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   Imperial Iranian Air Force / Nirou Havai Shahanshaiye Iran

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                                        Last update 22-05-2019

It is very difficult, as in many countries,  to obtain reliable information about military aviation in Iran. During the Imperial era most information has come from outside sources, particularly the USA. There are slight differences, according to source, regarding the exact number of Freedom Fighters supplied.
All datas given in this section are unofficial, details written in blue without underline are not confirmed. To calculate the local (Iranian) calender deduct 621 to the Gregorian (Western) calender.

The Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter era

In the early 1960's Iran was part of the Central Treaty Pact (CENTO) defence pact, together with Turkey, Pakistan and the United Kingdom and sponsored, as main arms supplier, by the USA. The fighter force of the Imperial Iranian AF (IIAF) consisted in two Squadrons equipped with Republic F-84G  of the 1st Tactical Air Base at Mehrabad AB (useless due to their age), and three Squadrons of North American F-86F based at Dezful-Vahdati AB (35 overhauled out of 51 53 delivered). At the time the Shah Reza Pahlevi, chief of state and commander of the Air Force, ordered a rapid development of the air arm to establish air supremacy over its neighbouring Arab countries, particularly Iraq. Iran was also looking with concern to the Soviet Union's power.

During a meeting on 19-09-62 about Imperial Iranian Armed Forces requirements between the Shah and the US ambassador it was agreed that eight Squadrons of Northrop F-5 would be enough to cover the Air Force's new needs.
Later agreement covered 92 Freedom Fighters for 7 Squadrons of 13 aircrafts each; the initial two batches were to be supplied through Military Assistance Program (MAP) free of charge under the code Projet "Peace Enforcer" but the following aircrafts were paid in full by Iran under Foreign Military Sales agreement. An official US source mentions 92 aircraft, might include a replacement aircraft for one lost during delivery.

The Shah of Persia was briefed about the capabilities regarding the Northrop YF-5A in June 1964, during a visit in USA.

On 12-07-64 a decision was made to replace North American F-86s with Freedom Fighters, under the Project Peace Enforcer (cost USD 259 milliona), as an initial step to introduce the much more powerful McDonnel F-4. Iran declined a Soviet offer of MIG-21 jet fighters.
Capability demostration to high level officers was given at Teheran on 01-08-64 and 02-08-64 by Northrop F-5B 63-08445.

Initial group of six instructors were trained at Williams AFB starting September 1964, reaching 55 pilots within a few months. New pilots obtained their advanced training in USA on Northrop T-38As, transitioning to Northrop F-5B and later at Mehrabad AB, checked out by USAF pilots of the locally based Mobile Training Team; technical personnel was sent to various USAF schools. The Team remained at least until 1976, training also on the Northrop F-5E.

                             F-5A 38387 FA-387 in USA February 1965 with long range tanks, no nationality markings
Photo: Archives Northrop the F-5 Enthusiast

The IIAF became the first Air Force to receive Freedom Fighters, though they remaind owned by the USA, like all MAP supplied item. First Northrop F-5s were handed over on 04-12-64 in USA at Brookley AFB (Alabama); USAF pilots flew the 11 Northrop F-5A and 3 Northrop F-5B to Teheran-Mehrabad -Tactical Fighter Base 1- and delivered officially on 01-02-65 (arrived on 12-01-65), replacing the North American F-86F of the 101st Tactical Fighters Squadron. (other souce the 103rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, but this unit flew end 1962 North American F-86F in Congo, originally)
The 103rd Tactical Fighters Squadron was the newly (on the same date) established as a Squadron becaming already partially operational in June 1965 after 900 flying hours, when it was officialy declared operational. It became actually only operational on July 1965 when two Sidewinders armed single-seaters relieved the North American F-86F on alert duties at Teheran/Mehrabad AB.

During the summer of 1965 a second unit (101st Tactical Fighter Squadron) could be was re-equipped with 7 Northrop F-5A and 2 Northrop F-5B

The two-seaters were in high demand in order to train new pilots locally, while some had to be trained in Pakistan. All pilots training was for interception ( main training task) given at TAB 1 Mehrabad; AIM-9P-1 were also delivered and secondary ground support.

