Ejercito del AireSpanish Air Force

   Credit: Roundels of the world
                                        Last update 19-11-2020

The United States had beginning 1960's offered as new supersonic fighter either the Northrop F-5A, the North American F-100 or the Convair F-102 but Spain insisted and obtained the very expensive Starfighter.
nitial replacement for some of the North American F-86F were 21 Lockheed F-104G/TF-104G (prestigeous aircraft but complicated to fly and to maintain) first seven delivered by the USA in May 1965 supplied
under the US Military Assistance Plan
. The country was unable to obtain enough aircrafts to replace all the Sabre and contemporanely modernise its aircraft industry. It realised that a simpler aircraft, less expensive
fighter was needed to be bought and also built in Spain.

Discussions for the acquisition of 100 Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter to replace the old North American F-86F, equipping several fighter units, started in May 1960, in June 1962 Northrop acquired a package of
shares as a first step, followed by a second one in February 1964 to bring the Northrop share holding to 24 percent
, financial interest withdrawn in 1989.

Signature of the manufacturing contract between CASA and Northrop took place on 12-11-65; definitive purchase was only announced by CASA and the Council Ministries on 17-12-65, by the Spanish Defence
Ministry on 06-01-66. It concerned 70 aircrafts of the  fighter/trainer versions at the cost of 2'800 millions Pesetas. These were to be built locally by Construcciones Aereonauticas S.A. (CASA)
at their Madrid-
Getafe plant, which had obtained the authorisation to build them under licence giving an enormous transfer of technology to the local aviation community.
The contract was valued at USD 64.5m of which USD 42.6 represented the direct manufacturing costs, unit price being approximately USD 750'000. Production started with the double-seaters in order to train pilots
to the new supersonic fighter
was signed on 20-12-65, ratified by the Spanish parliament on 20-02-66 specifying that the first 10 aircrafts were to be delivered on 20-06-69.
Delivery dates were specified as follows: 10 aircrafts within 40 months of contract signature, another 10 within 48 months, followed by 10 within 54 months, 10 within 58 months, 10 within 62 months, 10 within 66
months and 10 within 70 months.

The programme had four phases: 1) the first two aircrafts were built from major assemblies supplied by Northrop; 2) the next three were knocked-down assemblies , CASA undertaking all systems installation;
3) parts were supplied
 by Northrop for additional three; 4) airframes from the ninth one were completely CASA built.

Initial order was for 36 single- and 34 trainers but this was modified to 18 fighter, 18 reconnaissance aircrafts and 34 trainers
in 1971; these were locally designated CASA/Northrop SF-5A, SRF-5A, SF-5B, their
military designation being respectively C.9, CR.9, CE.9. First to be built were the two-seaters, followed by the single- and last by the reconnaissance versions.

                                       Photo: CASA
                                                                                                           The second two-seater on the CASA Getafe production line.

Roll-out of the first aircraft (SF-5B
serial CE.9-001) at Getafe was on 11-05-68, followed by its first flight on 22-05-68; four others flew by the end of the year. The first one was officially handed-over (together with
nine others) after trials to the Ejercito del Aire on 19-06-69, again at Getafe AB.

Six pilots instructors and 12 technicians were sent to Williams AFB (USA) following conversion to the fighter;
elivery completed in September 1970 allowing formation of a second Squadron (204). These units formed part of the Aviacion Tactica (Tactical Airforce)

The first reconnaissance aircraft flew in 1970 and production was completed with delivery to the Air Force of the last CASA/Northrop SRF-A oin 11-04 1972.

  Photo: CASA        
First eight CASA/Northrop SF-5B awaiting delivery to the Spanish AF at  Getafe airport on 16-06-69.                CASA/Northrop SF-5A C9-039 in a full tanks configuration  shortly before delivery to the Air Force.
                        Photo: Airbus Military
Enmasa company was entrusted with the main overhaul and repairs of the General Electric J-85 engines, this work being transferred to CASA Division de Motores by 1978.
The Air Force took care from the very beginning of the periodical engine overhauls between 200 and 1'200 hours at Talavera la Real AB.

Six instructors were sent to the USA
in 1968 receiving training on the Northrop T-38A and some hours on the Northrop F-5. They were based at Moron on return to Spain and entrusted with the transfer of the new
aircrafts to this base and w
ith the training of local pilots.

Both double- and single-seaters aircrafts were distributed to the 202 Squadron and 204 Squadron, these being dissolved in September 1971 the Northrop F-5Bs being transferred mainly to the Jet School and the
single-seaters, with some two-seaters, to operational Squadrons, see the Spanish AF Units page for details.

