The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast Page  -  Home


                          Last update 30-03-2019

            Credit:  Roundels of the world


Continous tension with North Korea, erupting in an almost state of war, and the friendship with the United States of America influence heavily this country.

In 1964 the USA proposed to withdraw a Division stationed in Korea; to sweaten the matter to the Korean goverment it was proposed (among others) to supply the 6th Tactical Squadron with Northrop F-5A. The withdrawal was suspended.

A total of 88 Northrop F-5A and 20 Northrop F-5B were supplied under MAP between 1965 and 1972, another 16 F-5B were bought directly.
Military Assistance Program (MAP) F-5As were granted in following US Fiscal Years
:  1963 - 29; 1964 - 3; 1965 - 17; 1966 - 5; 1967 - 14; 1968 - 6; 1970 - 3; 1971 - 10; one is unaccounted.  By mid-68 there were a total of 54 Northrop F-5s in the country.

Pilot training started during 1964 when 4 instructors were trained in the USA, while deliveries of F-5s Freedom Fighters began in early April 1965; they replaced North American F-86Fs. They were transported to South Korea (fully fueled and armed, wrapped in plastic) by ship, a dozen each time, fully flyable and armed. They were disembarked at Pusan port and flown out from the local base.

   Photo: unknown

Northrop F-5A 13308 FA-308 in US markings with a full tanks load before delivery.

Northrop F-5B 20447 in USA September 1973 without markings. Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

The Republic of Korea AF planned originally to buy McDonnell RF-4E for reconnaissance purposes, but the plan was abandoned and 8 Northrop RF-5A were purchased in US Fiscal Year 1971; a former Republic of Vietnam AF example was added when this contry collapsed.

The war in Vietnam brought on 28-10-72 an US request to transfer 48 Northrop F-5As to South Vietnam, under operation "Enhance Plus". These fighters were to be replaced by Northrop F-5Es as soon as they were to be available.
Korea did not agree to this and requested the delivery of 18
McDonnel F-4D in exchange for the Freedom Fighters. Finally, a compromise offer was submitted, either to lease of 18 McDonnel F-4D or to base 2 USAF McDonnel F-4 Squadrons locally for the air defence of the country. The first alternative was chosen by Korea; only 36 F-5A were transferred to South Vietnam. 

An important expansion of the Republic of Korea Air Force at the mid of the 70's saw the establishment of several new Squadrons, to be equipped with McDonnell F-4 and 126 Northrop F-5E, 9 Northrop F-5F (later to be increased to 19/20 F-5F), first Northrop F-5E being delivered on 27-08-74; AIM-9L Sidewinder were bought to arm all these aircrafts.
First aircraft was handed over on 27-08-74; at least four F-5E were seen
at Williams AFB the same month in USAF markings (possibly with 425th Squadron) to train Korean pilots. Final 6 were delivered by mid 1979.

  Photo: Northrop
Early Northrop F-5E 01493 with SEA camouflage on a test flight in USA.

 Photo: USAF
Northrop F-5E 10592 with gray camouflage
on delivery by Lockheed C-5 Galaxy.

By April 1976 there were following types on hand: 71 Northrop F-5A, 8 RF-5A, 26 F-5B, 48 F-5E; 2 additional F-5A and 1 RF-5A were foreseen for 1976 delivery (ex Vietnam) together with 8 F-5B bought under Project Peace Needle and 25 F-5E (of which 21 originally foreseen for Korea but diverted to China under Vietnam Project Enhance Plus). Foreseen to be delivered during the years 1977 and 1978 were each 27 F-5E and 3 F-5F (these last three under Project Peace Freedom). According to an official US list funding was provided for the Security Assistance Program FY 1976 (or previously) 2 Northrop RF-5A, 12 F-5A, 3 F-5B. Another source states that 28 Northrop F-5A, 10 Northrop F-5B were funded.

              Photo: unknown
       First Northrop F-5F delivered used as Target Tug with AIM-9 Sidewinders in 1990.

