Ejercito del AireSpanish Air Force

   Credit: Roundels of the world
Roundel

Discussions for the acquisition of 100 Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter to replace the old North American F-86F, equipping several fighter units, started in May 1960, in June 1962 Northrop acquired a package of shares as a first step, followed by a second one in February 1964 to bring the Northrop share holding to 24 percent
, financial interest withdrawn in 1989.

Definitive purchase was only announced by the Spanish Defence Ministry on 06-01-65. It concerned 70 aircrafts of the  fighter/reconnaissance/trainer versions at the cost of 2'800 millions Pesetas. These were to be built locally by Construcciones Aereonauticas S.A. (CASA)
at their Madrid-Getafe plant, which had obtained the authorisation to build them under licence giving an enormous transfer of technology to the local aviation community.
Contract valued at USD 64.5m of which USD 42.6 represented the direct manufacturing costs, unit price being approximately USD 750'000. Production started with the double-seaters in order to train pilots to the new supersonic fighte
was signed on 20-12-65, ratified by the Spanish parliament on 20-02-66 specifying that the first 10 aircrafts were to be delivered on 20-06-69.

The programme had four phases: 1) the first two aircrafts were built from major assemblies supplied by Northrop; 2) the next three were knocked-down assemblies , CASA undertaking all systems installation; 3) parts were supplied
 by Northrop for additional three; 4) airframes from the ninth one were completely CASA built.

Initial order was for 36 single- and 34 trainers but this was in 1971 modified to 18 fighter, 18 reconnaissance aircrafts and 34 trainers; these were locally designated CASA/Northrop SF-5A, SRF-5A, SF-5B, their military designation being respectively C.9, CR.9, CE.9. First to be built were the two-seaters, followed by the single- and last by the reconnaissance versions. 

                  Photo: CASA
                            The second two-seater on the CASA Getafe production line.

Roll-out of the first aircraft (SF-5B
serial CE.9-001) at Getafe was on 11-05-68, followed by its first flight on 22-05-68; four others flew by the end of the year. The first one was officially handed-over (together with nine others) after trials to the Ejercito del Aire on 19-06-69, again at Getafe AB. Instructors had followed in the meantime conversion in USA to the fighter. The first reconnaissance aircraft flew in 1970 and production was completed in December 1972.

   First eight CASA/Northrop SF-5B            awaiting delivery to the Spanish AF      at Getafe airport.







  Photo: CASA








 


  CASA/Northrop SF-5A C9-039 in a
  ful tanks configuration 
shortly
  before delivery to the Air Force.




                     Photo: Airbus Military


 

Enmasa company was entrusted with the main overhaul and repairs of the General Electric J-85 engines, this work being transferred to CASA Division de Motores by 1978.
The Air Force took care from the very beginning of the periodical engine overhauls between 200 and 1'200 hours at Talavera la Real AB.

Six instructors were sent to the USA
in 1968 receiving training on the Northrop T-38A and some hours on the Northrop F-5. They were based at Moron on return to Spain and entrusted with the transfer of the new aircrafts to this base and with the training of local pilots.

Both double- and single-seaters aircrafts were distributed to the 202 Squadron and (possibly) 204 Squadron, these being dissolved in September 1971 the Northrop F-5Bs being transferred mainly to the Jet School and the single-seaters, with some two-seaters, to operational Squadrons, see the Spanish AF Units page for details.

Selection of a new fighter to replace Freedom Fighters in the fighter role was started in February 1978, candidates were the more advanced version Northrop F-5E, the McDonnel-Douglas F-15, the Grumman F-14A, the General Dynamics F-16A, the GAMD Mirage 2000, the Northrop YF-17the McDonnel-Douglas F-18A, this last one being selected in 1979.
Three Spanish test pilots had perfomed, after having been trained in Spain on the CASA/Northrop SF-5B and SF-5A, 07.40 flight hours between the 13th and 15th June 1978, in seven flights on the Northrop F-5E at the Edwards AFB (USA) base between June 13th and 15th, 1978.


A change to military serials took place in April 1978, the SF-5A
being reserialled as A.9 (attack), the SRF-5A as AR.9 (attack/reconnaissance), the SF-5B as AE.9 (attack/training). Repainting of the Freedom Fighters in camouflaged colours started also 1979.

CASA/Northrop F-5 losses between 1977 and 1986 were high: 10 aircrafts - 1 in 1977, 1 in 1980, 2 in 1981, 2 in 1982, 1 in 1983, 1 in 1984, 1 in 1985, 1 in 1986, surely necessitating an update to the airframes.

The missile AIMP-9 was integrated on the CASA/Northrop SF-5B and was launched for the first time in 1983 at the Arenosillo (Huelva) poligon.

First upgrade to CASA/Northrop SF-5B+
A life extension study (called Programa SLEP) was initiated following the in-flight detachment of the aileron of CASA/Northrop SF-5A AE.9-033 on 28-04-89 for the life extension (about 3'000 hours) of the remaining airframes and a first programme to upgrade the structure of 23 CASA/Northrop F-5B, to be performed in collaboration with the Canadian company Bristol Aerospace, particularly regarding the wings, the lower fuselage, the vertical stabilizator, the landing gear and the dorsal longerons. The definitive contract was signed with CASA in December 1990.

