, the F-5B, first flew in February 1964. In 1966-67, a USAF sqaudron of F-5s flew combat missions in Southeast Asia for operational evaluation purposes
F-5A Freedom Fighter serial number 65-10560, SVAF 23rd Tactical Wing, Bien Hoa air base, April 1970.
F-5B Freedom Fighter serial number 65-10586, 522nd Fighter Squadron, 23rd Tactical Wing, Bien Hoa air base, 1971.
RF-5A Freedom Fighter serial number 69-7163, squadron unknown (716 RS?), photographed at Bien Hoa air base in Dec 1971
Production of the F-5A was still underway when the USAF announced a competition for an IFA (International Fighter Aircraft) to be the F-5A/B's successor. This time, the emphasis would be on the air-superiority role as opposed to the tactical fighter role. Potential customers would be those nations faced with threats from opponents operating late-generation MiG-21s.
A company demonstrator F-5B (serial number 63-8445) was converted by the General Electric company as a flying test bed for the J85-GE-21 engines. It became known unofficially as the F-5B-21. The F-5B-21 flew for the first time on March 28, 1969, with John Fritz at the controls. During flight testing, the two-position nosewheel developed for the Canadair CF-5 was added, and auxiliary air intake louvered doors were added to the fuselage sides aft of the wings.
On November 20, 1970, the Northrop entry was declared the winner of the IFA competition, and an order was placed for five development and 325 production aircraft. In January of 1971, it was reclassified as F-5E. The aircraft came to be known as *Tiger II*, after the nickname that the F-5A has acquired in Vietnam as a result of the *Skoshi Tiger* program.
The first F-5E (71-1417) took off on its maiden flight on August 11, 1972, Hank Chouteau being at the controls. Later that month, the USAF began evaluation tests at Edwards AFB. On April 4, 1973, the first Tiger II reached the 425th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at Chandler AFB in Arizona. This squadron was assigned the task of training for crews that had acquired the F-5E under the Mutual Assistance Pact (MAP)
Although the USAF never did adopt the F-5E as a front-line combat aircraft, it did adopt the F-5E as a specialized aircraft for dissimilar air combat training (DACT). Since the F-5E had approximately the size and performance characteristics of a MiG-21, it was used to simulate this Warsaw Pact aircraft in realistic air combat training. Some 70 F-5Es were diverted from MAP contracts and turned over to the 64th and 65th Fighter Weapons Squadrons of the 57th TFW at Nellis AFB in Nevada, to the 527th Tactical Fighter Training Agressor Squadron of the 10th TRW in the UK and to the 26th Agressor Squadron, 3rd TFW in the Philippines. They were painted in a variety of colorful camouflage schemes designed to mimic those in use by Warsaw Pact aircraft
DACT F-5E's on the ramp at RAF Alconbury UK, 1979
3 F5E's of the 527th TFTAS in Formation
A "Red Flag" F-5E of the 527th TFTAS on Static Display at the 1976 Ramstein AB Open House and Bicentennial Air Show.
Span: 25 ft. 10 in.
Length: 47 ft. 2 in.
Height: 13 ft. 6 in.
Weight: 20,576 lbs. loaded
Armament: Two 20mm cannons, rockets, missiles and 5,500 lbs. of bombs externally
Engines: Two General Electric J85s of 4,080 lbs. thrust each with afterburner
Serial number: 59-4989
Maximum speed: 925 mph.
Cruising Speed: 575 mph.
Range: 1,100 miles
Service Ceiling: 50,700 ft.