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Procurement and use
Beginning 1960's Norway needed to consider replacement of its ageing North American F-86F and
North American/Fiat F-86K. Being only able to count with a reduced US financial help to buy new aircrafts it decided to select a new aircraft for the fighter-bomber role, paying for a part of them; shortlisted were the Douglas A-4E Skyhawk, the Lockheed F-104H Starfighter and the Northrop F-5
A Freedom Fighter. They were tested in the USA between September and October 1963 by a Norwegian AF team.
A special version of the F-5, without guns, fitted with extra fuel cells and infra-red or missile guided air-to-air missiles, was initially taken into consideration. Standard configuration, plus JATO provision, windscreen de-icing and arrester hook, was actually selected due to the high cost of the modifications; in addition they were to be the only Freedom Fighters capable of firing AGM-12 Bullup missiles. The selection of the Northrop F-5 was announced on 28-02-64 with the order for 64 aircrafts (56 F-5A(G) fighter-bombers, 8 F-5B(G) trainers) to equip 3 Squadrons each of 20 aircrafts plus 4 reserves for attrition. The estimated cost was 530 millions Norwegian Kroner, Norway paying approximately 200 millions, corresponding to 46 aircrafts. This was the first non-USA order for the aircraft.

The Norwegian parliament authorised in March 1967 the acquisition of 10 additional Northrop F-5A(G) and 2 F-5B(G); 16 Northrop RF-5A(G) were finally ordered in February 1968.

First Northrop F-5A(G), serial 64-13368, flew from Edwards AFB on 17-06-65; three pilots/ground personnel tested for 250 hours the newly built aircrafts in USA between June and February 1966.

In-flight deliveries started in February 1966, 9 Northrop F-5A(G) and 2 Northrop F-5B(G) arrived at Sola AS on 26-02-66 after a 5 days/6'300 miles (10'140 km) ferry flight, covered in 14 hrs 35 minutes actual flying time, routing from Edwards AFB to Sola AB via Kirtland, Langley-Loring, Goose Bay, Søndrestfjorden, Keflavik, Prestwick.

 Photo: unknown
Early photo of Northrop F-5A 13372, 13371, 13373 and F-5B 13387 before delivery February 1966.

             Photo: unknown
           Northrop RF-5A 89107, on delivery in USAF markings, 19-09-69 at Keflavik.

Initial plans were to equip 336 Squadron as first operational unit with Northrop F-5A(G) and some F-5B(G), based at Rygge Air Station, followed by 338 Skvadron (at Orland AS), all flying North American F-86F, 332 Skvadron based at Rygge AS plus 334 Skvadron at Bodø AS, both equipped with all-weather fighter North American/Fiat F-86K, now changing their role to fighter-bombing.

According to an official US list funding wwas provided for the Security Assistance Program FY 1976 (or previously) 16 Northrop RF-5A, 31 F-5A.

Additional units were re-equipped with F-5s later: 717 Skvadron with RF-5A(G) at Rygge AS to replace its Republic RF-84F in the reconnaissance role and Sola AS based 718 Skvadron (formerly equipped with Lockheed T-33A) for the Operational Conversion role in 1968, mainly with Northrop F-5B(G) plus some F-5A(G).

Approximately 40 aircrafts were delivered by the end of 1966; all four fighter-bomber units were re-equipped by 1967, the training unit in 1968, the reconnaissance unit in 1969. Deliveries were completed by 14-12-70, comprising 78 Northrop F-5(G), 23 of these funded through the US Military Aid Program; 16 RF-5A(G); 14 F-5B(G), 8 funded through MAP.

Shortage of personnel and aircrafts, due to unusal high attrition, forced to reduce in 1973 the number of Freedom Fighter units: 332 Skvadron was disbanded (its aircrafts were redistributed to the other Squadrons), while 334 Squadron was re-equipped with Canadair CF-104. As 16 aircrafts had been lost by mid-1970s there were not enough F-5s to maintain four Squadrons, even with only 16 operational aircrafts, number reduced from 20 originally foreseen. 

AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles were acquired for the air-to-air role, a variety of bombs and rocket pods have been used for the air-to-ground role.

Modifications and updating
Upgrade was high on the list of modifications to Norwegian Freedom Fighters making them for a long time some of the best equipped Freedom Fighters in the world.

A new Ferranti lead-computing optical sighting system for both gun firing and missile delivery were fitted already from 1973.


The Freedom Fighters kept the metallic colours as delivered. Two received an experimental camouflage. One (serial 373) was painted in a dark green like the Canadian CF-104s, and serial 228, probably late 1973. They were also used as "Aggressor" aircrafts .


Northrop F-5A 563
, 338 Squadron, in metallic colour with with three digit serial 563 with rocket
launcher
, seen at Sola in June 1975.                                                    Photo: F. Willemsen


           
            Green camouflaged Northrop F-5A serial 373, 336 Squadron, seen at Husum AB in November 1976

                                                                                  Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast


Structural modifications to the fleet was urgently needed by 1982, when up to 60% of the fleet had to be grounded due to cracks in the engine air intake. Norway requested payment of the repairs by the USA under the original MAP agreement, the charge finally being debited to the USAF for the single-seaters and to Norway for the double-seaters.


Service Life Extension Programme (SLEP) for 17 Northrop F-5A and 13 F-5B(G) aircrafts started in 1984; it included a corrosion-protection programme, carried out by Fokker in the Netherlands beginning July 1984 and lasting till the end of October 1986.
This was followed by upgrading in avionics at the local depot at Kjeller AB: AN/ALR46 radar warning receiver nose mounted, ALE-38 chaff/flare dispenses (these were later replaced by ALE-40) and others. Their foreseen role was limited air-defence with AIM-9L Sidewinder and Electronic Warfare, active jamming, with podded equipment.
Last aircraft completed under this programm was rolled out on 03-11-87.
The aircrafts undergoing
the corrosion-protection programme at Fokker received light gray colours as part of the protection


Northrop F-5A 215 with RWR on tail, chaff dispenser and training Sidewinder seen in May 1990
at Mildenhall
.                                                   Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

A big step forward was the installation, under an USD 20m programme awarded in February 1991, of further new avionics equipment by Sierra Technologies Inc to replicate the F-16 cockpit in use in Norway, including an GEC-Marconi Head-Up Display, GPS navigation system, a colour video data system and HOTAS controls, Litton LN-93 laser inertial-navigation system and 1553B databus; the program (called Program for Avionics and Weapon Systems improventes (TIGER-PAWS), involved 7 Northrop F-5A and 8 F-5B(G);  started February 1991.
The modified Northrop F-5A and F-5B(G) prototypes were returned to the Air Force in September 1993 and used for series of weapons flight tests at Eglin AFB as part of a joint project with the USAF; the test were completed in November 1993; delivery of all modified aircrafts was completed in July 1994. All were taken in charge initially by 338 Squadron; a Camber Inc simulator with optional visual display was also bought for additional training.

Limited structural upgrade was undertaken on the same aircrafts by Bristol Aerospace of Canada between 1993 and 1994, fitting new dorsal longerons and new wings; a flight-procedures trainer was also ordered in 1994 from SBS Engineering for more than USD 1m.

Intense utilisation brought a total of 337'700 flight/hours by 1999; a total of 27 aircrafts had crashed with the loss of 14 pilots.

Decline and withdrawal from use
Norway started to look for a successor of the Northrop fighter in the early '70s; the General Dynamics F-16 was selected (together with Denmark and Holland) and an order for 60 single- and 12 doubleseaters was placed on 21-07-75. First of these was delivered in January 1980 and the last in June 1984 replacing the Northrop fighter in four Skvadrons: 332, 334, 338; 717 Skvadron had already been disbanded on August 1979, some RF-5A (still used for reconnaissance) being handed-over to 336 Skvadron; 718 Skvadron (still using F-5s) was disbanded in January 1983.

