Last update 23-08-2021
Procurement of fighter aircrafts has always been a long, political, financial story in Austria, complicated by changes of parties in the government, The Northrop F-5 is no exception. Hereunder the details.
Tne Austrian Air Force has had a long standing interest in the aircraft, since the mid 60's, when the search for Saab J-29Ö fighter replacement was started and the Northrop F-5A was oconsidered together with the Saab J-35. No decision at all was taken until 1970, when an initial order for 20 Saab 105Ö was place, followed by another order for 20 aircrafts.
Feeling that the Saab was not suited for the air defence of the country, another attempt to buy a fighter was started at the beginning of 1973 in view of procuring 18-24 aircrafts during the period 1974-76. Candidates under consideraton were the Saab 35X, the Mirage 5 optimised for interception and the Northrop F-5E, all to new built aircrafts. Information was even requested for the Mikoyan MiG-21 and MiG-23.
The Northrop began to emerge as frontrunner after the demonstration of Nrthrop F-5E 72-01390 at Linz-Hörsching in June 1973 after the Paris-Le Bourget airwhow and quotation for 24 aircrafts with details of delivery requested dates by the Austrian Defence Department. A Letter of Offer and Acceptance (expiring on January 1975) was sent by Northrop. But, as usual, a final decision was postponed till at least 1976, but this year passed without any decision.
A third attempt was started in 1978 with the shortlisting of 18 Northrop F-5E, Saab J-37Ö and Dassault 50, again without results due to financing problems.
Next attempt was in 1984; Austria hd devised a two-phase solution to its problem: buying 30 interim aircrafts cheaply as a stop-gap and then trading them back for a new generation aircraft in the early or mid-90'-.
Aerospace offered initially ex RAF Jaguars to be replaced by Tornado
F.3 or Eurofighters; Saab-Scania between 24 and 30 ex Royal Swedish AF
J-35D Drakens, followed by Saab J-39 Gripen; General-Electric had
F-16/79 or F-16A for phase one and an option of the same aircraft for
phase two. Dassault was also present with refurbished Mirage III
initially, followed by Mirage 2000.
was still interested in selling its fighter with a first phase proposal
for 12 new-build F-5E at a rather high initial cost of USD 173
millions, It had calculated that after six-and-a-quarter years use the
Tigers could be resold for 88% of the original price. A cheaper
possibility would have been used Northrop F-5A coming at the time onn
the market. The Northrop F-20 would have been available for phase two.
The Tiger offer was disqualified as Northrop refused to submit a fixed price and contract disputes were to be settled by an USA court, unacceptable for Austria.
As all earlier purchases had failed mainly due ro financial reasons an unorthodox proposal was submitted by Austrian Airlines for the purchase of the Northrop fighter: the airline would be willing to buy 16 Northrop F-5E/F-5F aircrafts through its US subsidiary Austrian Aircraft Corporation and lease them back to the Ministry of Defence, also being responsible for their maintenance.
Northrops efforts were to no avail as the Austrian Ministry of Defence
decided to buy 24 secondhand Saab J-35D Draken, to be designated Saab
J-35Ö, on March 26th, 1985 for political (neutrality) and
Northrop final offer for 16 aircrafts was higher than the Swedish one (ASch 6,600 millions compared to ASch 2,700 millions) but the life-cycle costs would cost some ASch 140 millions a year less to operate and would have lasted for 33 rather than the eight years in service planned for the Saab J-35. The Northrop F-5 would also have a 75 percent residual value against none for the Saab aircraft.
Next act of the Tiger saga happened almost by coincidence.The Drakens were kept by far longer in service than the planned 8 years; on JUly 2nd 2002 the Austrian government announced the decision to buy 18 Eurofighter Typhoon (as usual after long political, financial and popular discussions) as the new fighter. Delivery of them could only start mis-2007 and an interim solution had to be quickly found for the time starting the withdrawal (2004) of th Saab J-35Ö operated and the foreseen delivery date.
Next act of the Tiger saga happened almost by coincidence.
A solution was found at a mid-February 2004 meeting between the Austrian and the Swiss defence ministers. Switzerland was at the time withdrawing 47 Northrop F-5E from use and 12 of these were to be leased by Austria for four years, with a possible extension of up to 2 years. Voices that the Tiger had lost against the Draken the selection in 1985 were countered by the fact that it was on costs account. The contract was signed at the end of April 2004 with the Swiss armament agency "Armaswiss" for the approximative cost of 15 millions Euros per year. It included logistics for the main and the reserve bases (Graz-Thalerhof and Lin-Hörsching). documentation, armament, training of flight and maintenance crews and maintenance of the aircrafts itselves by RUAG in Emmen (Switzerland).
Also included was modification by RUAG to add GPS navigation sets (Garmin GPSMAP 295) and new communications sets (VHF/UHF). An ILS landing systemm was also added due to mixed civil/military use of most Austrian airfields. Quick delivery of the first four aircraft was foreseen on July 2004. All this subject to approval by the US governement, due to the original transfer restrictions. Approval was granted on 14-07-04.