Selection of a new fighter to replace Freedom Fighters in the fighter role was started in February 1978, candidates were the more advanced version Northrop F-5E, the McDonnel-Douglas F-15, the Grumman F-14A,
the General Dynamics F-16A
, the GAMD Mirage 2000, the Northrop YF-17the McDonnel-Douglas F-18A, this last one being selected in 1979.
Three Spanish test pilots had perfomed, after having been trained in Spain on the CASA/Northrop SF-5B and SF-5A, 07.40 flight hours between the 13th and 15th June 1978, in seven flights on the Northrop F-5E
at the Edwards AFB (USA) base between June 13th and 15th, 1978.

             Photo: Spanish Air Force
                                                                In-flight view of Northrop/CASA SF-5A 211-41, RF-5A 212-58 and an unknown camouflaged SF-5A
A change to military serials took place in April 1978, the SF-5A
being reserialled as A.9 (attack), the SRF-5A as AR.9 (attack/reconnaissance), the SF-5B as AE.9 (attack/training). Repainting of the Freedom Fighters
in camouflaged colours started also 1979.

                                                                       Photo: collection Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
                                                        Camouflaged CASA/Northrop SF-5As were used exclusively for ancillary operations, herewith with Dart target.

CASA/Northrop F-5 losses between 1977 and 1986 were high: 10 aircrafts - 1 in 1977, 1 in 1980, 2 in 1981, 2 in 1982, 1 in 1983, 1 in 1984, 1 in 1985, 1 in 1986, surely necessitating an update to the airframes.

The missile AIMP-9 was integrated on the CASA/Northrop SF-5B and was launched for the first time in 1983 at the Arenosillo (Huelva) poligon.

First upgrade to CASA/Northrop SF-5B+

A life extension study (called Programa SLEP) was initiated following the in-flight detachment of the aileron of CASA/Northrop SF-5A AE.9-033 on 28-04-89 for the life extension (about 3'000 hours) of the remaining
airframes and a first programme to upgrade the structure
of 23 CASA/Northrop F-5B, to be performed in collaboration with the Canadian company Bristol Aerospace, particularly regarding the wings, the lower fuselage,
the vertical stabilizator, the landing gear and the dorsal longerons
. The definitive contract was signed with CASA in December 1990.

All these modifications were not foreseen for the single-seaters; they were to used for target-tug and operational training and be withdrawn when reaching their flying hours limits, the last in 1992. Remaining
reconnaissance aircrafts were anyhow subject to a limited sensor upgrades to improve their capabilites
 starting from 1999
, the last operational one crashed on 30-04-03.

Plans were established to return the first modified two-seater to the Air Force on 24-06-91 and the last one on 12-12-94, but the first one was handed over to CASA only on 20-03-91, resulting in an overall delay:
the last aircraft of those initially foreseen was returned to the Air Force on 05-12-95, an additional one (modified from an accidented airframe - AE.9-029 - seen hereunder on take-off), followed on 04-08-96.

               Photo: unknown

Starting from 1992 the
remaining 21 Ala at Moron single-seaters (CASA/Northrop F-5A, RF-5A) and 4 CASA/NORTHROP SF-5B started to be transferred in-flight or by road (if unable to fly) to Talavera AB. Seven
single-seaters were kept flyable.

Second upgrade to CASA/Northrop SF-5M and SF-5M+
A major overhaul programm of the avionics and airframe was needed following the decision to keep 22 CASA/Northrop F-5B in operation till the 2020s.

Boeing, IAI, Elbit and SAGEM responded to the request for offer issued by Spain; the tender was won by IAI/Lahav division as main contractor and EADS/CASA/INDRA as sub-contractor.

An upgrade plan in two phases, due to budgetary limitations, was established
. The first phase concerned the avionics: it included a board computer, a virtual radar, an HUD, new navigation (VOR/ILS and INS/TACAN)
and communication (VHF/UHF) systems, software very similar to the McDonnell EF-18
. An initial modest fuselage upgrade was also foreseen: modification of the bulkhead and the wingtips to accept AIM-9J Sidewinder
instead of the AIM-9B.

All these changed justified the redesignation to CASA/Northrop SF-5M
of the aircraft. A first contract (value 21m Euros) was signed on 17-06-00 only for four prototypes Following full satisfaction, another contract
for the remaining 18 followed on 
17-12-02 for a total value of more than 31 millions Euros.

