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                                        Last update 06-05-2021

BASES                                                                                           PROCUREMENT

   Initial interest in the Northrop fighter was shown
  1974 when a requirement for 3 Air Defence
  Squadrons was establised; these were to be
  equipped with 30 Northrop F-5E, 6 Northrop F-5F.
  The acquisition of supersonic fighters was not
  approved by the US Congress and, following this,
  the Mexican government contacted Israel for a
  possible acquisition of at least 24 IAI Kfir C-2 and
  France of GAMD Mirage F-1.
  The USA opposed to the sale of Kfirs as it is powe-
  red by an American engine, the General Electric
  J-79, placing a veto to the transfer.
  New negotiations in 1978 regarded the acquisition
  of 26 Northrop F-5E to equip one Group, but was
  suspended; it followed in 1981 a firm request for
  10 Northrop F-5E and 2 Northrop F-5F, to be bought
under Foreign Military Sale (programm Peace Aztec).

        Frame 1   Photo: unknown
                        Northrop F-5E 01401 visited BA Santa Lucia.

The contract was signed in Februar 1981 at a cost of USD 110m, including pilots and maintenance crew instruction, air-to-air missiles AIM-9B Sidewinder, rocket launchers LAU-3 and bombs Mk.82 and Mk.83, less than 20 Sidewinder AIM-9P were bought in1995.
Special Mexican configuration included a shark nose radome, leading Edge Extensions, fix housing an AF antenna, different electronics GPS in the upper part of the cockpit. There was an option for 12 additional aircrafts, but this was never taken up.

Conversion training of two instructors and six pilots took place at Williams AFB (USA) with the 425th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron. A new indipendent unit, the Escuadron de Défensa Aerea 401
(Air Defence Squadron) was formed at BAM N°1 Santa Lucia on 01-11-82, the Tigers arriving there between 10-08-82 and 01-11-82 (see serial pages for details). The runway of the Air Base had been lengthened and facilities renovated to accomodate the new aircrafts.
Maintenance technicians were instructed at the Inter-American Air Force Academy (IAAFA) at Panama, Albrooks AFB. The new Squadron depended directly from the Air Force Headquarter.

Five Northrop F-5Es and two Northrop F-5F had been delivered by September 16th 1982, when they participated to the yearly Independence Day air-parade over Mexico City, the Squadron having in August the 20th anniversary.

The first F-5E loss was on 25-11-83, serial 4002, during an exercise with the Army, near Chihuahua. The second (and last) was during an eventful
air-parade on Independence Day, 16-09-95; 3 Lockheed T-33As and Northrop F-5E serial 4003 collided and crashed in the suburbs of Mexico City. 

The Squadron came after 1993 under the commad of the 7° Grupo Aéreo Jet de Pelea (GAJP) together with the 202 Escuadron equipped with Lockheed T-33A; in 1995 the 1a Ala de Combate was formed under the 7° GAJP. Unit designation changed with the Air Force reorganization to Escuadron Aéreo 401 in 1999, still assigned to the 1er Grupo Aéreo. Basing remained throughout the years at BAM N°1 Santa Lucia.

        Patch 401 Escuadron                      Badge 1er Grupo Aereo
On 23-08-02 the 20th anniversary of the Escuadron Aéreo 401 was celebrated with the painting of one single- and one double-seaters in special colours.

In 2007 it was officially stated that only 2 Northrop F-5F (4501 and 4502) and 1 F-5E (4508) were operational.

Operational use

 Photo: unknown
he second Northrop F-5E, old serial 4002, rocket armed ready for an exercise, January 1995.

            Sidewinder armed Northrop F-5F 4502, January 1995                          
 Photo: unknown

Increasing traffic of drug carrying aircrafts over Mexico led to the assignement in May 1995 of 6 Northrop F-5E and 4 Lockheed T-33A to the interception of fast moving planes, though their success was limited as the aircrafts were not equipped with long distance radar or night vision equipment for night interceptions, when most illegal flights took place.

The Tigers have participated to several military exercises and have been detached to various bases in the country, the most frequent ones being BAM 2 Ixtepec, from where it operates interceptions of drug smuggler aircrafts coming from Central America, and BAM 8 Merida; BAM 11 Santa Gertrudis is used for exercises with the Army at the local shooting range.

Four F-5E were detached
in 1994 to Ixtepec AB during the operations against Zapatista insurgents, though they were not actively used.

Two aircrafts patrolled the sky of the Gulf of Mexico during the US invasion of Iraq in 2002, just in case of local problems.

On 18-06-03 the Mexican presidency informed that the remaining nine F-5s had been overhauled by March 2002 at the BAM No.5 Zapopan and BAM No.1 Santa Lucia. Only two aircrafts are known to have been lost; what has happened to the tenth aircraft?

Another operation was the basing of 2 Northrop F-5E and 1 Northorp F-5F (AIM-9P Sidewinder armed), together with an AEW Embraer 145, at Cancun to protect the visit of US president Bush during the local March 31st, 2006 meeting.

