United States of America - Air Force

   Credit:  Roundels of the world

                                        Last update 21-08-2016

The US Air Force has introduced twice the Northrop F-5 in its fleet more by coincidence than by real interest in the aircraft. The first time in order to train flying and technical crews of allied contries; the second time
due to the arrival of former Republic of Vietnam aircrafts
in the United States.

The US Air Force has been active in testing the Northrop F-5A, RF-5A, F-5B Freedom Fighter at Edwards AFB after the Kennedy administration had decided on 25-04-62 to supply through the Military Assistance
Program (MAP)
an easy to maintain aircraft, necessitating little ground support by countries receiving assistance.
Development trials took place in conjunction with Northrop (see the Northrop page
for details). First military test flight was made on 14-08-63.
Training of the crews was organised initially through the Air Trainng Command, later the Tactical Air Command
(see the Foreign Pilots Training page for details), while the Air Force was also responsible for the
acceptance and delivery of aircrafts to be supplied under MAP as these were only loaned to the respective countries, remaining US propriety. 


Northrop F-5A 38379 used by the 425th Tactical Training Squadron for MAP countries                              Saudi pilots trained at Williams AFB with Saudi markings applied on aircrafts; here
pilots training in 1968.                                              Photos: archives The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast         Northrop F-5B 01603 in November 1980.

Following information is taken 
from USAF Statistical Digest:

Fiscal Year (FY) (starts 01st March, ends 30th June)
- 30-06-63 three Northrop F-5A were on USAF strength (2 operational on test, 1 non-operational).
          Programs foresaw 71 Northrop F-5A and 14 Northrop F-5B, both for MAP supply.
1964 - 30-04-64 first Northrop F-5A accepted by Tactical Air Command;
6 Northrop F-5A were accepted; 1 each month from January to June 1964;
Northrop F-5B were accepted in 1964: 1 in March, 1 in April, 2 in May, 2 in June.
Flown by Freedom Fighter were 1'052 hours altogether.

 1965 - 82 Northrop F-5A were accepted in 1964: 2 in July - 3 in August - 4 in September - 5 in October - 6 in November -
          8 in December; 9 each in January (1965) / February / March - 10 in April - 8 in May - 9 in June.
          14 Northrop F-5B were accepted in 1964: 2 in July, 1 each in September, October, November, Decembre.
          2  in January (1965) - 1 each in February, March, April;- 2 in May - 1 in June

          Average aircrafts during the year varied between 11 and 21; 1 was lost in flight

1966 - 30-06-66 27 Northrop F-5A were on USAF active strength (11 on combat support, 14 in traning use, 2 on test)
Northrop F-5A were non operating (3
on maintenance, 4 others), plus 5 inactive.

Operational war trials with Northrop F-5As took place in the Republic of Vietnam (see the Vietnam Operations page for details).                       

                               Bien Hoa AFB based Northrop F-5Cs in company of North American F-100s, 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing and Douglas A-1s in January 1966.

All this was completed with  great success, enabling Northrop to sell F-5 family aircrafts to several non MAP receiving countries., the USAF preferring to buy the heavy Vought A-7.


 Tests for the introduction of the second generation Northrop F-5, the Northrop F-5E,  F-5F Tiger took again place with the AFFTC at Edwards AFB by a Joint Northrop/USAF
 Test Force starting from 1972. Formal development and evaluation tests started on  03-08-73.
 Special needs from several Air Forces were also tested at the
same base until disbandment 1978.

    Following collapse of the Republic of Vietnam in April 1975 twenty-two Northrop F-5Es were flown to various
    locations  of Thailand and transported to Utapao AFB.
Twenty were transferred by Sikorsky CH-53s of the 21st Special Operation Squadron on board the USS Midway
    aircraft carrier
(it had arrived on the 04-05-75 at the Thai port Sattahip, near U Thapao) in acloak-and-
    dagger operation (Operation Frequent Wind) i
order to avoid being handed over to the new communist
    government; two were lost while being loaded on the carrier due to insufficent strong slings.


    USS Midway left Sattahip on 05-05-75) and 
transferred to Guam AFB, where the carrier arrived on 11-05-75,
    later     transferred to McConnell AFB in continetal USA for storage.

