My first encounter with the Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter, took the form of a scaled model kit by ‘Aurora’ circa 1962. I saw it in Milwaukee Hobby store on Fon du Lac Ave, next to Sears Robuck Dept Store. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name, but I purchased several kits from there already, and knew as soon as I saw it, I had to have it. Now at the time I was a kid, and as my liquidity was extremely limited as in ‘dead broke’, I had to earn the money and it cost a ‘whole dollar’ plus change for the glue.
The Mig-21, was a classic example, of the difference in mindset; light, simple and robust.
It was 1/48th scale as I recall and by today’s standards, pretty crude, but back then, it was a thing of unrivalled beauty; that long slender nose, tiny wings, it looked like a ‘manned missile’ and that trapezoid vertical tail was unique and eye-catching, I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. What I did not know was that the Northrop F-5A (N-156) Freedom Fighter, represented an endangered design philosophy in that the United States Air Force, erroneously, I might add, was convinced that the days of aerial dog-fighting was a thing of the past, fast powerful and heavy missile laden interceptors like the McDonnell F-4 (Briefly, the designation F-110 was floated around but was discarded in favor of the naval “F-4”) was where the future lie and simple lightweight fighters were out. Unfortunately, no one consulted Soviet designers, who had other ideas that differed considerably. The Mig-21, was a classic example, of the difference in mindset, light, simple and robust.
“…the Northrop F-5 with it’s general electric J-85 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines offered reliability and ease of maintanence.”
While the USAF bet on heavier, more complex and expensive systems like the McDonnell F-4 Phantom and the Republic F-105 Thunderchief and all the inherent challenges that go with them, the Northrop F-5 with it’s General Electric J-85 axial-flow afterburning turbojet engines offered reliability and ease of maintanence , even in less than ideal conditions, at substantially less cost than other more complex combat aircraft preferred by the Air Force. So impressive in execution was the airframe and power plant combination that the F-5 prototype went supersonic on it’s 1st flight on June 12, 1959.
Northrop knew it had a winner and many examples of the type were sold to allies through to 1975,and while the U. S. Air Force did not buy more than a handful of Freedom Fighters, they did however purchase some 1200 T-38 Talon supersonic trainer version, based on the F-5B , two-seat variant. The venerable T-38 continues to be operated by USAF and has since been updated with advanced avionics end electronic engine controls, some of which are being used as proficiency trainers for F-22A Raptor and B-2A Spirit crews, while others are being utilized by U.S. Navy, Marine and Air Force units for Aggressor Training at Nellis AFB and NAS Fallon, not mention appearing in the action-pic, Top Gun as the fictional ‘Mig-28’
The F-5 has an extensive operational history with a fair number of countries that include: Switzerland, Taiwan, Viet Nam, Singapore, Mexico, Kenya, South Korea, Brazil and Morocco and probably one or two others. All this naturally brings to mind the anticipated arrival of Belsimtek’s F-5E Tiger ll for “Early Access”, in the next few weeks(No pun intended. No, really) if their schedule holds. Given all that operational history means that the will most likely be a ‘gazillion’ mod livery options in the User Files before you know it, and when Leatherneck completes if F-14A/B Tomcat, we call all indulge ourselves reenacting, or at least trying to copy that “Maverick and Goose” maneuver from the movie. I’m rubbing my hands together in anticipation. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.