|Northrup F-5E Tiger II (Single Seater)
Northrup F-5F (Two Seater)
ABOUT The Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter and
the F-5E/F Tiger II are part of a family of widely-used
light supersonic fighter aircraft, designed and built by
Northrop. Hundreds remain in service in air forces
around the world in the early 21st century, and the type
has also been the basis for a number of other aircraft.
The F-5 started life as a privately-funded light fighter
program by Northrop in the 1950s. The first-generation
F-5A Freedom Fighter entered service in the 1960s.
During the Cold War, over 800 were produced through
1972 for U.S. Allies and Switzerland. The USAF had no
need for a light fighter but specified a requirement for a
supersonic trainer, procuring about 1,200 of a derivative
airframe for this purpose, the Northrop T-38 Talon.
The improved second-generation F-5E Tiger II was
also primarily used by American Cold War allies and, in
limited quantities, served in U.S. Military aviation as a
training and aggressor aircraft; Tiger II production
amounted to 1,400 of all versions, with production
ending in 1987. Many F-5s continuing in service into the
1990s and 2000s have undergone a wide variety of
upgrade programs to keep pace with the changing
The F-5 was also developed into a dedicated
reconnaissance version, the RF-5 Tigereye. The F-5
also served as a starting point for a series of design
studies which resulted in the twin-tailed Northrop YF-17
and the F/A-18 series of carrier-based fighters. The
Northrop F-20 Tigershark was an advanced version of
the F-5E that did not find a market. The F-5N/F
variants remain in service with the United States Navy
and United States Marine Corps as an adversary trainer.
The Museum's F-5E and F-5F Tiger II
Official roll-out of first USAF F-5E Tiger-II
ORIGINS In 1970, Northrop won a competition for an
improved International Fighter Aircraft (IFA) to
replace the F-5A, with better air-to-air performance
against aircraft like the Soviet MiG 21. The resultant
aircraft, initially known as F-5A-21, subsequently
became the F-5E. It had more powerful (5,000 lbf)
General Electric J85-21 engines, and had a lengthened
and enlarged fuselage, accommodating more fuel. Its
wings were fitted with enlarged leading edge extensions,
giving an increased wing area and improved
maneuverability. The aircraft's avionics were more
sophisticated, crucially including a radar(initially the
Emerson Electric AN/APQ-153) (the F-5A and B had
no radar). It retained the gun armament of two M39
cannon, (one on either side of the nose) of the F-5A.
Various specific avionics fits could be accommodated at
customer request, including an inertial navigation
system, TACAN and ECM equipment.
The first F-5E flew on 11 August 1972. A two-seat
combat-capable trainer, the F-5F, was offered, first
flying on 25 September 1974, with a new, longer nose,
which, unlike the F-5B that did not mount a gun,
allowed it to retain a single M39 cannon, albeit with a
reduced ammunition capacity. The two-seater was
equipped with the Emerson AN/APQ-157 radar, which
is a derivative of the AN/APQ-153 radar, with dual
control and display systems to accommodate the
two-men crew, and the radar has the same range of
AN/APQ-153, around 10 nmi.
A reconnaissance version, the RF-5E Tigereye, with a
sensor package in the nose displacing the radar and one
cannon, was also offered.
The F-5E eventually received the official name Tiger II.
Northrop built 792 F-5Es, 140 F-5Fs and 12 RF-5Es.
More were built under license overseas: 91 F-5Es and
-F-5s in Switzerland, 68 by Korean Air in South Korea,
and 308 in Taiwan.
The F-5 proved to be a successful combat aircraft for
U.S. Allies, but had little combat service with the U.S.
Air Force. The F-5E evolved into the single-engine
F-5G, which was re-branded the F-20 Tigershark. It
lost out on export sales to the F-16 in the 1980s.
National origin United States
First flight F-5A: 30 July 1959
F-5E: 11 August 1972
Status In service
Primary users United States Navy, Republic of China Air Force
Republic of Korea Air Force
Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force
Number built A/B/C: 847 and E/F: 1,399
Unit cost F-5E: US$2.1 million
Developed from T-38 Talon
Variants Canadair CF-5, Shaped Sonic Boom
Demonstration Developed into Northrop F-20
OUR TAIWAN CONNECTION Republic of China (Taiwan)
The Republic of China Air Force received its first batch of seven F-5As and two F-5Bs under the U.S.
Military Assistance Program in 1965. By 1971, the ROCAF was operating 72 F-5As and 11 F-5Bs.