An offer to transfer some aircrafts was sent in 1979 to Portugal and the Air Force demonstrated interest, but, with the local introduction of the Chance Vought A-7, it was not in a position to introduce another flighter; this until October 1982, when the Norwegian AF placed an offer for 11 single-seaters (for a symbolic price) requiring repairs to the air intakes costing USD 50'000. Cost of repairs and transfer were to be paid by Portugal. The country was interested in these conditions, but the offer was cancelled in July 1983. 

First Freedom Fighters to leave the Norwegian Order of Battle, between February 1982 and December 1984, were the remaining Northrop RF-5As; last operational reconnaissance flight was on 10-12-84. They had no replacement in the dedicated photo-reconnaissance role.
One was sold to a civilian operator in USA in 1987, three were handed over to the Raufoss arms factory for test purposes, one to the Luftforsvarets Tekniske Skole (AF Technical School) at Kjevik for ground training; six were handed over to the USA which transferred them immediately to Turkey.

           
            The first Northrop RF-5A 100 with open cannon and camera nose seen in September 1977.

                                                                     Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast


Next to go were the Northrop F-5As: 34 were transferred between July 1983 and December 1987 to US ownership and flown to Aviano AB (Italy) in return of full Norwegian ownership of 9 submarines. The aircrafts were quicky handed over to Turkey in three batches: 10 in 1983, 10 in 1985, 5 in 1987, and Greece: 9 in 1986. Additionally, one was exchanged with a Lockheed C-60 Lodestar for the Gardermoen Air Force museum, six were used for ground-training, four were given to Norwegian museums, one to an US museum, one was sold to a civilian organisation and the forward fuselage of another one was used to build the Grumman X-29A technology demonstrator.

Seven upgraded Northrop F-5A and eight F-5B remained in use with 336 Squadron at Rygge AB for some time to come. Three single-seaters (serials 132, 134, 208) received special colours:


Northrop F-5A
Serial 132 with Norwegian flag on tail seen and wings at Leeuwarden AB
(Netherlands) on 02-07-94.
                                Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

           
            Serial 208 seen in beautiful "Tiger" colours on 24-07-95 at RAF Fairford.
                                                                     Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast


Their withdrawal came with the
official disbandement of the Squadron (for financial reasons) on June 30th 2000, saving around 360m NoK with the disbandment of the Skvadron itself, personnel reduction of the Rygge AB and at the Supply Command at Kjeller AB. The last official flight, a Public Relation one, was performed by Northrop F-5B serial 908 visiting Sola AB and Bardufoss AB with a radio journalist on board.

But the Freedom Fighter was not dead in Norwegian service! All 15 were kept active, though not all at a time; they continued (tests had already started in July 1999) supporting development of the Norwegian anti-ship missile Penguin from Rygge AB, under the project name "Eye of the Tiger" (Eot). This started in July 2000, upon disbandment of the 336 Skvadron.

During "Eot" flights, missile software and hardware components were tested on Freedom Fighters equipped with (among other items) an especially converted wingtip-mounted fuel-tank containing a seekerhead of the Penguin flying a simulated missile-mission, a less expensive solution than test firing (and destroying) a missile. Tests were completed by December 2007; the Freedom Fighters were stored and put up for sale.



Tiger colours Northrop F-5A serial 134, in company of two single-seaters utilised by the "Eye
of the Tiger", overflying Sola AB on 03-06-07, shortly before their final withdrawal from use.
                                                                                          Photo: Vincent van Ypern

It seems there had been already by 2006 interest in buying these aircrafts by three tenders, but the end-users were not acceptable for the USA (as country of origin) or Norway for political reasons.
There was no opposition by Norway in 2008, when 15 aircrafts were to be bought by a civilian company, Northern General Leasing, to operate an Fighter Fundamentals Pilot Training program for pilots of the United Arab Emirates was to be based at Fort Worth-Alliance airport (USA), training to be provided by Lockheed Martin Corp. Unfortunately this had no follow-up, setting the end (at least for the moment) of the operational career of these aircrafts.

Norwegian based aircrafts were stored at Rygge AB but they are foreseen to be distributed to several bases, museums and technical schools.