Swiss F-5F followed, starting from June 15th (one day after US
transfer approval!), first sollo flight for all pilots being on the
new fighter on 24th 2004.
The selected airframes had in the meantime undergone modification af RUAG's factory in Emmen and first ones were ready for delivery according plans. Camouflage remained the same as Swiss aircrafts, only visible change were the Austrian nationality markings.
J-3005 at Emmen on 07-07-04 on delivery, without Squadron badge. Photo Felix Kälin/Aviatic Club Basel Overfuselage view, note VOR/ILS antenna on top of the tail. Sion 23-02-05
The first four aircrafts (J-3005, J-3030, J-3033, J-3065) were finally delivered from Emmen to Graz-Thalerhof on July 7th 2004, while the official handover ceremony took place at Graz on July 9th, 2004.
Photo: Luigino Caliaro
Underfuselage view of Northrop F-5E J-3005, natonality markings only on the right side
First line maintenance was entrusted to the Fliegerwerft 2 (Maintenance Unit 2) at Graz, 150 hours checks was to be carried out at RUAG in Emmen.Photo: Austrian AF BASES
Überwachungsgeschwader - 2. Staffel (Surveillance Wing - 2nd
Squadron / Serials page code: 2 Sqn) at Graz-Thalerhof was selected
from the very beginning to re-equip with the former Swiss aircrafts,
at the time
equipped with Saab 105Ö in charge for training, VIP transport with specially modified aircrafts, air traffic control/interception and target-towing for the Saab J-35ÖThe Tigers.
the arrival of Northrop F-5Es additional local pilot training could
be undertaken, but, as no live-firing range is available in
Austria, Swiss shooting-ranges had to be utilised. Two courses
were organised, the first
started on 21-02-05 and lasted till 04-03-05 with F-5E serials J-3004/05/30/38/52/57; the second one ending in May 2005 with F-5E serials J-3014/36/41/30/33/56. The Tigers were transferred by Swiss personnell as
Austrian pilots not yet in a position to fly from country to country. Another source mentions that this happened for two weeks between February and March 2005.
J-3058 at Sion on 25-02-05 still without IFR antenna on tail, but
with Squadron badge. The
inscription "CALL 121.5 MHz " was added on aircrafts'
underbelly tanks to instruct civilian
infringing the local "no-fly" area during the WEF congress, mainly in January each Year (except for Corona!).
On July 1st, 2005 the 2. Staffel was officially entrusted with armed air-defence of the Austrian airspace, keeping a flight of two aircrafts based at Linz-Hörsching (plus 1 reserve), while while the Draken era ended officially
on November 25th, 2005, though some J-35Ö remained operational till the end of 2005, flying aggressors missions against the F-5Es.
The beginning of 2006 Staffel saw the first operational test. In collaboration with the Swiss AF, it undertook 57 flights between January 25th and January 29th, policing the Austrian sky next to Davos (Switzerland)
during the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting.
Photo: Austrian AF
Northrop F-5E J-3038 training in Sion together with Swiss AF Northrop F-5F J-3205
Same procedure was in use while Austria was holding the presidency of the European Community in 2006 and several European ministerial meetings that took place on Austrian soil.
Laage in Germany was the destination of the only trip abroad on 18th and 19th August 2006. This base houses the first German AF Typhoons unit, Jagdgeschwader 73 "Steinhoff", and it was surely interesting to
visit the operator of the future Austrian fighter aircraft.
An annually repeating Austrian AF task is the protection of the airspace around Davos (Switzerland) when the World Economic Forum takes place. The F-5s participated with "CALL 121.5 MHz" inscription tanks for
the 2007 (24-28 January) and 2008 (23-27 January) flying from Graz, together with Pilatus PC-7 and helicopters.
Unfortunately, some accidents have been reported, luckily all of them with minimum damage and without serious consequences:
September 19th, 2006: F-5E J-30XX slid off-runway at Linz-Hörsching on take-off, slight damage to the undercarriage.
June 18th, 2007: F-5E J-3052 landed at Graz-Thalerhof wheels-up, pilot had not lowered wheels, see photo. The damage has been repaired.
BADGES / PATCHES
OF AN ERA
The end of the Tiger era begun on July 12th, 2007 when Eurofighter Typhoon 7L-WA landed at Zeltweg. Fifteen Eurofighters Typhoon (reduced from 18 originally on order) equip the Überwachungsgeschwader-
1. Staffel (Surveillance Wing 1st Squadron) at Linz-Hörsching and the Tigers have been returned to Switzerland.
operation of the Tigers was the control of Austrian sky during the
European Football Championship in June 2008, together with its
Eurofighter successor, the Saab 105, the Pilaus PC-7 and an
helicopters. Two Northrop F-5E took care of Quick Alert Reaction (QRA) at Graz-Thalerhof until 29-06-08, two Eurofighter based at Zeltweg have replaced them from 01-07-08.
The return flight of the first 4 to Payerne (J-3004, J-3033, J-3052, J-3056) has taken place on 30-06-08. Remaining 8 aircrafts landed on 22-07-08 (two at Emmen, 2 at Payerne) and on 24-07-08 (4 at Payerne).