All these modifications were not foreseen for the single-seaters; they were to used for target-tug and operational training and be withdrawn when reaching their flying hours limits, the last in 1992. Remaining reconnaissance aircrafts were anyhow subject to a limited sensor upgrades to improve their capabilites starting from 1999, the last operational one crashed on 30-04-03.

Plans were established to return the first modified two-seater to the Air Force on 24-06-91 and the last one on 12-12-94, but the first one was handed over to CASA only on 20-03-91, resulting in an overall delay: the last aircraft of those initially foreseen was returned to the Air Force on 05-12-95, an additional one (modified from an accidented airframe - AE.9-029 - seen hereunder on take-off), followed on 04-08-96.



   Photo: unknown

Starting from 1992 the
remaining 21 Ala at Moron single-seaters (CASA/Northrop F-5A, RF-5A) and 4 CASA/NORTHROP SF-5B started to be transferred in-flight or by road (if unable to fly) to Talavera AB. Seven single-seaters were kept flyable.

Second upgrade to CASA/Northrop SF-5M and SF-5M+
A major overhaul programm of the avionics and airframe was needed following the decision to keep 22 CASA/Northrop F-5B in operation till the 2020s.

Boeing, IAI, Elbit and SAGEM responded to the request for offer issued by Spain; the tender was won by IAI/Lahav division as main contractor and EADS/CASA as sub-contractor.


An upgrade plan in two phases, due to budgetary limitations, was established
. The first phase concerned the avionics: it included a board computer, a virtual radar, an HUD, new navigation (VOR/ILS and INS/TACAN) and communication (VHF/UHF) systems, software very similar to the McDonnell EF-18. An initial modest fuselage upgrade was also foreseen: modification of the bulkhead and the wingtips to accept AIM-9J Sidewinder instead of the AIM-9B.
All these changed justified the redesignation to CASA/Northrop SF-5M
of the aircraft. A first contract (value 21m Euros) was signed on 17-06-00 for only four prototypes, and following full satisfaction, another contract for the remaining 18 followed on 17-12-02 for a total value of more than 31 millions Euros.

Four prototype aircrafts were sent to EADS/CASA plant at Getafe to be upgraded; first flight of a modified aircraft (AE.9-09) was on 12-09-01 at the same base, first of four prototypes was handed over during the summer 2002 to the Centro Logistico de Aemamento y Experimentador (CLAEX, experimental unit) at Torrejon which took care of the development and test of the new software and back to the Ala 23 on 10-07-02 after more than 50 check flights These prototypes were used for the first training course which started on 01-09-03, being completed on 14-06-04.

Final, of 17 additional, CASA/Northrop SF-5B to receive the first phase upgrade left Talavera La Real AB on 15-10-04; the last CASA/Northrop SF-5B+ modified to SF-5M was handed over to the Ala 23 on 10-05-07; this was contemporaneously the last one which received the avionics upgrade and the second prototype of the structural upgrade.

   The second phase, structural upgrade of the air-
   frame
started with the signature in November
   2003 of the modification contract.
   First delivery of an SF-5M (AE.9-014) for modi-
   fication to Albacete AB was on 16-09-05; first
   flight of the prototype followed on 04-12-06,
   two prototyes being completed by the end of the
   year
, while the first production modified aircraft
   was completed by 09-07-07.
 
  Three had been returned to Ala 23 by November
   2007.
   
   CASA/Northrop SF-5Ms undergoing modifications.

 
   Photo: unknown

            Photo: aircraftinformation.info
              Contrast rich picture of all-grey EADS/Northrop SF-5M+ 23-04 AE9.010

A contract was signed with Martin Baker during this year for the replacement of the old Northrop ejection seat with the Martin Baker Mk.16L, enabling ejection between 0 and 550 knots and 0 feet. First flight of an modified aircraft took place on 17-09-08.
 
An important step was the offer in January 2007 to house at Talavera la Real AB the Advanced European Jet Pilot Training, in competition with Sweden (Lulea AB, Östersund AB or Söderhamn AB), Greece (Kalamata AB or Araxos AB), Finland (Kauhava AB), Portugal (Beja AB), France/Belgium (Cazaux AB), Italy (Lecce AB) as well as the USA/Canada with their Joint Jet Pilot Training and NFTC, but interest in establishing this school has sensibly diminished over the years and no decision has been taken till January 2013.
 
Spanish company INDRA obtained
in October 2010 a contract for new flight simulators of both EADS-CASA/Northrop SF-5M and McDonnell F/A-18 for the value of 4.33m Euro.

A further step was the installation of new wings, which started  from February 2011,
while Cassidian (formerly EADS Defense) signed in November 2011 a contract for structural upgrade of 5 additional CASA/Northrop SF-5M at Getafe AB.

Five aircrafts enter each year the structural upgrade/modernisation process, which lasts between 2 and 3 years. A total of twelve structural upgraded aircrafts have been seen by June 2012; it is foreseen to re-deliver the last one in 2016 allowing the prolongement of the fleet's operational life till 2024.