Now camouflaged F-5A 97109 in USA on 10-06-70, before delivery.
Photo: Archives Northrop the F-5 Enthusiast

Completion of the newly-built Shahroki AB, near Hamadan by end of 1966/beginning 1967, enabled to base there two Freedon Fighter aircrafts. These new units were to defend the border area with Iraq.

Air Force commander General Khatami stated in July 1967 there were four F-5 Squadrons, while US sources mentioned only 3 Squadrons, one of these being 302nd Fighter Squadron, unit number not corresponding to earlier information.
Around 40 F-5A and F-5B (34 single-seaters) were known to have been handed over at this time. Serviceability was high: 85 to 90 percent.

Last Iranian two-seater Freedom Fighter produced,
01613, at Ramstein (Germany) on 12-06-71 still in USAF

Pilots main mission was interception until the arrival (in 1969) of McDonnel F-4D on 08-09-68 Phantom, when it changed to grround attack.

By November 1970 following Military Assistance Programm aircrafts had been delivered: 66 Northrop F-5A, 13 Northrop RF-5A and 13 Northrop F-5B. They were in service with 5 Squadrons together with 2 McDonnell F-4D equipped equipped Squadrons and 1 North American F-86F Squadron (in Tabriz, to receive Northrop F-5As). On order were additional 10 Northrop F-5A and 6 F-5B. All F-5As had been received by January 1971.
The same year Iran decided to replace older Northrop F-5A/F-5B with newer Northrop F-5E/F-5F and placed orders for 8 Squadrons and the desire
shown to purchase 2 Squadrons more of Tigers.

ccording to official US sources there were 111 F-5 in use by April 1972; Northrop had 6 technical representatives in Iran.

A CIA reports in May 1972 mentions deliveries of Freedom Fighters (all versions) as follows: in 1965 - 92 (Military Assistance Programm) delivered as follows:  48 in 1966, 48 in 1967, 4 in 1968, 25 in 1969, 4 in 1970, 15 in 1971. This gives a gand total of 144 aircrafts. Various other sources mention as follows:
107 Northrop F-5A, 13 Northrop RF-5A and 20 Northrop F-5B, grand total 140 aircrafts. The difference of four missing aircrafts might be reconnaissance Northrop RF-5A used for Soviet Union overflights, see hereunder.

On July 1975 a leaked information advised tha Northrop would established a jointly owned assembly lplant for manufacturing fighter-bombers in Ira. US government originally approved the facility and then reconsidered. Well placed sources report that Northrop had hoped the regional assmbly plant would plya a role in a sales drive to get Arab states to agree to make the Tiger their standard fighter. These opponed at having a regional supply center in a non-Arab country.

in friendly but non-Arab

. These opponed that

Alert bases / Radar chain
Between 1968 and 1975 an enormous effort was made to build radar facilities and 7 new bases to house all new aircrafts ordered (inclusive McDonnell F-4 transports and helicopters), as at the time there were only 3 fighter bases available: Teheran/Mehrabad, Dezful/Vahdati and Hamadan/Shahroki.

Of relevance to us is was Chah Bahar AB, opened in 1973, housing one Squadron of F-5 and one Squadron of McDonnell F-4E; the base was mainly underground and assured the defence of the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the only sea passage for petroleum exporting Persian Gulf states.

The Air Defense Command, in addition to 14 radar sites, also had 6 fighters on alert in each air base (2 ships on 5 minutes, 2 ships on 15 minutes, and 2 ships on 30 minutes alert), a total of 36 fighters. Additionally, all 79 ships and F-14’s were used for air defense.


    - Teheran/Mehrabad  =  1st Tactical Air Base
    - Tabriz                   =  2nd  actical Air Base
    - Dezful/Vahdati        =  4th Tactical Air Base
    - Akha Jari/Omidieh    =  5th  Tactical Air Base
    - Isfahan                  =  8th
Tactical Air Base
    - Chah Bahar             = 10th Tactical Air Base
    - Mashad                  = 14th
Forward Air Station

Soviet Union Combat Air Patrol and Overflights
Northrop F-5A flew by1969 regular Combat Air Patrols along the border with the Soviet Union from Mashad Forward Air Station.