    Seen here is a Tiger being lifted from Utapao AFB on 01-05-75.          Photo: USAF

were later assigned to the Air Force and mainly used in the training role (see  the Foreign Pilots Training page for details), three were assigned to the US Navy.

          Photo: collection The Northrop F-5 Enthusiast              
                                                                                Former Vietnamese stored at McClellan AFB in April 76. serial 01386 together with 4 additional aircrafts.

Acquistion of 71
new built aircrafts, originally foreseen for the Republic of Vietnam, enabled the Air Force to replace Northrop T-38As, used since 1972 by one US based Squadron in the Dissimilar Air Combat Training
(DACT) role and raise
one additional Squadron in Europe and one in the Pacific. This was needed following the alarming decrease of the kill-to-loss ratio experienced during the Vietnam war; size and performances of
the Northrop F-5E corresponded approximately to those of the Mikoyan Gurevitch MiG-21 making it a perfect simulator of (at the time) the most probable opponent
. (see the Dissimilar Air Combat Training page for

Difference in 1975 was: Mean Time Between Overhaul (MTBO) Northrop F-5E 1.2 hrs, F-4E 1.3 hrs; Maintenance Medium Hours/per Flight Hours F-5E 17, F-4E 24. Maintenance was provided by the Sacramento Air
Logistic Center.

Available official active aircrafts inventory of the Northrop F-5 (all versions) show th decreasing number of aircrafts yearly available:
1976 100, 1977 111, 1978 109, 1979 106, 1980 105, 1981 104, 1982 101, 1983 105, 1984 101.

Aircrafts mission capability rates (percent) per aircrafts was:
Fully mission capable     :  
1980 60.4, 1981 57.6, 1982 62.3, 1983   59.6, 1984 70.1
Partially mission capable:  1980   8.5, 1981   8.5, 1982   6.0, 1983   12.0, 1984   4.2

The yearly varying number of flight/hours (in millions) for the whole fleet was:
     1977 25.3,  1978 29.2, 1979 31.2, 1980 31.2, 1981 31.4, 1982 29.9, 1983 30.1, 1984 29.4

The Tigers served in their respective roles for may years; loss of a Northrop F-5F (serial 73-00891) on 22-12-86, broken in two parts during a flight, dramatically showed how urgent a replacement was needed,
particularly as those used by the 425th Squadron were early production aircrafts.

                                                                            Photo from happier days: in-flight desintergated F-5F 20091 seen
from William's AFB tower in its last colours.

Restrictions were placed on the operation of the whole fleet; costs to repair the cracked or fatigued upper longerons was calculated to over a billion dollars, far too high, particularly as the Warsaw Pact countries now
operated higher performance than the Tiger fighters.

The 64th was first Dissimilar
Air Combat Training Squadron to officially transition on the General Dynamics F-16C on 01-04-88, followed by the second one (the 65th) on 01-04-89, though last Tiger aggressor flight
was on 07-04-89
The use of the
General Dynamics F-16C as an aggressor aircraft was short-lived due to restructuration of the USAF: the 65th Squadron was deactivated on 07-04-89the 26th Squadron at Clark was officially dis-
banded on 21-02-90 (it had actually been without aircrafts since 1988) while awaiting
its General Dynamics F-16C and the tansfer to Okinawa AFB . The European Aggressor Squadron (527th) flew its last Tiger
aggressor flight on 22-01-88; it transitioned to the
General Dynamics F-16C by mid-January 1988.
The pilots training Squadron (425th) ended its activity on 21-06-89 and was definitively inactivated on 01-09-89. The 64th Squadron was deactivated on 05-10-90 marking the end of the USAF career of all variants
of Northrop F-5s (but not involvement in the Northrop fighter). The last US Tiger last flight was on 07-04-89.

The ARSENAL OF AIRPOWER 1950-2009 statiscs show following available active Northrop F-5s (for their primary mission, tests or maintenance - inclusive back-ups and attrition reserves) during Fiscal Years 1960
till 1988:
prototypes N156F
-1960 -4-, 1961 -3-, 1962 -2-;  F-5A and F-5Bs 1963/3/, 1964 /13/, 1965/26/, 1966/34/, 1967/22/, 1968/24/, 1969/16
(also mentioned active 1 YF-5A), 1970/12/;
F-5A, F-5B and F-5Es  1971/13/, 1972/19/, 1973/33/; F-5B, F-5E and F-5Fs 1974/79/, 1975/5 possibly an error/, 1976/93-100/, 1977/111/, 1978/109/, 1979/106/, 1980/105/, 1981/106/, 1982/101/, 1983/105/,
1984/101/F-5E and F-5Fs 1985/103/, 1986/100/, 1987/94/, 1988/70.

