The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast Page  -  Home

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                                        Last update 12-03-2019

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 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.

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 in 1982, 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.

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.

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.

 In the meantime the
 25th anniversary of
 Tiger operation was
on 31-08-
 2007 at BAM 
 Lucia with this special  tail paintings
on F-5E   4509 and F-5F serial  4501.

 The tail of F-5E 4509.                                         Photo: unknown

On 02-01-09 the Defence Ministry officially revealed that there were only 45 Sidewinders on stock.

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.
Frame 1  For the 100th anniversary of the Mexican AF in 2015 this badge was painted on the tail, below the serial.

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 in 2004 by the USA of 10 General Dynamics of 10 ex-USAFand 2 F-16B Block14 MLU, 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: Cuartoscuro
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.

Five Northrop F-5s started to be reconditioned 
end of 2014 and made flyable at Santa Lucia AB (together with 6 engines J-85GE-21C) with the help of a Mexican and a Swiss company (RUAG). The aircrafts needed inspections of 1'200, 1'800 and 2'100 flight-hours plus small others repairs. Cost were 3.6 millions Pesos. These works practically cancelled any hopes of a new fighter purchase.

Contrary to reports claiming that final appearance of the Tiger on 16-09-16 by three aircrafts, one single- and two double-seaters, was the last at the yearly Independence parade at Mexico City. Iit is stated that they will be still operated till 2018. 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 reconditioned engines by RUAG; there were plans to recondition engines for another three fighters. Three TIgers Flew on the National Flags Celebration on 24-02-17 over Mexico City, while two fles on 18-09-18 on a parade in September 2018.