Fuerza Aerea de Chile/Chilean Air Force

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 The Chilean government had made uncessful attempts to buy 18 Northrop F-5A and
 3 Northrop F-5B prior to the purchase in 1966 of Hawker Hunters; no supersonic
 fighters could be supplied to Latin American countries.
 Deep influence for armament purchases was the election of socialist Salvador Allende
 to president of the country in 1970. The USA deeply mistrusted him, while the Soviet
 Union offered MiG-21s as a new fighter, but the military preferred the Northrop F-5E.

 General Augusto Pinochet lead a revolution against Allende on 11-09-73, instauring a
 bloody military regime. Orignally 18 single-seaters Northrop F-5E were foreseen, but US
 amendments on 16-11-74 modified the sale.  A change on the US side allowed the sale
 of 15 F-5E and 3 Norhthrop F-5B
at a cost of USD 60 millions, including spares and
 equipment, financed directly by Chile. The purchase contract was named 
"Peace Llama I"
signed on 15-05-74, deliveries to start in  May 1976. An amendment dated 23-12-74
 allowed the purchase of AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, not included in the earlier
 contract.  Finally, the more modern Northrop F-5F was purchased.
 Six pilots started training in Spain at the Escuela de Reactores (Jet School) on CASA/
 Northrop F-5B during 1975. During 1977 six pilots followed an eight months course in
 Brazil, obtaining their operational graduation at Santa Cruz AB. Four instructors were
 trained in the USA.

  F-5E J-813 in USA before delivery                    Photo: unknown

 Air-to-air missiles were available only in the form of
 dummy AIM-9B in 1978, active arrived later.

First four F-5Es arrived at Antofagasta, three going on to Santiago-Pudahuel on 25-07-76, but in the meantime the US Congress had placed a veto to supply arms of repressive nature to Chile starting from 01-10-76. Fast delivery of the remaining aircrafts and of AIM-9B and AIM-9P Sidewinder enabled to complete the order before the start of the embargo.
The embargo had devastating consequences on the operation of the Northrop fighter. An authorisation to buy spares exclusively involving flight safety, such as ejection seat cartridges, was received in 1986, but no other parts were allowed.

By mid 1987 only 4 F-5s were flyable. Unofficial sources spoke of various plans to solve the problem: sell the Tigers and  replace them with 12 IAI Kfir C2 (re-engined with Snecma ATAR 9K50 to avoid US embargo), handover the F-5Fs to Brazil  to enable training of pilots there, or even to buy Chinese F-7.
All these rumours were refuted in
January 1990 by the Commander in Chief of the Air Force, who stated that the aircrafts were to be rotated through a refurbishing programm by the local ENAER company.

F-5E serial 808 in aggressor colours March 1989; red marking were already
painted in 1988 for some exercises, kept at least on some aircraft till 2000.
    Photo: Peter Steinemann

Increasing technical assistance from Israel led to arm the surviving F-5s with Shafrir II missiles and helped in local modification of early AIM-9B Sidewinder.

Northrop F-5F 815 at Antofagasta in 1989               Photograph: 
Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

Political changes, a civilian governement had been elected in Chile in March 1990, brought gradual improvement in the relations with the USA and the cancellation of the embargo, enabling the acquisition of spare parts, restarting normal operations and allowing consideration of an upgrade of the remaining fleet. Also under consideration was the acquisition of 24 additional F-5E/F.


The contract for the upgrade by Israel Aircraft Industry (IAI) of the Tiger fleet, valued at USD 300 millions and named "Proyecto Tiffany", was signed during FIDAE exhibition in March 1990. One F-5E and one F-5F were to be transferred to Israel to act as prototypes, the rest of the fleet (12 single-, 3 two-seaters) was to be upgraded by ENAER at Santiago de Chile.

This programm, called Tiger III by IAI, added an Elta EL/M-2032B radar, necessitating the port M39 cannon to be deleted, AIM-9P and Python III AAMs. Additionally an El-Op HUD, INS/GPS together with various new navigation/ communication sets.The aircraft had a fully-integrated electronic warfare suite with RWR, ECM jammer and chaff/flare dispensers. No in depth structural changes were foreseen to extend its service life.
Two prototype aircrafts were to be upgraded by IAI in Israel between 1991 and 1992, while the remainder were to be upgraded by ENAER's Santiago-El Bosque factory.

The prototype F-5E Plus Tiger III (serial 805) was first flown at Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion airport on 08 July 1992. It remained in Israel, together with the F-5F prototype (though there is no evidence of the F-5F being in Israel) for tests and was exhibited at Le Bourget air-show in June 1993 as F-5Plus, before being returned to Chile in the same year.