Four aircrafts were sent to EADS/CASA plant at Getafe to be upgraded as prototypes; first flight of a modified aircraft (AE.9-09) was on 12-09-01 at the same base, first of four prototypes was handed over during
the summer 2002 to the Centro Logistico de Aemamento y Experimentador (CLAEX, experimental unit) at Torrejon AB which 
took care of the development and test of the new software and sent back to the Ala 23
on 10-07-02 after more than 50 check flights

The first modernized production Northrop F-5M left the company EADS-CASA at Getafe airport on December 2003
. These prototypes were used for the first training course which started on 01-09-03, being
completed on 14-06-04

Finally 17 additional CASA/Northrop SF-5B were to receive the first phase upgrade, work was begun in 2003, first leaving Talavera La Real AB on 15-10-04; the last CASA/Northrop SF-5B+ modified to SF-5M was
handed over to the Ala 23
on 10-05-07
; this was contemporaneously the last one which received the avionics upgrade and the second prototype of the structural upgrade. The goal was to keep the trainers operational
till the year 2020.
The second phase, structural upgrade of the aiframe started with the signature in November 2003 of the modification  contract. First delivery of an SF-5M (AE.9-014) for modification to  Albacete AB was on
16-09-05; first flight of the prototype followed on 04-12-06, two prototyes being completed by the end of the year
, while the first production modified aircraft was completed by 09-07-07. Three hed been returned
to the Ala 23 by November 2007.

                Photo: unknown
                                                                                               CASA/Northrop SF-5Ms undergoing modifications.

          Photo: aircraftinformation.info
                                                                       Contrast rich picture of all-grey EADS/Northrop SF-5M+ 23-04 AE9.010

A contract was signed with Martin Baker during this year for the replacement of the old Northrop ejection seat with the Martin Baker Mk.16L, enabling ejection between 0 and 550 knots and 0 feet. First flight of an
modified aircraft took place on 17-09-08.
An important step was the offer in January 2007 to house at Talavera la Real AB the Advanced European Jet Pilot Training, in competition with Sweden (Lulea AB, Östersund AB or Söderhamn AB), Greece
(Kalamata AB or Araxos AB), Finland (Kauhava AB), Portugal (Beja AB), France/Belgium (Cazaux AB), Italy (Lecce AB) as well as the USA/Canada with their Joint Jet Pilot Training and NFTC, but interest in establishing
this school has sensibly diminished over the years and no decision has been taken byl January 2017. Lecce AB provides (2019) advanced training to pilots of several countries on Leonardo M-346.
Spanish company INDRA obtained
in October 2010 a contract for new flight simulators of both EADS-CASA/Northrop SF-5M and McDonnell F/A-18 for the value of 4.33m Euro, based at Talavera la Real AB. This was
coded 23-00.


                                                                                           Clean Underfuselage view of a CASA/Northorp F-5M

Five aircrafts enter
ed each year the structural upgrade/
modernisation process, which lasted between 2 and 3 years. A total of twelve structural upgraded aircrafts have been seen by June 2012; re-delivery of  the last
one was in 2016, allowing the prolonguement of the fleet's operational life till 2024. Depot level maintenance and engines are completed at Talavera la Real AB, structural maintenance is taken care at Albacete AB.
A further step was the installation of new wings to the trainers starting from February 2011.

Cassidian (formerly EADS Defense)
signed in November 2011 a contract 
for structural upgrade of 5 additional CASA/Northrop SF-5M at Getafe AB. No sightings have ben reported of these additional aircrafts, and
possibly have not been modified or they were included in the earlier contract

A new, national training aircraft has been searched in order to replace the fleet of ENAER T-35C and CASA C-101 Aviojet to be designed and developed locally and to be operational late 2021/early2022. According to the
latest informartion it was not possible to develop the aircraft in Spain due to financial and technical problems; 24 Pilatus PC-21 trainers were ordered beginning 2020. It is not known how this will effect the use of CASA/
Northrop SF-5M+ now used in the advanced training role. The CASA/Northrop aircraft is now scheduled to be retired aroung 2028.

The Spanish Air Forces celebrated on 12-11-20 the 50th anniversary of use of the Freedom Fighters on the Talavera la Real air base; the tail of the CASA/Northrop F-5M was painted in special colours to commemorate
the event. Retirement of the 19 CASA/Northrop F-5M used for the third and fourth fighter pilots training is foreseen during the year 2028. Obsolescence of avionics and


                                       CASA/Northrop SF-5B+ code 23-04, serial A.9-10 with commemorating tail colours                      50 years in-service commemoration badge

Subsitution of the 19
CASA/Northrop SF-5B+ is not foreseen before 2030. In the meantine the Mando de Apoyo Logistico has awarded directly to Silicin Aviacion (Spanish representative of  Israel IAI company) a contract
divided into four periods to modify the aircrafts: in 2023 and 2024 each for USD 15 milions, in 2025 and 2026 each for USD 5 millions. The modifications  include: analysis, drawings, building a prototype, air trials (of the
various subsytems composing avionics system) plus replacement of the lower and upper spars of the front fuselage.