Fighters For The Missile Era
F-5, F-5E, F5-F
Recommendations from Vietnam and other experiences led to the F-5E with more powerful J85-GE-21 engines, more internal fuel, leading edge extensions, maneuvering flaps, and an arresting hook. Two 20-mm M-39 guns with 280 rpg and two AIM-9J Sidewinders were on the wingtips. A centerline pylon could hold either a 2,000-pound Mk 84 bomb or a 275-gallon tank, and four wing pylons could hold 750-pound bombs or rocket pods.
Northrop had introduced the new features on a modified F-5B in March 1969, but the Air Force waited until February 26, 1970 to solicit proposals for a new MAP fighter. Northropís Mach 1.63 design won over competition from a Lockheed F-104 variant, a stripped McDonnell F-4, and a Vought F-8 variant, so the first contract for 325 F-5Es was made December 8, 1970.
While the first F-5E flew August 11, 1972, engine malfunctions delayed operational service to April 1973. The first 26 (called Tiger IIs) went to the USAF for testing and the training squadron for foreign pilots at Williams AFB, while Vietnam was sent 50 to replace F-5As late in 1973.
On April 8, 1975, a defecting F-5A pilot bombed the presidential palace, signaling the warís last days. When the war ended, 22 F-5Es, three F-5As, one RF-5A, and an F-5B were flown out to Thailand, abandoning 27 F-5Es and 60 older models. The VPAFís new 935th Fighter Regiment flew the F-5Es after May 1975.
Tactical Air Command inherited 71 F-5Es from the VNAF schedule and used them to form Fighter Weapons Squadrons specializing in simulation of Soviet combat tactics. These ďaggressorĒ units flew against the larger aircraft of other TAC units to train them to duel dissimilar aircraft like the smaller MiGs. In 1978, TAC had 36 F-5Es at Nellis AFB, 18 at RAF Alconbury, England, and 12 at Clark in the Philippines, as well as a training squadron for MAP pilots. The U.S. Navy also acquired 17 F-5Es and six F-5Fs for a similar unit, VF-43, at the Miramar fighter base in 1977, and another 11 Northrops for Oceana on the Atlantic coast.
The Republic of Korea and Thailand got F-5Es and F-5Fs through MAP, and Taiwan purchased F-5Es and F-5Fs partially manufactured for final assembly in Taichung, while Saudi Arabia bought 70 F-5E fighters delivered from 1972 to 1978 with an inertial navigation system to supplement the usual austere electronics. When Iran purchased 141 F-5Es and 28 F-5Fs, its older models were sold to Greece, Vietnam, and Jordan.
Jordanís second-hand 17 F-5As and nine F-5Fs were joined by 44 F-5Es and two F-5Fs supplied by the MAP. Ethiopia got 13 F-5As and two F-5Bs in 1975, and ordered 14 F-5Es and two F-5Fs, but only eight F-5Es had been delivered when the Ethiopians expelled the American mission in April 1977, ending that program.
Switzerland purchased her first American combat planes with 66 F-5Es and six F-5Fs, the first completed in November 1977, while the Swiss themselves assembled the last 53 by September 1978.
The rest of the 25 recipient countries are listed in Table 12, Taiwanís purchase of 242 F-5E and 30 F-5F Tigers being the largest, and Bahrainís order for 12 F-5E and 4 F-5F Tigers by 1986, the last. Northrop delivered 1,163 F-5E, 238 F-5F, and 12 RF-5Es by 1986.
A single RF-5E demonstrator was flown January 29, 1979 with one gun and cameras, and Saudi Arabia purchased eight, and Malaysia two. Another effort to extend Northrop sales was the F-20 Tigershark, a single-engine refined F-5 first flown on August 30, 1982. While the first prototype had an F404-GE-100, that engine was replaced by a 17,000-pound thrust F404-GE-404. Unfortunately, two of the three prototypes built by May 1984 had crashed, and the F-16C with the same engine won the ≠future contracts.