On 02-01-09 the Defence Ministry officially revealed that there were only 45 Sidewinders on stock. Seen 21-02-20 under the wings of Northrop F-5E serial 4507 rocket launcher LAU-68A for 7 rockets, another rocket launcher for 19 and AIM-9B Sidewinders

Five Northrop F-5E participated
on 10-02-10 to the celebration of the 95th adniversary of the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana to a parade at Mexico City together with 3 Lockheed C-130, 1 IAI Arava, 3 PT-17 Stearman, 2 Bell 206 and 9 Pilatus PC-7.

        Northrop F-5E 4506 landing at BAM No. 5 Zapopan on 06-02-08
     Photo: Victor Garciamontes

It seems, there is a general pilot shortage by mid-2011: only 10 pilots are available to fly 10 Tigers, of these (according to unofficial information) only 3 Northrop F-5E and 1 F-5F are fully operational: condition A, 1 F-5F in condition B, 1 F-5E in condition C and 3 in condition D.

An armed forces show, called "La Gran Fuerza de Mexico" took place at Santa Lucia AB on 27-08-11, four Tigers participated to the air show, having earlier trained for the show at Merida AB.

Situation of the 10 remaining in the fleet was rumoured March 2014 as: two completely out of service, three not sure if flyable, five opertional (only two with operational armament).

An anti-hijacking exercise, in collaboration with a Mexican radar-equipped Embraer E-145 took place on 06-04-14 Hermosillo AB; the four Northrop F-5E
arrived on 02-03-14.

Total flying hours flown by single- and double-seaters were in 2007 569 hrs,
in 2008 393 hrs, in 2009 680 hrs, in 2010 986, an almost yearly increasing number.

            Photo: unknown
                            Underfuselage/wings wiew showing camouflage/tank

Special painted aircraft's tail and anniversary badges

Seen on Northrop F-5F tail, serial 4501
         a)           b)          c)
a) 20th anniversary Northrop F-5 operation 1982-2002  b) 2006 during visit USA president R. Nixon            c) 100th anniversary flight of a president in the world
    kept at leasst till September 2002                                 see B.747 in background                              Lockheed T-33, De Havilland Vampire on tail
-  November 2011
                          d)                  e)        Frame 1 f)
        d) Seen on Northrop F-E5F tail, serial 4509 1915-2006        e) 25th anniversary anniversary Northrop F-5    f) 100th anniversy of the Air Force badge
        during visit USA president R. Nixon 1982-2007                applied August 2007                                       Painted in 2015 on the tail of all Tigers
         kept only for one week.                                                                                                                    

Ugrades - recondition - replacement
Upgrades have been proposed without success, like the one on the basis of the Northrop Tiger IV in the mid-90s. Known modest upgrades took place starting from 1995 with the installation of a GPS while a contract was signed in 2005 with Derco Company to install a longer range radar, the AN/APQ-159 V-5.

On 18-06-03 the Mexican presidency informed that the remaining nine F-5s had been overhauled by March 2002 at the BAM No.5 Zapopan and BAM No.1 Santa Lucia. Only two aircrafts are known to have been lost; what has happened to the tenth aircraft?

Press rumours of the acquisition of former Saudi (25) or Swiss Tigers were officially denied on 02-11-03, claiming that capacity of reaction was based on 7 F-5s and 10 T-33As.

A replacement in form of ex US Navy F-18s or USAF F-16s was also rumoured in 2003. An offer by the USA in 2004 of 10 General Dynamics F-16A ex-USAFand 2 F-16B Block14 MLU , was without follow-up. Around this period XXXX were sent to Saudi Arabia, Switzerlad and other countries in order to buy additional Tigers with plans to upgrade aircrafts with in-flight refuelling probes, radar and weaposns. In 2007 additional funds to buy F-18 or F-16s but COIN aircrafts were preferred.
By 2011 no definitive plans were known to replace/increase the number of this faithful fighter

                       Photo: Felipe Calderon Twitter
During the last visit to the USA of president Felipe Caderon on 23-09-12 1 Northrop F-5E (4507), see above, and 1 F-5F (4502) escorted the presidential aircraft upon its departure to Washington.

By 29 April 2016 ten were still available: two were set aside for museums, two single- and two doubles seaters were operational, four were awaiting by RUAG reconditioned engines; there were plans to recondition engines for another three fighters.

Reports mentioned that final appearance of the Tiger at the yearly Independence parade at Mexico City on 16-09-16 by three aircrafts, one single- and two double-seaters and that it was the last one they participatef but would still be operated till 2018. This proved not exact when 3 TIgers flew over Mexico City on 24-02-17, the National Flags Celebration day.

After a pause of almost six month the first reconditioned Northrop F-5 flew from Santa Lucia AB on 29-05-18, while two flew on 18-09-18 over Mexico City during a parade.

            Photo: Hans Bravo
         Air-to-air reconditioned and freshly painted Northrop F-5E serial 4510 on 16-08-18

Intesive use of S Lucia airport by civilian companies dictated the move mid-2020 of Escuadron 401 first to Toluca Airport (Mexico City) , then to Queretaru Airport (Colon, near Mexico City).

Northrop F-5E seial 4507 in freshly painted camouflage was photogrted at S Lucia AB on 21-02-20. Active?