During 1972, the U.S. decided to borrow 48 F-5As from Taiwan to boost the South Vietnam Air Force
strength before withdrawing U.S. Forces from South Vietnam. By 1973 most of those loaned F-5As in
South Vietnam were not in flying shape consequently, the U.S. decided to return 20 F-5As to Taiwan by
drawing nine F-5As from U.S. reserves while repairing a further 11 from those still in flying shape in
South Vietnam. These were sent to Taiwan to make necessary repairs, with gave 28 F-5Es issued to
Taiwan by May 1975 in return.
By 1973, Taiwan's AIDC started local production of a first batch of 100 F-5Es in Taiwan, the first of six
Peace Tiger production batches. By end of 1986 when the production line closed after completing Peace
Tiger 6, the AIDC had produced 242 F-5Es and 66 F-5Fs. Adding the 28 original U.S.-made F-5E/Fs,
this made Taiwan the largest F-5E/F operator at one time, with 336 F-5E/Fs in inventory. A bit of F-20
influence can be seen in the last batch of F-5E/Fs by AIDC in Taiwan that featured the F-20's shark nose.
With the introduction of 150 F-16s, 60 Mirage 2000-5s and 130 F-CK-1s in mid-to-late-1990s, the F-
5E/F series became second line fighters in ROCAF service and mostly are now withdrawn from service
as squadrons converted to new fighters entering ROCAF service. Seven low airframe hours F-5Es were
sent to ST Aerospace to convert them to RF-5E standard to fulfill a reconnaissance role previously
undertaken by the retiring RF-104G in ROCAF service. As of 2009, only about 40 ROCAF F-5E/Fs still
remain in service in training roles with about 90-100 F-5E/Fs held in reserve. The other retired F-5E/F
are either scrapped, or used as decoys painted in colors representing the main front line F-16, Mirage
2000-5 or F-CK-1 fighters, and deployed around major air bases.
Taiwan tried to upgrade the F-5E/F fleet with AIDC's Tiger 2000/2001 program. The first flight took
place on 24 July 2002. The program would replace the F-5E/F's radar with F-CK-1's GD-53 radar and
allow the fighter to carry a single TC-2 BVRAAM on the centerline. But lack of interest from the Taiwan/
ROC Air Force eventually killed the program. The only prototype is on display in AIDC in Central
The only air combat actions ROCAF F-5E/F pilots saw, were not over Taiwan, but in North Yemen. In
1979, a flare up between North and South Yemen prompted the U.S. to sell 14 F-5E/Fs to North Yemen
to boost its air defense. Since no one in North Yemen knew how to fly the F-5E/F (only MiG-15s were
operational at the time), U.S. and Saudi Arabia arranged to have 80+ ROCAF F-5E pilots plus ground
crew and anti-air defense units sent to North Yemen as part of North Yemen Air Force's 115th Squadron
at Sana‘a operating initially just six F-5E/Fs and then from April 1979 to May 1990, added eight more.
The ROCAF piloted F-5E/F scored a few kills in a few air battles, but the ground early warning radar
crews and anti-air units also suffered from air attacks from South Yemen, the aircraft being piloted by
|First Hand Experience
An Accounting from USAF Cold War Fighter Pilot,
Ret Col Scott Powell
In 1972, the Republic of China’s Air Force flew,
among others, F-5A/B aircraft. As part of a negotiation
by the Nixon Administration to end the Viet Nam war,
Taiwan was asked to give much of their fleet of F-
5A/Bs to South Viet Nam in 1972. The promise by the
U.S. was to replace those aircraft with newer F-5 E/F
In addition, the U.S. agreed to cover the air defense
mission for the Republic of China until those
replacement aircraft were in place. It did so by
deploying elements of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing,
based in Okinawa, to Taiwan for four years.
Coincidentally, two pilots of the Classic Aircraft
Aviation Museum, Frank Scoggins and Scott Powell
were part of that USAF deployment of F-4C Phantom
II aircraft. In 1972-1974 they were both based at CCK
and Tainan Air Bases performing that mission. For
their service to the Republic of China, they were
awarded ROC Air Force Pilot wings.
“My years in Taiwan still stand out to me.
Our pilots were all recent combat veterans from
Southeast Asia. Many of our officers went on to
significant careers. Mostly, I remember the great
camaraderie, excellent flying, nice people, and good
times there. Many of my life-long Air Force friends are
from those years. We talk of it often. Now that some of
these very F-5s are coming to the Classic Aircraft
Aviation Museum some 40 years later…and that I may
get to fly them…is very satisfying. ” Colonel Powell
For more information about the two pilots of the Classic
Aircraft Aviation Museum, Frank Scoggins and Scott
Powell please visit our Pilot BIOs page on this site.
Video produced by the
Discovery Channel's Great Planes
Northrup F-5 Freedom Fighter.
Active-X required to view.
|Ready to be re-assembled at the Museum -
the F-5/E and F-5/F Fighters arrive from Taiwan - June 14, 2012