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Category: News - Features (Archived) Created: 03/07/2006 12:58 AM
URL(s): Press Release - F-5E Arrival& Press Release - F-5E Arrival& 
Updated: 06/30/2007 08:16 PM
F-5E Tiger II Arrives at Memorial Air Park
February 17, 2006
By Mike Whaley
On February 17, 2006, the Forward Air Controller's Museum (FACM), in association with the OV-10 Bronco Association (OBA), was honored to become the caretakers of a Northrop F-5E Tiger II single-seat fighter. The U.S. Navy jet (BuNo 74-1558), the sixth aircraft to join the growing Memorial Air Park project, is on loan from the U.S. Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, FL.

This particular F-5E most recently served the U.S. Navy with VFC-13 as an "Aggressor" adversary aircraft, playing the part of the "bad guys" in order to give the U.S. and allied nation's fighter pilots realistic and tough training in aerial combat scenarios. The USAF also used the F-5E in this role, one which is exceled at by providing a small, fast, very agile, and hard-to-see adversary... especially since it was flown by very experienced pilots using the same tactics that are likely to be used by the potential adversaries that our pilots were likely to face in actual combat. (The F-5E is often used as a stand-in for the MiG-21, since it has similar performance characteristics.) This particular F-5 even carries a two-tone brown and tan desert "Tiger Stripe" camouflage, complete with a big red star on the tail and the number 13 painted on the nose.

In the photos below, you may notice that our wing has Swiss markings. The wing (it's a single piece) which came off of 1158 had only 500 hours on it, so the DoD wanted to keep it for their ongoing F-5/T-38 SLEP program. The U.S. has been buying 80's-era F-5s from Switzerland to replace the late 60s/early 70s aircraft which have reached their life limit. The wings of the Swiss airplanes have little to no service life left, so the U.S. has been installing lower-time parts onto the former Swiss airplanes and putting them back into active service. Unfortunately, we don't currently have any data as to exactly which airplane our wings came from.

The F-5 was one of several U.S. aircraft types that served with the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) against North Vietnamese forces during the long conflict in Southeast Asia. The USAF tested 12 F-5Cs in-theater (two were lost) and the remaining 10 were eventually turned over to the VNAF. In the kind of ironic twist that seems to define the war in Southeast Asia, after the North Vietnamese took Bien Hoa, the North Vietnam Air Force (NVAF) used these same aircraft against China and other targets. Thomas Nguyen from the Dallas-Fort Worth area VNAF Association has been in touch with us and is planning on enlisting other members to help with the restoration.

When the Tiger arrived in Fort Worth, there was freezing rain, heavy winds, and downright frozen working conditions. Despite the miserable weather, after wo and a half hours of work, the Tiger and it's components were all safely off the truck with no damage to the plane or to any members of the crew.

Without the team efforts of everyone that was involved, the further advancement of the Air Park would not be possible. Soon, the wings will be mated back onto the fuselage, and the restoration will begin in earnest.


  • The U.S. Marines of MWSS-473,
    Det Bravo.
  • Bill Allbright
  • Buck Allbright
  • Jim "Boomer" Bloomberg
  • Greg Dawsey
  • Jim "Grump" Hodgson
  • Tom "Wing-Walker" Kemp
  • Darrell "Doc" Lambert

F-5E TIGER II 74-1558 LINKS:

  • Bill "Spider" Spidle's F-5E Page at Prime Portal
    Spider is best known to many for his great work with the QF-4S Scooby restoration. Several great collections of very detailed photos chronicling the progress. Great info for scale modelers.

  • F-5 Walkaround from the Aircraft Resource Center
    Shots of 74-1558 in Aggressor colors, taken at the Abbotsford Airshow in August 2001


(Click on a thumbnail below to see a larger version of it)



F-5 3-View
WINGSPAN: 26 ft 8 in
(w/out wingtip rails)
LENGTH: 48 ft 2 in
HEIGHT: 13 ft 4.5 in
WING AREA: 186 sq ft
Empty: 9,558 lbs
Max.: 24,675 lbs
Internal: 677 US gal
External: Up to 3 tanks
(275 US gal each)
Cannons: 2 x M-39A2 cannon
(20mm, 280 rounds each)
External Stores: Up to 7,000 lb total
Bombs: M129 Leaflet
500 lb Mk.82
2,000 lb Mk.84
CBU-24/49/52/58 cluster munitions
Air-Air: AIM-7 Sparrow
AIM-9 Sidewinder
Air-Ground: AGM-65 Maverick
POWER: 2 x GE J85-GE-21B turbojet engines
(3,500 lbs thrust each, or
5,000 lbs w/ afterburner)
COST: USD $756,000 each

Cruise: 650 mph
Maximum: 1.63 Mach @ 36,000 ft
(1,050 mph)
Combat: 760 nm
Ferry: 2,300 miles
(w/ ext. tanks)
CLIMB RATE: 34,400 ft/min
CEILING: 51,800 ft
Early History

The genesis of the F-5 was Northrop's N-156 Lightweight Fighter Project. The U.S. Army had interest for it in a ground-attack role, but the USAF refused both to use the type, or to to allow the Army to have it. However, the plane was deemed suitable for the Kennedy Administration's Military Assistance Program. MAP was to be used to get a low-cost, capable fighter into the hands of friendly but less-developed countries. The N-156F was the best aircraft out of all the candidates, and it was designated the F-5A Freedom Fighter.