Long range radars and listening points were available to monitor Soviet activties; radar coverage had several gaps and low-flying reconnaissance aircrafts could take helpful photographs.
This gave way to the operation named "Dark Gene" with overflights of the Soviet Union; not an entirely an Iranian programm involving US pilots flying Northrop
RF-5As till 1971s in a top secret mission and never officially admitted. Two were shot down inside the Soviet Union in 1969 and 1970, their pilots recovered
after emprisonement.
The Northrop reconnaissance aircrafts were included in the 20 RF-5A supplied, delivered starting from 1968. Officially only 13 Foreign Military Sales were supplied, first batch of 13 new built aircrafts;  They were equipped with additional instruments as other MAP supplied aircrafts.
Four aircrafts were officially never built and 3 former USAF. Those for this mission were officially never built or supplied to Iran, no information is available. Their construction number was "blacked out" on the production list, six serials/construction numbers "as not built" and, later, by 2 "white tail" F-5As modified for the reconnaissance role.
In 1971 the first 6 highly modfied McDonnel RF-4Cs arrived in to replace the Freedom Fighters, with great pleasure of the American pilots. They were flown by mixed USAF/Iranian crews.

War (almost) operation
During the April 1969 war almost take place against Iraq in the lower part of the river Tigris. Some Northrop F-5s of the 203rd and 204th Tactical Fighter Squadrons were armed with bombs and rocket launchers to be ready for action; some Northrop RF-5A of the 101st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron from Mehrabad AB were used for reconnaissance. Nortrhrop F-5s, together with North Ameican F-86F flew escort to a merchant ship carrying Iranian Marines. The crise was finally peacefully settled, though fighters of the base flew for several years patrol flights along the Iraqi border.
Further operationa for the same unit based at Zahedan took place during 1972 at the border with Afgahanistan.

International exercises/transfers
Several Iranian Freedom Fighter pilots received their armament trainingin Pakistan using Lockheed AT-33A and North American F-86F due to shortage of Northrop F-5B trainers.

A number of unpublicized encounters with Iraqi MiG-21s have also taken place along the Zagros mountains border (North-Western Iran), at least up to 1970, without any combat action, aircraft remaining on their respective border side.

Two joint aerial combat excercises with the Pakistani AF had also been conducted by 1970; the first one (date not known) consisted in ca.4 Northrop F-5As and 1 F-5B flying against North American F-86F, the second one in October 1977 between F-5Es and F-4Ds operating against Shenyang F-6s (Mig-19s) from Paksitan/Masroor AB. Pakistan was intereste to see the new Northrop F-5 and evaluate it against their North American F-86.

        Northrop F-5A 3-423, 302 Fighter Squadron at Sharjah AB on 31-03-67
Archives Northrop the F-5 Enthusiast

              Northrop F-5B 3-438 10587, 302 Fighter Squadron at Sharjah AB on 31-03-67
Archives Northrop the F-5 Enthusiast

    Northrop F-5A 3-435 10542, 302 Fighter Squadron at Sharjah AB on 31-03-67
Archives Northrop the F-5 Enthusiast

A detachment of RF-5As were detached to Mehrabad AFB, Tabriz AFB, Vahdati AFB, Shiraz, possibly four each.

Taj Talee (Golden Crowns) aerobatic team
The Iranian aerobatic team was named "Le Sabre" and based at Teheran-Mehrabad AB
till 1967, equipped with 5 North American F-86F; it was renamed "Golden Crown" in 1968 upon its re-equipment with 5 Northrop F-5A, reverting to the original name and F-86F in the years 1969 (6) and 1970 (5). The team was renamed "Golden Crown"  in 1971, equipped with 6 F-5As, but flying only 5 aircrafts in 1972 and 6 from 1973 to 1975. In 1976 it transitioned to 7 Northrop F-5E (also at le Bourget Air Show), finally in 1977 with 8 aircrafts.After this was dissolved dur to the internal situation

       Golden Crown F-5B team 1973 in front of Northrop F-5A 2-345 89078            Photo: unknown

The year 1967 saw the first accidents, after 2 accidents free years ; three F-5s were lost in the first seven months, 1 during a ferry flight (delivery?) from Athens, another two during low-level gunnery training.