Reports mention that altogether 21 (or 19) Freedom Fighter (returned Korean and ex other nations) used by the Vietnamese AF were returned at the end of the conflict. Fourteen serials are known.

Withdrawal of the Freedom Fighter was completed only in the year 2005.

During FY 1976 and 1977 Military Assistance Program funds were granted to install Radar Warning Receivers (RWR) on about half of the existing  Tigers and others to be built, Project Peace Home, to increase survival capability. Remaining RWR were paid by Korea.
The USA was mainly responsible for financing the Korean defence effort until FY 1976; 
an official US list funded the Security Assistance Program show by FY 1976 (and previously) 54 Northrop F-5E, 20 F-5F.

Korea took over the costs starting from FY 1977 through US Foreign Military Sales and commercial acquisition.

On 21-05-80 a Joint Chiefs Staff emergency document mentions that Cheongju AFB based Northrop F-5s were transferred to Daegu AFB (11), nach Yecheon AFB (18) and Suwon AFB (19) due to security problems. Nineteen
bombs armed 19 Kwangju AFB based Northrop F-5As single-seater and 4 Northrop F-5Bs double-seaters prepared to leave from Kwangju AFB and join the Suwon Wing but this order was revoked on the same day.

   By 1982 US statics showed a total strength of 254 Northrop F-5A/F-5B/F-5E/F-5F. 
   The Air Force had a slight superiority over the People's Republic of Korea AF due to
   better fighters and pilots training but had shortages, only for 7 days of operations,

   of ammunitions, fuel and spare parts. 

   A rarely seen armed Northrop (K)F-5E with underwing tanks and AIM-9 Sidwinders.

   Photo: unknown

Three Northrop F-5As were sold in September 1996 to the Philippines (delivered by ship) for a friendly price of USD 100.00 each, five additional followed in October 1998, flown to Clark AFB.

Following an enormous industrial development, Korea was able to start building aircrafts under licence. A request was sent in 1979 to the US Government to build General Dynamics F-16 under licence, but the authorisation was refused, offering instead co-production of Northrop F-5s with full logistic support and production tooling, training and technical assistance.
In 1980 an agreement was signed by the Hanjin Corporation (a Korean Air Lines company), under Programm Bridge, for the coproduction at Pusan (cost USD 104m) of 36 Northrop F-5E and 32 F-5F, locally named KF-5E/F Chegong-Ho (Skymaster), their General Electric J-85 engines to be assembled by Samsung Precision Industries, which had already overhauled them. These new aircrafts were modified with RWR sensors, automatic flaps, chaff and flare dispensers and an radar with increased range.

In February 1982 Korea sent a request for a change of the single-/double-seaters mix to 48 Northrop F-5E and 20 F-5F; this amendement to the contract was signed on 23-11-82.

Works had started in 1981, the first Korean built aircraft (F-5F serial 81-00594) made its first flight on 09-09-82; the final aircraft was delivered on 28-10-86.

Hanjin Corporation supplied F-5E and F-5F bonded components to Northrop during the period from April 1985 till December 1986. Visual difference was the radome: grey istead of black and missing antenna on the tail

                          Photo: unknown
Hanjin Corporation built F-5F. It received later the standard gray camouflage.

Interest in an upgrade of the Tigers to extend their operational life was shown in 1986; the programm began with trial installation in 1988 of an Honeywell H-423 laser INS and an GEC HUD/WAC on an F-5F. Included in the specification were also a laser ranger, a data transfer system, plus (possibly) a new radar. Unfortunately this was without follow-on.

Manufacturing licence for the ALR-85 (V) Radar Warning Receiver system to be installed on F-5s was granted on 04-08-99.

Paveway II and Paveway III laser guided bombs were bought to arm both the Northrop F-5E and MDonnell F-4s in 2003; improved air-to-air missiles AIM-9P were also bought.

               Photo: unknown

                    Northrop F-5E with underwing tanks and exercise bombs launcher seen landing.

By September 2006 a Wing/Squadron of
Northrop F-5s stood down at Suwon AFB, replaced by Choengju AFB based McDonnell F-4 Phantoms.