Into Service

The F-5A prototype first flew on July 31, 1963. 636 F-5As and 200 F-5Bs were built between the award of the first contract in 1962 and the end of production in 1972 (the B model was the two-seat trainer version, similar in most respects except lacking the cannons in the nose) and before production ended in 1989, over 2,600 F-5 series aircraft were built. This number includes aircraft built under license in Canada, the Republic of China (Taiwan), South Korea, Spain and Switzerland. Northrop-Grumman claims that every airframe was delivered on schedule, at or below contract price, and with performance promised. About 2/3 of the original F-5s remain in service today with 26 countries including the U.S. Both the U.S. Navy and USAF use the F-5 in adversary squadrons to simulate enemy aircraft during training exercises. About 2/3 of the current F-5 operators now use the F-5 as an advanced trainer rather than as a front-line combat plane because they also field more advanced fighters such as the F-15, F-16, F/A-18, or Mirage.

The F-5 Replaces Itself: The F-5E Is Born

In 1970, the International Fighter Aircraft (IFA) competition to replace the F-5A was won by Northrop with an improved version, designated the F-5E Tiger II. The E model is an enlarged and improved version of the original F-5A Freedom Fighter, and is easily the most numerous variant of the entire F-5 series, with 1,144 examples built. Intended to be a highly maneuverable, lightweight, and relatively low-cost air superiority fighter, the F-5E was the first F-5 to incorporate an air-to-air fire control radar system as well as a lead computing gunsight. Some non-US E's were equipped for photo reconnaissance, with the nose cannons and radar unit being replaced by camera equipment -- this variant is known as the RF-5E Tiger Eye. The F-5E model also has more powerful J-85 engines, thus the fuselage was lengthened and widened over that of the F-5A/B to accomodate the new powerplants. A distinctive feature of the F-5E are the leading-edge extensions on the wing root, which help improve performance and maneuverability.

Still (Very) Active After All These Years

The F-5 series of aircraft cost much less and are easier to maintain than many larger and more advanced fighter aircraft, and have served with many countries. Operators of various versions of the F-5 series include Austria, Bahrain, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ethiopia, Greece, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, South Vietnam, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the United States (Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps), Venezuela, and Yemen. 26 countries still use the F-5, including the USAF and USN.

F-5 vs. T-38

Though the F-5 series of aircraft are closely related to the very similar-looking T-38 Talon trainer, they are in fact two distinct aircraft which share the common lineage of the N-156 project. While early on the US military saw a limited need for the F-5, fortunately for Northrop they had a great deal of interest in a supersonic advanced trainer to replace the T-33 Shooting Star. This led to the development of the T-38 Talon, which first flew in 1959. By the end of production in 1972, 1,187 T-38s had been built, and the Talon remains the "gold standard" for advanced supersonic trainers. The USAF Thunderbirds flew T-38s from 1974 to 1983. In a nod to the original F-5 concept, a combat training development of the Talon, the AT-38, can carry guns, bombs and rockets. All USAF T-38s are now being converted to the T-38C standard with advanced avionics which better prepare students for the current combat aircraft fleet than the older "steam gauges". The T-38 will serve the U.S. military for at least 15 more years, and most likely much longer than that as they are both very capable and economical to operate.

F-5 Advanced Developments...

F-20 Tigershark: The continued development of the F-5 series lead to a highly modified F-5E, initially called the F-5G. This aircraft was soon renamed the F-20A Tigershark. Though this advanced single-engine fighter intended for export was an excellent aircraft, even besting the F-16 in many important areas, Northrop wasn't able to secure enough orders and without an order from the USAF, overseas customers were reluctant to buy it. The F-20 program was dropped in 1986, with only three prototypes having been built.

F/A-18 Hornet: Arguably, the truly ULTIMATE F-5 development might be considered to be the F/A-18 Hornet. The Hornet was based upon the Northrop YF-17 Cobra, which was itself based, in some part, upon the F-5.

X-29A Research Aircraft: The two X-29A research aircraft, designed to test forward-swept wings, thrust vectoring, and other advanced technologies, were built by Grumman and started life as F-5A airframes. This design beat out a proposal involving an F-16. First flight was in 1984 and the test program continued for over 10 years.

...and Perhaps, A Not-So-Advanced Development?

IAMI Azarakhsh and IAMI Saeqeh fighters: Iran reverse-engineered the F-5 (along with F-14s and F-4s, all of which were transferred from the US during the 1970s when the pro-American Shah was in power) into two indigenous aircraft, the Azarakhsh and Saeqeh fighters. The Azarakhsh (Persian for "Lightning") is believed to be essentially a reverse-engineered (but 10-15% larger) F-5F powered by two Tumansky RD-33 turbofans (these engines are also used on the MiG-29) The aircraft looks very much like an F-5, but larger, with twin tails, proportionally larger jet intakes, and two tandem seats. The YF-17 Cobra is said to have started as a joint venture between Northrop Grumman and Iran, which may have played some role in the development of the similar Azarakhsh. The Azarakhsh probably also uses the MiG-29's N-019M Topaz radar system. Performance is speculative, but as Iran had no prior known aircraft building experience and so much of fighter effectiveness is due to good training, this aircraft is most likely not a major problem for advanced modern front-line fighters.

If you have any additions or corrections to this item, please let us know!

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