Later known losses are: one F-5 in 1971, and one during the same year, as well as one in 1974, by the Golden Crown team.

Freedom Fighter day-to-day maintenance was initially provided by the Air Force at Teheran-Mehrabad AF, the largest local maintenance basis, but, with the increasing number of aircrafts, a new structure had to be established.
Iran Aircraft Industries (IACI) was formed as a joint venture with Northrop Corp. in 1970; by December 1970 it performed 400, 800 and 1'200 hours inspections, heavy maintenance and overhaul of the Northrop F-5s, their General Electric J-85 engines and built spare parts. All work for Northop F-5s was done by locally trained Iranian personnel. Twenty five Freedom Fighters had undergone ovehaul by 1973, when a new, very large facility was under construction at Mehrabad airport for the purpose of again overhauling aircrafts, building spare parts and training technicians locally. 

Transfer/disposal of Freedom Fighters
Even if mentioned by US official sorces, the supply of 3 Northrop F-5 to Pakistan in December 1971, during the war with India, is not confirmed by Pakistani and Iranian sources. They were also mentioned to be ex-Lybia, which cannot be possible.

The USA also requested the delivery to Yemen of 21 Northrop F-5A, 12 RF-5A and 11 F-5B., transfer that the Shah refused.

Urgent transfer of all F-5s (53 MAP supplied and 37 directly bought) to the Republic of Vietnam AF (under the US Enhance Plus programm) was requested on 21-10-72 by the US Ambassador in Teheran. The Shah initially opposed it, mentioning that it would weaken the defence of the country overproportionally, and requested accelerated delivery of Northrop F-5Es - scheduled to begin in December 1973. He was instituing a new training programm which required a minimum of 53 Northrop F-5A. Finally he agreed to supply 32 Northrop F-5A in two lots of 16 on 31-10-72. Disassembly of the first 16 was completed by 02-11-72 and tranferred to S Vietnam on Lockheed C-5A Galaxy began. USA was pleased by the outstanding cooperation with the personnell at Vahdati AFB.1 Eight USAF McDonnel F-4Es were initially leased to overcome the gap in Iranian air defence.

Iran was in any case not interested in the return of the Northrop F-5As as there was justifiable apprehension regarding Vietnamese operating conditions and effects of climate and maintenace of aircrafts. Additionally, by time of the foreseen return, the Freedom Fighters had been phased out of inventory as the Air Force. Value of transferred Northrop aircrafts (11,6m USD -  28 being 5 to 8 years old and 4 three to five years according to US calculation) was credited against the purchase of new McDonnell F-4Es.

Next transfer request came 1974 when Jordan asked Northrop F-5s to modernise its Air Force. The request consisting of was accepted. It consisted in 20 Northrop F-5As and 2 F-5Bs as well as spare-parts. Iin-flight delivery of 2 initial examples (ex Vahdati AB) was from Mehrabad AB in March 1974. Ten additional single-seaters and 2 double-seaters were transferred by 22-05-75, 6 additional arrived in  Jordan in June 1976. Four additional two-seaters were transferred in 1978.

Freedom Fighters availability prompted the USA to ask the sale of 10 Northrop F-5A and 2 Northrop F-5B to South Korea, sale that was refused by Iran as aircrafts had already been promised to Jordan.

In 1975 the USA requested the transfer of additional Northrop 10 F-5A to Kenya; they were to be available immediately being superseded in Iranian use by Northrop F-5E. The low cost was the big advantage of that package. However, it did not work out as the Shah didn't agree being to it as the aircrafts were already committed for delivery to Jordan.

Remaining Freedom Fighters were mainly put at disposal of friendly countries upon completing Squadrons re-equipment with Tigers. Ethiopia obtained  4 F-5A in 1974, Greece 12 F-5A in 1975, Jordan 30 F-5A and 6 F-5B in two batches starting from late 1974, plus Morocco 5 single- and 2 reconnaissance aircrafts.