There were 260 aircrafts in service in 2004 according to an US source.

Life extension of the remaining 27 Northrop F-5Bs and of the Northrop F-5Fs, adding a further 4'000 hours of fatigue life was considered in mid 1992;. The Decision postponed in October 1994 and later definitively cancelled, taking into consideration the development of a new Korean supersonic trainer; this last was in competition with a proposal by Daewoo Heavy Industries to mate a Northrop T-38A cockpit with an F-5A fuseselage plus fitting new wings.
The completely new two-seaters aircraft, built by Korean Aerospace Industries and designated T-50, was finally chosen.
A single-seater, multi-role fighter version (designated KAI FA-50) for replacement of the Tiger was foreseen but only an attack two-seater was definitely developed; it kept the designation KAI FA-50. In December 2011 a production contract was signed for 20 attack aircrafts to be delivered by 2014.

The first 8 of sixty required KAI FA-50 for 2 Squadrons was handed over to the 103rd Fighter Squadron at Wonju on 20-08-13, replacing Northrop F-5s They were followed 12 in 2014.

 Photo: K.A.I

Test aircraft for the future single-seater (in the meantime dropped) FA-50 accompanied by
F-5E 50507 and 00890.

A grounding order for all Tigers was issued due to the crash of one Northrop F-5E 26-09-13. The order was lifted on 18-10-13; all 150 single- 34 double-seaters were returned to flight status on 21-10-13. The cause for the crash was found to be poor maintenanance.

Good use of the engines from withdrawn from Nothrop F-5s was found in a new air bases snow-plogging machine, called "Majinga", together with bigger McDonnell F-4s engines, called "Big Majinga".

On 26-09-17 The Ministry of  National Defence placed an order for an unknown number of KAI FA-50 trainer/light attack aircrafts. It is foreseen to equip a total of three Squadrons with the aircraft.


Due to continuos tension with the Northern part of the peninsula (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) utmost importance is given to large scale domestic and joint Korean/USA Air Force, Army, Navy excercises. These are held several times a year.

Domestic excercises

An joint maritime Navy/Air Force excercise was hold in May 2016. It included Navy destroyer, Lockheed P-3 Orion, Lynx helicoters. Additionally Northrop F-5, KAI KA-1 and KF-50 strike fighters were active in a fictitious answer to North Korean maritime and air provocation in the East sea.

Joint excercises

The most important, two-weeks long exercise "Soaring Eagle" was held for the first time in 2008 with air-to-air and air-to-ground operations across the country, twice a year,

In February 2015 also from Cheongju, including KAI FA-50 light attack aircrafts, Northrop F-5E, General Dynamic KF-16, McDonnell F-4E and McDonnel F-15K. 

                        Photo: ROKAF

During February 2016 it included 50 Korean fighters of all types. It  lasted 3 days involving 102 pilots and 950 Air Force personnell. The 29th Tactical Development and Training Group participated to it. The excercise was devoted mainly to Air Defence.

Excecise "Vigilant Ace"  started on 04-12-17 (only a week after North Korea had tested its new intercontinental ballistic missile) ending on 09-12-17. It included all Korean fighter types (including the KF-5) plus several USAF ones; most important was the participation of 6 F-22 and 18 F-35s.

Units operating Northrop F-5s, but mainly KAI/Northrop KF-5s in November 2018
Suwon holds two tenant Squadrons (101FS and 201FS) both operating Northrop F-5E/F Jegpngho (translated as Sky master) produced under licence by Korean Air back in 80's; another Squadron was 207th FS flying directly in US manufactured aircrafts, disbanded due to its qgeing fleet and subsequently replaced by an McDonnell F-4 Squadron  in 2017 A handful of original aircrafts were still flying; visual difference are the colour of the radome: KAI/Northrop KF-5 gray, Northrop F-5s black and the shape pf the tail fin (no antenna on the Northrop F-5s.

         Front view of an KAI/Northrop F-5E