Delivery to the Air Force started on 15-12-93 wihen the two prototypes uprgaded aircrafts were handed-over at El Bosque AB.

 Photo: unknown
Prototype Tiger III (serial 809, probably fake) with a missile load overflies the Israelian desert in IAI markings.

                   Photo: Enaer
The modification line at Enaer el Bosque AB.

IAI modified aircrafts were delivered to the Chilean AF in July and September 1993; delivery of ENAER modified aircrafts started in 1994. 

          Photo: unknown
           F-5E Tiger III in very clean configuration shortly after upgrading

 Peformance improvements was given    to F-5s beginning with the installa-      tion of air to air  refuelling probes. A  contract was signed in January 1997    with US Tiger Century company          (Project Romulo) for  the  delivery of  13 F-5E  and 3 F-5F air-refuelling  kits. These were installed by ENAER    during 1997-98.

 Photo: Jos Ignacio Jara

Air combat was not  neglected: Rafael Python 4, short distance missile, as seen here under the wings and on wingtip rails (280 bought) were bought in 2001 and 84 Rafael Derby BVR missiles in 2002; Tiger III neeeded few modification to operate the Python 4 but adaptation of the Derby was more complicated and needed modification to the avionics, which was performed by ENAER at its El Bosque plant.


                 Photo: Chilean AF

Collaboration with the Swiss RUAG company, specialised in maintainance of Northop F-5s and its engines, started with discussions at the FIDAE exposition at Santiago de Chile in 2004; RUAG took care since 2005 of the revision, repair and modification of the General Electric J-85 turbines. The first two engines to be overhauld arrived one year  later in Switzerland; three Air Firce members came to Swizerland to practice a three months longue maintenance course. By 2010 RUAG had maintained twelve and tested one in flight on a Swiss Tiger.

Additional work by RUAG was the repair of wings and maintenance of hydraulic components in Switzerland; Swiss specialists were engaged for the control and fatigue assessment of the airframes at Antofagasta AB.

The Northrop F-5s Tiger III were redundant by 2013 as the Forza Aerea de Chile had ordered from the Netherlands additional General Dynamics F-16. The aircrafts were shown to Uruguay for a possible sale with a transfer on 13-03-13 non stop to Montevideo/Carrasco for 100th year festivity of the first
local flight and the following day to various authorities, remaining till at least 17-03-13. The flights were supported by 1 Boeing KC-135  and 1 C-130.


5a Brigada Aerea -
Grupo de Aviacion N 7

On both air intakes  Low visibility   
Tiger heads on tail Tiger head on tail of 
badge early years/March 1984        of F-5E                  F-5E Tiger III

The Grupo was based in 1976 at Antofagasta BA Cerro Moreno, equipped with Hawker Hunters, when it was re-equipped with Northrop F-5E and F-5F and its Hunters transferred to the Grupo 8 and 9. It had mainly interception/air combat duties, only 10% training was dedicated to ground attack duties.

Unusual is the report of the sighting of an UFO by two Northrop F-5Fs during 1978 by their pilots.

Within a short time the impact of the US embargo was felt and operativity was reduced to very low levels; additionally one F-5E crashed on 15-10-81, another on 16-02-83.

First upgraded F-5 Tiger III was received on 06-07-94 directly from ENAER factory to Antofagasta.

4a Brigada Aerea -
Grupo de Aviacion N 12  "Tigres Australes"

   Patch       Undercockpit badge
                  on single-seaters

 Acquisition of more former Dutch General Dynamics F-16 enabled the re-equipment of  Grupo 7  and the
 transfer of the Northrop F-5 Tiger IIIs to
IV Brigada Aea, Grupo 12 "Tigres Australes" based at the extreme
 South of Chile, Punta Arena, Chabunco AB, by early 2010. On 20-03-10 eight aircrafts  (including 2 two-seaters)
 were  transferred from Santiago de Chile to the new base, in-flight refuelled
 twice by a Boeing  B.707 tanker
 and supported by one Lockheed C-130; 2 additional  followed on
 23-03-10. The unit had a total of 10 single-
 and 2  double-seaters by mid-2011; another double
 seater was undergoing in depth maintenance at ENAER
 plant and was to be delivered  by the end of 2012.

                     Photo: FA Chile
Northrop F-5F Tiger being refuelled during its transfer to Punta Arena AB while another one waits for its turn.  Note Grupo N12 badge behind cockpit.


