Turkish Air Force

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Roundel till 1972          Roundel from 1972

                                        Last update 04-01-18

Data written in blue are subject to confirmation

Turkey (member of the NATO and CENTO defence organisations) was the Southern European nation, together with Greece, foreseen to receive through the US Military Assistance Plan Northrop Freedom Fighters by the mid 1960s to supplant its worn out Canadair F-86E(M) in the air-defence and North American F-100s in the ground attack role, though it would have preferred McDonnell F-4s in order to counter Soviet MiG-21s. Deliveries were scheduled in 1965, re-equipping 4 Squadrons, one each year.

Northrop F-5A 38421/FA-421 undergoing tests before delivery.                 Photo: unknown

                                     Photo: Collection Northrop F-5 Enthusiast
                               Northrop F-5A
21181 in USA before delivery, was later modified to Northrop RF-5A

Initial aircrafts arrived in Turkey on 25-12-65; nineteen Northrop F-5A and two Northrop F-5B had been delivered by mid-January 1966 equipping one Squadron (142 Squadron) in training status, by mid-67 there were enough aircraft for two Squadrons (161 Squadron).

eliveries took place mainly by ship, but some were air-delivered: four Northrop F-5A in 21 fliying hours, piloted by two Turkish and two US pilots, starting from McClellan AFB on 23-11-66 and arriving at Bandirma AB on 12-12-66, via Williams, Vance, Norfolk, Loring AFBs in the USA, Goose Bay (Canada), Sondestorm (Greenland), Reykjavik (Iceland), Alconbury (UK), Ramstein (Germany), Naples (Italy) and Cigli (Turkey).

      Photo: unknown
eliveries at Istanbul were sometimes in conjunction with Lockheed F-104Gs.

The first two units had by the end of 1970 a primary air defence and secondary close support commitments, having converted from Canadair F-86E(M) (already withdrawn from use in July 1964) at Bandirma AB and Balikesir AB. Each Squadron was equipped with 18 aircrafts. Another air-defence commited Squadron was based at Merzifon AB (143 Squadron); it was also formerly equipped with Canadair F-86E(M).

Aircrafts were delivered in metallic colour but were camouflaged in the early 1970's following a NATO decision.
               Shiny Northrop F-5A 13337 on arrival at Merzifon AB on 25-12-65
in metallic
.                                                                         Photo: Turkish AF
               Northrop F-5B 13383/FA-383     Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

Arrival of 20 reconnaissance version Northrop RF-5A in 1969 and 1970 enabled re-equipment of two mixed fighter-bomber/recce Squadrons (192 and 162). Thirteen
fighter-bombers were additionally modified for the reconnaissance role.

Turkey was prepared to supply 6 Freedom Fighters (if the USA agreed) to Pakistan during the Pakistan-India war in December 1971 according to US official sources, but this didn't take place

During the Cyprus crisis (which started on 20-07-74) Freedom Fighters were deployed to Cumaovassi AB and Yenisehir AB but didn't participated to operations; later they suffered under the consequences of the subsequent US arms embargo placed on 05-02-75, finally lifted in September 1978. Some available aircrafts had to be cannibalised to keep part of the fleet operational, but spares were also obtained through friendly nations.
Libya, which was also suffering under an US arms embargo and was unable to operate the aircrafts, transferred 6 single- and 2 double-seaters in 1975 as a gesture of help.

Former Libyan Northrop F-5A 5-199/21199 at Eindhoven on 06-08-86.

                                                       Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

Turkey planned to establish an aircraft industry (TUSAS) manufacturing fighters in the mid-70's; several types entered the selection phase, amongst which the Northrop F-5E, but the plan was finally dropped; later, beginning of 1987, it was decided to built the General  Dynamics F-16.

A 1980 report from the US Senate Foreign Relations Commitee mentioned that the combat inventory of Freedom Fighter was 80 Northrop F-5A, 4 RF-5A, but only half of them were combatworthy.

Additional aircrafts for the operational units arrived in the 1980s. Norway transferred the highest number: 26 Northrop F-5A and 6 Northrop RF-5A (11 F-5A starting July 1983, 11 in 1985, 4 in 1987; 6 RF-5A in 1987), the Republic of China 6 single- and 3 double-seaters in 1989 and the USAF four withdrawn from use Northrop F-5B in March 1986.

US Military Assistance Program transfers totalled 75 Northrop F-5A
(arriving in Turkey between December 1965 and January 1968), 20 Northrop RF-5A (delivered March 1969-July 1970), 15 Northrop F-5B. Thirteen of the Northrop F-5A have been converted to RF-5A standard.

A new model was added to the Order of Battle between 1989 and 1991: 44 Canadair NF-5A and 16 Canadair NF-5B obtained from the Netherlands. The aircrafts were transferred free of change but 26 of them needed extensive check as they had been in storage at Gilze Rijen and Woendsrecht for considerable time; finally only 30 single- and 14 were kept in use.
  These equipped the 132 Squadron; the unit being divided in one operational training flight and one acrobatic flight, the newly re-established TŘrk Yildizlari (Turkish Stars).
The remaining 16 airframes were used as spares sources, recovered in the Netherlands,
while another 14 Canadair NF-5A, mostly only parts of written-off aircrafts, were transported to Turkey.

