| F-5E TIGER II |
| AIRFRAME SPECIFICATIONS: |
| || || || |
| || CREW: || 1 |
| || 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 |
| || WEIGHT: || |
| || || Empty: || 9,558 lbs |
| || || Max.: || 24,675 lbs |
| || FUEL: || |
| || || Internal: || 677 US gal |
| || || External: || Up to 3 tanks |
(275 US gal each)
| || ARMAMENT: || |
| || || 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 |
| || || 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 |
| FLIGHT PERFORMANCE: |
| || SPEED: || |
| || || Cruise: || 650 mph |
| || || Maximum: || 1.63 Mach @ 36,000 ft |
| || RANGE: || |
| || || Combat: || 760 nm |
| || || Ferry: || 2,300 miles |
(w/ ext. tanks)
| || CLIMB RATE: || 34,400 ft/min |
| || CEILING: || 51,800 ft |
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.
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.