Another magazine mentions that 39 aircrafts were on the roster, reduced to 18 beginning of April 1989


Maintenance of the Northrop F-5 fleet was taken care
at logistic centers:  the airframe initially at the San Antonio Air Logistics Center, Kelly AFB (SA-ALC),
other parts at various US centers; airframe maintenance was later transferred to the adjoining Ogden Air Logistics Center AFB, Hill AFB, on 30-09-01 when
the Logistcs Center at Kelly AFB was closed.

Kelly AFB
technicians served in Vietnam re-assembling newly deliverered Northrop F-5As at Bien Hoa AFB, modifying them and setting up an engine repair facility. The Logistic Center was also involved during 1972/73
in Project Enhance Plus: it supported the transfer of 32 ex Iranian Northrop and other aircrafts from several countries to Vietnam.

The transfer of (disassembled) Northrop F-5s to receiving countries, took place with Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (up to 8 in one), Lockheed C-141 or C-130 was also taken care at Kelly AFB. By 1982 711 Northrop F-5Es
had been airlifted by
Lockheed C-5 Galaxy and Lockheed C-141. The local 2956th Combat Logists Support Squadron could, on request, reassemble the aircrafts in-country.

World-wide support of the Northrop fighters by the F-5 Technical Coordinating Group was organised in 1979 at air Logistic Center, Kelly AFB. Group member countries had applied for a volountary membership. Sixteen
countries, 330 Northrop F-5Es, 116 F-5Fs, 2 RF-5Es were on the Group operations list in 1982 (countries increased to 19 in 2003): Bahrain, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Honduras, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico,
Morocco, Norway, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan/China, Thailand, Tunisia in addition to the US Navy.

Interamerican Air Forces Academy

  Refresher and training for foreign technicias was transfered to the Interamerican Air Force Academy at Kelly AFB; this remained the sole organisation dealing with The Northrop
 F-5 training in the USAF.
 One Northrop GF-5B ground instruction airframe was on strength from at least September 1982 while a newer Northrop GF-5F (serial 0889) was available in 1994 till at least November 2010.
 At least another (serial 01640) was canniblised for spare parts.


IAAFA Northrop GF-5B 0441 at Homestead AFB on 27-07-92. Photo: H. van Eupen               The first two-seater prototype, now designated GF-5F, serial 0889, code LD, at Kelly AFB on 14-08-99.

                                                                                                The cannibalised Northrop F-5E serial 01640, seen at Kelly AFB on 08-07-94.
                                                                                                                                                   Photo: archive the Northrop F-5 Enthusiast

Northrop F-5E, F-5F transfers to FMS countries.
Generally, all USAF aircrafts withdrawn from use (fighter/transports etc) were transferred prior to January 1989 to the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) - Davis Monthan  AFB for storage; some
of them were later taken out of storage and transferred to the receiving country.

In March 1985 disposal
plans (from April 1988) for the fate of 57th Aggressor Wing nineteen available Tigers, to be replaced by General Dynamics F-16s, were made. It was foreseen that 9 would be used for the Peace
Bonito programm (delivery to Honduras) and 10 were to be transferred to Davis Monthan AMRCC (store) on 04th to 08 to April 1988. Three Nellis AFB Northrop F-5E were grounded due to longerons craks, one was
to be transferred to Williams AFB
in order to replace one grounded due in flight fire damaged and no funds were available for repairs, remaining there till disbandment of the unit. It was also foreseen that thirty-one
remained at Williams AFB (425th Tactical Fighter Squadron
) through April 1989.

A new concept was however developed at the end of 1988 in order to save costs: ramp-to-ramp sale. Former training and aggressor Northrop F-5s that had been deactivated between February and September 1988
went first through repairs (a large numer of airframes needed upper cockpit longeron replacement and other modifications, all paid by the receiving countries) and later delivered in operational status to Brazil, Honduras
Morocco and Tunisia together with spares parts and support equipment.