The Tigers participated to the joynt US excercises Bluesky I, II and III.

In September 1988 the availability had improved and, during the visit of US carrier Independence to Chilean waters on 19/20 September the F-5s achieved a remarkable degree of success in mock fogfights against US Navy A-7 Corsairs, F-14A Tomacts of VF-103 and even A/F-18 Hornets of VF-131.

Another joint operation, this time with 6 USAF F-16Cs from Hill AFB, took place over the desert of Northern Chile in July 1996. The F-5 Tiger III operated in conjunction with Mirage 5M Elkans, controlled by an AEW Phalcon aircraft and included air-to-air, air-to-ground operations, dissimilar air-combat and base defence missions.

An important step was the transfer exercise to Pascua (Easter) Island on 12-01-98; 3 F-5E Tiger III flew nonstop the 4'000 kilometers distance betwee Antofagasta and the island in 5 hours and 42 minutes, each aircraft refuelled 4 times by a Chilean B.707 Aguila tanker. Support was also given by 1 air-rescue Lockheed C-130 and 1 meteorogical scout Gulfstream III. Return to Antofagasta was on 14-01-98. This exercise was named "Manu Tama  I".

  The Grupo de Aviacion N10, based at Santiago International
  airport, had earlier received 
on 31-07-96 a Boeing 707 serial 903,
  modified to KC-707 (called "Aguila") tanker by IAI at Tel Aviv for air
  refuelling duties.
The photo shows 4 Tiger III being refuelled during
  exercise "Manu Tama  I"

  The "Aguila"air tanker was withdrawn fom use after the arrival of 
  Boeing KC-135s,delivered on 18-02-10, 30-08-11 and ending 09-03-12 .

   Photo: Chile AF

The Pascua Islands long distance deployment was in preparation to the Chilean participation to the Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB (USA)

Six Tiger III, supported by 1 C-130 and the KC-707 "Aguila" participated to Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB (USA) excercise between 27-07-98 and 08-08-98, together with Dutch, Belgian, USAF F-16s.

 F-5E Tiger III landing at Nellis AFB.

 Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

An accident, fortunately without serious consequences, happened on 16-08-01 to an Northrop F-5F on landing at Antofagasta, while on 26-08-06  another F-5F slid-off the Antofgasta runway on take-off.

An important step was reached on 30-07-07 when the Grupo N 7 reached a total of 50'000 flying hours on a routine training flight of an F-5E Tiger III.

The Grupo also took part to pilot exchange with the Brazilian AF, hosting one pilot each of 1 GAv and 1/14 GAv, who completed their tour at the end of the year 2007.


  Willka 2007 was a binational Chile/USA exercise taking place at Iquique
  -Condores AB between 15-10-07 and
19-10-07 with the participation of
  6 F-16C Block 30 of USAF's Reserve 457 Squadron, 3 F-5E and 1 F-5F
  of the Grupo de Aviacion N7, 4 F-16C Block 50 of the Grupo de
  Aviacion N 3 and 4 F-16A Block 20 MLU of the Grupo de Aviacion N 8.

Chilean Tiger III participated to Cruzex IV at Natal AB (Brazil) between 01-11-08 and 14-01-08.
The transfer of 6 Tiger III started on 01-11-08 with the support of 1 B.737 and 1 B.707 tanker for air-refuelling. Unfortunately an unforeseen landing had to be done at Asuncion (Paraguay) due to a technical problem on one of the Tigers.
They were part of the "Blue Force", engaged against only 6 Brazilian AF Embraer/Northrop F-5EM equipped "Red Force". 

Possibly the last F-5 exercise participition is the Salitre II one that took place at Antofagasta AB between 25 and 30-10-09.  Present were Chilean 4 Northrop F-5E Tiger III and F-16As, Argentinian AF A-4Rs, USAF F-15Cs, French Mirage 2000s, Brazilian AMX plus various air-refuelling, and rescue planes.

             El Bosque AB overfly of three Northrop F-5E Tigre III on 05-11-2014
                            Of note new camouflage of serial 806

  One aircraft wase transferred   to the Air Force museum at     los Cerrillos AB :
811 - originally used for           parts recovery by ENAER at       el Bosque AB 
was                   handed over on 25-05-10;
  since 2011 it is placed as a     monument at the AF               Headquarter, also at los           Cerrillos AB.
  The air Force Heaquarter,         also at Santiagp-los Cerrillos   housed a second one:
- seen on this photo at   the
museum on 16-01-11         awaiting some works to be       done.
It was latest seen on 20-03-16                                Photo: Robert Domandl