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F-5 Freedom Fighter / Tiger

The F-5 is a lightweight, easy-to-fly, simple-to-maintain, and (relatively) cheap supersonic fighter. Today, this versatile aircraft serves in the air force inventories of 27 countries. It is a lightweight, easy-to-fly, simple-to-maintain, and (relatively) cheap supersonic fighter that was selected in the early 1960's for use by underdeveloped countries as part of the U.S. Military Assistance Program (MAP).

Its origins can be traced to design studies begun by Northrop in the mid-19501s. The development of the Northrop F-5 began in 1954 when a Northrop team toured Europe and Asia to examine the defense needs of NATO and SEATO countries. 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.Development proceeded along two lines.

The Air Force did not initially look favorably upon the proposal, since it did not need for a lightweight fighter. However, it did need a new trainer to replace the Lockheed T-33, and in June of 1956 the Air Force announced that it was going to acquire the trainer version, the T-38 Talon. In response to this USAF requirement for a supersonic trainer, the two-place T-38 Talon was produced. First flight took place on April 10, 1959, and eventually 1189 of these aircraft were manufactured for use by the USAF, the Navy, NASA, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Most of these were delivered by the mid-1960's. In addition to its trainer and pilot proficiency roles, the T-38 was flown for a number of years by the USAF Thunderbird exhibition team.

First flight of the prototype of the fighter version of the aircraft, designated F-5, occurred in July 1959. On April 25, 1962, the Department of Defense announced that it had chosen the aircraft for its Military Assistance Program (MAP). America's NATO and SEATO allies would now be able to acquire a supersonic warplane of world-class quality at a reasonable cost. On August 9, 1962 the aircraft was given the official designation of F-5A Freedom Fighter. Later known as the Tiger, initial deliveries of the F-5 were made to Iran in January 1965. Attracted by its performance, reliability, and low cost (in 1972, the cost of an F-5 was about one-third that of an F-4), other countries outside MAP soon began buying the F-5.

Optimized for the air-to-ground role, the F-5A had only a very limited air-to-air capability, and was not equipped with a fire-control radar. The F-5B was the two-seat version of the F-5A. It was generally similar to the single-seat F-5A but had two seats in tandem for dual fighter/trainer duties.

The F-5 was originally designed as a daytime, air-to-air fighter, but it has also been extensively used as a ground-attack aircraft. Photoreconnaissance versions of the F-5 have also been produced. Armament for the air-to-air combat role consists of two 20-mm cannons and two Sidewinder missiles. Radius of a typical air combat mission with this armament and external fuel tanks is 375 miles, and average mission speed is 541 miles per hour. In the ground-attack mode, about 7000 pounds of external ordnance may be carried. Evaluated in Vietnam by the USAF, the F-5 was later used by Vietnamese forces. Never a part of the USAF tactical forces, it has been used as an aggressor aircraft to represent a hostile fighter in simulated combat with U.S. fighters. Some of the characteristics of the F-5 resemble those of the Soviet-built MIG-21 in certain altitude ranges.

In configuration the F-5 is a low-wing monoplane equipped with an all-moving horizontal tall mounted in the low position; the fuselage is carefully contoured in accordance with the transonic area rule. Small side-mounted inlets supply air for the two General Electric J85 afterburning turbojet engines. The 4.8-percent-thick wing has 24 sweepback at the quarter chord line. The wing trailing edge is nearly straight, giving a trapezoidal shape to the planform. Lateral control is provided by small ailerons located near midsemispan; single-slotted high-lift flaps extend from the inboard end of the ailerons to the sides of the fuselage. Leading-edge flaps are used to improve maneuvering performance. These flaps are not incorporated in the wings of the T-38. Speed brakes are mounted on the bottom of the fuselage. Turning performance is enhanced by an aileron-rudder interconnect system, and handling characteristics are improved by artificial damping about the pitch and yaw axes. The F-5 is reported to have good handling characteristics and, in contrast with the F-4, does not have a propensity for entering unintentional spins.

Although all F-5A production was intended for MAP, in October 1965, the USAF "borrowed" 12 combat-ready F-5As from MAP supplies and sent them to Vietnem with the 4503rd Tactical Fighter Wing for operational service trials. This program was given the code name of *Skoshi Tiger" ("little" Tiger). and it was during this tour of duty that the F-5 picked up its Tiger nickname. Evaluated in Vietnam by the USAF, the F-5 was later used by Vietnamese forces.

On November 20, 1970, the Northrop entry was declared the winner of the IFA (International Fighter Aircraft) to be the F-5A/B's successor. The emphasis was be on the air-superiority role for nations faced with threats from opponents operating late-generation MiG-21s. 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.

The F-5E is a small, light aircraft. Its design gross weight of 15 745 pounds is only about 30 percent of the 53 848-pound design gross weight of the F-4. In performance, the F-5 has a Mach 1.51 capability at about 36000 feet and a sea-level rate of climb of 28 536 feet per minute - a good performance but not comparable with that of the F-4. Certainly, the load-carrying capability of the F-5 is much less than that of the larger aircraft.

Never a part of the USAF tactical forces, it has been used as an aggressor aircraft to represent a hostile fighter in simulated combat with U.S. fighters. Some of the characteristics of the F-5 resemble those of the Soviet-built MIG-21 in certain altitude ranges. The US Navy Fighter Weapons School (the so-called "Top Gun" school) at NAS Miramar acquired a total of ten F-5Es and three F-5Fs for dissimilar air combat training. Because of the F-5's characteristics, which were similar to the MiG-21, was used as 'agressor' aircraft, equipping the FWS and VF-126 at NAS Miramar, plus VF-43 at NAS Oceana. All three units later disposed of their Tiger IIs in favor of the General Dynamics F-16N. These Tiger IIs were passed on to VF-95 at NAS Key West and VFA-127 at NAS Fallon. During FY 1996, VFC-13 moved from NAS Miramar, CA, to NAS Fallon, NV, and transitioned from 12 F/A-18 to 25 F-5 aircraft. VFC-13's flight hour program increased to offset the scheduled decommissioning of the two remaining Active Component adversary squadrons, VF-45 and VFA-127. This transition to the F-5 adversary aircraft provided Active and Reserve Navy pilots with air-to-air combat training at significant savings to the taxpayer. Recent estimates show that the F-5 can be operated at one third of what it costs to operate an F/A-18.



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