The Northrop F-5E/F-5F Tiger era

In a conversation  between the US Secretary of Defence (dated 22-10-69) interest by the Iranian Shah was shown to buy a few Northrop F-5E and the Northrop P-530, but this last was not in production. The Secretary of Defence metioned that the Northrop F-5E had better chances than the P-530 to enter service as this last was not adopt by any country.

The Shah decided to order new fighters in December 1971 under FMS: 32 Northrop F-5E single-seaters (later 36) were order in February 1972, the Peace Rush I programm. The United States planned to use initially new built aircrafts as follows: those built within February and October 1973 mainly by the USAF for operational tests, evaluation and training duties plus a limited number to be delivered to South Vietnam. Fast delivery request by Iran, due to the transfer of Northrop F-5As to South Vietnam and the delivery of additional 25 MiG-21 to Iraq, needed a change in its policy limiting operational test/evaluation and initial training capability and provide maximum possible aircrafts to the Iranian AF. It was suggested to send 1 Northrop instructor pilot to Williams AFB in March 1973 in order to be trained appropriately (ready to go to Iran in 1973) plus two highly qualified Iranian Northop F-5A/F-5B instructors, again sent to Williams AFB, in mid-May for training lasting two/two and a half months; USAF Instructor pilots were detached to Vahdati AB with the technical Assistance Field Team.

New foreseen scheduled delivery to Iran was to be as follows: first 2 Iranian aircrafts (1 in June, 1 in July 1973) sent to Williams AFB for training pilots, aircrafts transferred to Iran in October together with the pilots. Further deliveries would follow in 1973 and 1974: 1 in July, 2 in August, 2 in September, 2 in October (plus 2 ex Williams AFB), 2 in November, 3 in December 1973; 6 in January, 7 in February, 5 in March 1974. 

An additional contract for 105 followed in July 1972 and 28 Northrop F-5F double-seaters were ordered in 1973, totalling 141 F-5E (at a cost of USD 377 millions) and 28 F-5F (at a cost of USD 102 millions) to replace on a one-to-one basis Freedom Fighters in 8 Squadrons plus an high number of reserve/attrition replacement planes and some test and training ones. Main role foreseen was air-to-ground support, air-defence as a secondary role. A very large number of spare parts, by far higher than for NATO countries, were also bought to keep the fleet operational for several years (just in case!) without US support, something that came to good in later years.The single-seater Tigers were highly improved over the basic version aircrafts, with an onboard Litton inertial navigation system, weapons/ballistic computer and rocket assisted Martin-Baker ejection seats; double-seaters had TACAN/INS, laser target designator and Northrop Improved ECS additionally.

Actually, first Northrop F-5E came off Northrop's assembly lines in November 1973; the USAF accepted two Tigers on behalf ot the IIAF in January 1974, followed by 5 additional ones in February 1974. Air transfer to Iran started in February 1974, staging through Lossiemouth (Scotland), but, after the loss of one aircraft, six-pack delivery on board Lockheed C-5A Galaxy was resumed after July 1974. All of single-seaters had actually been All of the single-seaters had actually been delivered to eight Squadrons by beginning 1976 (probably earlier) and the double-seaters was to serve as a trainer at the Combat Crew Training at Vahdati AFB, first being delivered in August 1976.

        F-5E 00954
in USA before delivery, September 1974

                    F-5F 50683 on an open-day at Palmdale in May 1976
Archives the Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

Actual first flight of an Iranian Northrop F-5F two-seater was at Palmdale in April 1976, delivery started in June 1976 and approximately 20 Northrop F-5F had been received by the end of 1976. The first example of Northrop F-5F was received in Iran in Januyry 1974, while delivery of Northrop F-5E was between 1974 and 1976.

Iran also placed at the end of 1976 an order for 1066 AIM-9P-1 air-to-missiles to equip both the Tigers and the F-4E Phantoms.

By 1976 all Tiger units were operational; average operational availability was 90%, over 500 pilots and 1'500 maintenance personnel had been trained. The most critical problem was a shortage of trained technical personnell in the logistical and maintenance area. This led to a high number of US personnell (official and contractor) necessary to maintain the fighters.

International exercises / War operation
The year 1976 saw air-to-air an exercise against Pakistani F-86E Mk6. In October 1977 air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery execises followed at the Somiani range (Pakistan) against Pakistani Shenyang F-6 from the 23rd Squadron, Northrop F-5E were based based at Masroor AB (near Karachi), 
The opposite way came Pakistani Shenyang F-6s
from the 19th Squadron to Vahdati AB in September 1978 for an Iran-Pakistan armament competition and Iranian F-5s, together with Phantoms; a the two-days exercise Midlink77 against US Navy was hold against Phantoms of the aircraft carrier USS Midway.

The only reported war operation took place in 1976 when several Northrop F-5E/F-5F in two missions over Afghanist were used in a tentative to reinstall the Afghan king, ousted by a coup.

Early thougts about an Tiger replacement ended by an order for 160 General Dynamics F-16s placed in 1976 and financial contribution to the development of the F-18. Iran wished to replace Northrop F-5s with General Dynamics F-16 in a one-to-one basis.
An order for 30 much advanced new Grumman F-14 was placed in January 1974, and a few months later increased to a total of 80 aircrafts. First arrived In Iran in January 1976 and 12 additional in 1977. All best pilots and maintenance personell were used to train for the new aircrafts, leaving the Northrop F-5 equipped units undermanned and with lower experienced personnell.

Political unrest
The Air Force was on the paper the best in the Middle East, but by October 1978 the Imperial government started to show signs of dissolvement under the pressure of opposition elements. Northrop started to withdraw its employees and relatives from November 1978. Reports mention sabotage to electrical wiring harnesses inside approximately 20 F-5s during this time. Almost the whole Air Force had been virtually grounded by late 1978.

Shah Reza Palevi left the country on 16-01-79, the Imperial government fell on 12-02-79; thereaftere a non-Imperial Provisional Govenment was established and the Islamic Republic of Iran was officially declared on 01-04-79, 
giving way to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force.

Following F-5 equipped Wings/Squadrons are quoted to have existed in

11th Tactical Fighter Wing "Instruction" at Teheran/Mehrabad TFB 1
11th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Teheran/Mehrabad   -  2 RF-5A operational, 4 RF5A modified to F-5A, 14 RF-5A stored (Squadron had also RF-4E, RT-33A)
11th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at Teheran/Mehrabad 4 F-5E operational, 2 F-5A operational, 23 F-5A/F-5B stored
13th Test and Evaluation Squadron at Teheran/Mehrabad 2 F-5E

51st Tactical Fighter Wing at Umidyeh TFB 5
51st, 52nd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Akha Jari/Omidieh  - each with 12 F-5E, 2 F-5F

61st Tactical Fighter Wing at  Bushehir TFB 6

61st Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at  Bushehir with 12 F-5E, 2 F-5F, 6 F-5B
  ?    Tactical Fighter Squadron at Mashad - F-5E/F
This last Squadron alternated at Mashad with one equipped with McDonnel F-4E

101st Tactical Fighter Wing at  Chah Bahar TFB 10 Base incomplete
101st, 102nd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Chah Bahar each  with 12 F-5E, 2 F-5F

61st Tactical Fighter Wing at  Mashad TFB 14

Note that first digit of Wings and Squadrons number corresponds to Air Base number.

Some Squadron patches can be found on Imperial Iranian AF site.

        Northrop F-5E 3-540 00933                                 Photo:unknown

Golden Crown aerobatic team

 The Iranian aerobatic team
"Golden Crown" performed with 5 North American F-86F
 in 1967; it started to use 5 Northrop F-5A in 1968 but returned to fly 6 North American
 F-86F in 1969 and 5 F-86F in 1970, transitioning to the Northrop F-5A (6 aircrafts) in
 1971. A crash left the team operating only with 5 aircrafts from 1972 till 1975.
 The year 1976 saw the upgrading to 7 Northrop F-5E, increasing the number of airplanes
 to 8 in 1977 and 1978, after which the team was disbanded due to change of government.

 One Northrop F-5A crashed in 1971, plus one aircraft in 1974