Canadair NF-5A 3054 seen transiting Cameri AB (Italy) in June 1989 on delivery.

                                                       Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast


                   Canadair NF-5B 4025 also transiting Cameri AB (Italy) in June 1989.

                                                               Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

Perennial tension with Greece brought almost war in January 1996 due to the Imia Island crises. Freedom Fighters were foreseen for air-defence, but fortunately not needed.

Introduction of digital instrumentation equipped fighters rended the
advanced training aircrafts obsolete; the Turkish undersecretariat for defence industries issued in May 1993 a Request For Proposal to convert 40 single- and 20 double-seaters to lead-in trainers for General Dynamics F-16C, F-16D. The program run quickly into troubles due to funding problems and was put on ice.
An attempt to revive it was started in 1995 by the US investment company Triton by funding and managing the programme involving 70 aircrafts to be brought at lead-in trainer level for the Lockheed-Martin F-16; 34 were to be kept by the Turkish AF and 36 sold to other Air Forces in order to pay for the whole upgrade. This ambitious plan was abandoned early in 1996 due to doubtful resale chances.
An offer by the Canadian government/Bristol Aerospace of already modified Canadair CF-5s was not accepted as it gave no involvement to the Turkish aviation companies.

Request for Proposal was again issued in November 1996, involving 48 of the best available airframes (20 Northrop F-5A, 8 Northrop F-5B, 14 Canadair NF-5A, 6 Canadair NF-5B). Avionics upgrade was to be developed by bidders, prototype development was to be done in Turkey at the Air Forces' 1st Air Supply and Maintenance Center at Eškisehir; co-ordinate structural and avionics modifications was to be conducted by Turkish Aerospace Industries.

A consortium lead by Israel Aerospace Industries/Lahav division, Elbit Systems and Singapore Technologies Aerospace was chosen for the avionics modification in preference to  Rockwell International/Bristol Aerospace, GEC-Marconi/Sogerma. The upgrade included the installation of Fly-by-wire systems, an HUD, Multi Function Displays, RWR and an GPS. It was divided in two phases: 1) airframe structural life extension 2) an avionics improvement, both phases to be implemented by the 1st Air Supply and Maintenance Center at Eškisehir AB. A contract for the value of USD 70m was signed on 24-09-98, kits were to be supplied by the consortium, which was also to superwise the work.

Northrop Grumman was also involved supplying 34 upper cockpit, nine lower cockpit and 20 dorsal longerons beginning in May 2000 with an USD 1.8m contract signed in September 1999.

        Canadair F-5B-2000 prototype in primer.              Photo: unknown

The first flight of a post-upgrade F-5-2000 was on 17-04-01, modernisation was completed by November 2006. The first four avionics prototypes were modified by Israel Aircraft Industries at Eškisehir, the following 44 completely at Eškisehir. Works icluded the fitting of Martin Baker Mk 10L ejection seats.
Additional uprgrading started in 2003 involving an improved communication suite for better contact with forward air controllers and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In-flight picture of
TAI/Canadair NF-5A-2000 3021 showing its new under-nose and tail antennas.
                                                                                                                 Photo: Turkish AF

Unknown Canadair NF-5B-2000 overflying a mountainous area.
   Photo: Ízmen Soner

The fighters were foreseen to be retired from service at the endof July2017 and 133 Filo (Squadron) disbanded, recently having a complement of circa 24 aircrafts. Earlier, In the latest two months of use approximately half of them were flown to Eskisehir AB to be cannibalisedfor spare parts in order to keep aircrafts belonging to the acrobatic team "Turkish Stars" flying.The personnel and remaining 11 aircrafts were still operational beginning 2014 but were also sent to Eskisehir Ab and the ones with sufficent fatigue life use as replacement ro the acrobatic unit. By 2017 a photo shows at least ten Freedom Fighters in a graveyard, all possible spare parts removed.

The modernised Northrop T-38M take the advanced training role over.

Aircrafts withdrawn from usegate guardians

Several Northrop built aircrafts withdrawn from use have been used for spare parts retrieval, others were placed as gate guardians at various bases or can be found at museums.

            Northrop RF-5A withdrawn from use and stored awaiting their fate in May 1999

                                                    Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

Northrop F-5A 14460 seen at Yesilkoy in September 1993; of note the white serial.

                                                    Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

    Northrop F-5A 97121 with fictitious code: 9 is the Main Jet Basis Number, 192 is the
    Northrop F-5 Squadron number based at
                                                                        Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

Northrop RF-5A 3-208/21208 at Eškisehir AB February 2007

                                                       Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

The end of the advanced training role for the Canadair built aircrafts came in 2007 with the decision to update Turkish Northrop T-38As (redesignated T-38M); these  were to be equipped with the new generation avionics HHG Training, a simulated air-to-air and air-to-ground training device enabling to replace the Canadair fighters, cutting training time and costs. The first of 55 TAI/Northrop T-38M was received 20-04-12, delivery to be completed by 2014.

                Well worn TAI/Northrop F-5B-2000 21279 seen at Konya AB 21-06-13.

                                                      Photo: archive The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast