Production - Northrop F-5A  Freedom Fighter     

                                                                                  Last update 13-05-2022

The use of lightweight, easy to maintain was against USAF doctrine: heavy, fast flying aircrafts with a potent armament were preferred, hust the opposite than Northrop lightweight fighter.

A political decision by US Prsident John F. Kennedy to deliver
to friendly countries (within the Military Assistance Program) Northrop N-156Fs (called F-X program).
It was selected as winner on 09-08-62 and redesignated Northrop YF-5A

Production started on 22-10-62 when the USAF placed an order for 71 MAP funded aircrafts, followed by a second one placed on 27-08-63 for 99 Freedom Fighters, to be supplied to friendly nations. It was planned
to build 12 aircrafts per month, initial delivery  planned during the first quarter of 1965

Costruction of two prototypes was a the time complete, now the third prototype (originally stopped) could as well be completed, works already starting on 26-04-62, followed by its first flight on 31-07-63. This last
was the first airframe to feature all seven external stores pylons.

Production started immediately at the Hawthorne, a combined production line shared with the F-5B and Northrop T-38 trainer was capable of an output of 22 aircrafts per months. The first production/fourth
prototype aircraft (
63-08367) flew for the first time in October 1963 (less then a month from the order); it joined the test program in October 1963, together with the second production/fifth prototype (63-08368).

Northrop delivered the first three protypes, now designated F-5A Freedom Fighter, to the Air Force by the third quarter (July-September) of Fiscal Year 1963. On 30-06-1963 there were two active F-5A and one
non-operational. First military test flight was on 14-08-63.

Category I testing took place between October 1962 and May 1965. First aircraft accepted for Category II tests by the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards AFB, was serial number 63-08367 on 01-02-64, performance,
stability and control testing began on 30-04-64 with s/n 63-08368. Both Category II and III lasted between February and October 1964. Tests continued till 1966; 16'000 flight hours were simulated.

                                                          The seventh built on a dummy napalm bombs test flight; was later modified to Northrop F-5B.

                                                                         Photo: USAF
                                                             Armament tested on the 8th uilt
at Edwards AFB was the Bullpup air-to-ground missile
highly unpropable load due to the thin wings), as well as with bombs.

An operational requirement to incorporate two 20 mm Pontiac M-39A to increase Freedom Fighter's firing power was issued in 1964 by the USAF. Only a ranging set mounted in the nose and an optical sight were at
pilot's disposal for air-to-air and air-to-ground operations.

Approximately 140 USAF personnell from Tactical Air Command, Air Training Command, Edwards AFB Flight Test Centre, together with Northrop personnell, were involved in 1030 trials flight hours during FY 1964.
of the first Freedom Fighter by Tactical Air Command was on 30-04-64. Future Williams AFB instructor pilots were also contemporanously trained.

 frame 1     Photo: USAF   
The first production examples undergoing in 1965 tests with wing and underfuselage tanks.             Northrop F-5A was used for armament testing; here it is equipped with napalm/bombs.  Photo: M. Hooks              

Prouction increased from a rate of 12 airplanes per month to 22 when the MAP program took effect; a production line called Norail (Northrop overhead rail assembly and installation line) was estblished in 1963 for
simultaneous assebly of Northrop F-5A, F-5B and similar T-38. Fatigue tests were carried out between 1964 and 1966 for a total of 16'000 simulated fight hours.

The December 1964 (USAF) Air Force Magazine stated the armament carried by Freedom Fighter (in various combinations) was 6'200 pounds plus 2 M29 20 mm cannons and ammunition (totalling 420 lbs). It
included 2 AIM-9B Sidewinders, 2 Shrike andti-radar missiles, 4 GAM-83A Bullpups, 3 Walleye guided bombs, 14 (30 gallons) napalm containers , 5 (110 gallons) napalms container, 26 250 lbs bombs, one 2'000 lbs
two 1'000 lbs bombs, 2 750 lbs bombs, 4 rocket pods, rockets for a total 5'500 lbs, 4 special stores. All this looks quite exagerated or at least with a very serious combat range penalty

                                                                     .   Photo: Northrop
                                                                              Ease of engine change is demontrated on USAF Northrop F-5A serial 13316

In mid October 1967 the US State Department agreed to make available to Latin American countries a number of Northrop F-5 fighters after a very long standing sales veto.

Northrop showed two of its Freedom Fighters (serials 69175/176) at the le Bourget air show while transting
Europe on delivery to Iran. Production was completed in 1972; 636 aircrafts were built.

                                                                       Serial 69176 (with code 203 on the nose) at le Bourget on 03-06-67.   Photo: unknown

                                                   Northrop F-5A serial 10557 on tests as a target tug, note camera on tail. The aircraft was later delivered to South Vietnam.

An USA official document states that by September 1975 a Northrop reprsentative was appointed to sell Northrop F-5s: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway,

See under the corresponding
Air Forces pages for information regarding delivey/use of this version.


Production - Northrop F-5B  Freedom Fighter

Operational conversion on the new fighter dictated the construction of a two-seater, designated Northrop F-5B. This had no cannon armament but could carry any all other armament under the wings.
One two-seater per nine single-seaters was foreseen in the two initial contracts.

First flight of this new version was on 24-02-64 by serial 63-8438; it was declared operational already on 30-04-64, earlier than the single-seater, which was in August 1964. Deliveries started on April 30th,
1964 to the 4441st Combat Crew Training Squadron at Williams AFB, a new USAF unit taking care of pilots
belonging to the countries selected to receive the training aircraft.
Production by September 1964 was for 1 twin- for every single-seater built

Sales demonstration was undertaken by the first company demonstrator between June and September 1964 in Europe and the Middle East: France (Evreux), Italy (Ciampino), Belgium (Brussels), Germany and Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately it was lost during on 03-07-64 near Torrejon, one of the last demonstration flights.
The second Northrop F-5B (serial 38445) replaced immediately the lost one.

                                                                     Photo: unknown
                                                                  The first company demonstrator shown at Brussels-Zavestem in own colours on 28-06-64.

             Northrop F-5B 38445 being refuelled ar Rome-Ciampino after a demonstration to the Italian AF             Quick, unscheduled engine change was demostrated by the Northrop F-5B in Saudi Arabia

The fourth production Northrop F-5B (serial 63-08421) with several design improvements and a more powerful GE J-85-15 was used for 7 hours/8 missions tests at Edwards AFB between the 9th and 15-06-65;
some of these improvements were later incorporated in the development of F-5As supplied to various Air Forces as well a being offered, without success, to Belgium and taly.

Further engine trials took place at a later stage again on the Northrop F-5B company demonstrator with the much more powerful General Electric J-85-21, first flown as such on 28-03-69; they lasted five months
for a total of approximately 130 flight hours. This engine was later to power the next generation fighter, Northrop F-5E Tiger.

                                                                   Photo: unknown
                                                                        Serial 38445 with additional F-5B under tail a possibly tail partially painted red

                                                                                  Photo: Northrop
                                                                    Northrop F-5B 38445 with
uprated General Electric J-85-21 (for Tiger) on a test flight.

By mid-73 eighty-four of eighty-eight F-5B foreseen for MAP countries had been handed over to the USAF for onward transfer, together
with 13 sold under Foreign Military Sales program (2 to Lybia, 6 to Norway, 5 to Iran); additional 2 FMS to Jordan were to be delivered to
Jordan begignning 1974.

The static tests airframe (serialled C-8123) was withdrawn from use and transferred to the Lackland AFB for preservation where it was seen
on 18-11-87.

See under the respective
Air Forces pages for information regarding delivey/use of the Northrop F-5B.

Production - Northrop RF-5A  Freedom Fighter

Necessity of a reconnaissance version for countries receiving Military Assistance Program help, was recognized by the mid 60s. An order
for 13 aircrafts for Iran
was placed in October 1967, followed by the first flight in May 1968. Tests were held the same year at Edwards AFB
during the period July 1st and August 28th
with the first production aircraft (for Iran, s/n 67-21219) flying 58.8 hours in 47 test missions.
This version was only built for US allied Air Forces; USAF never adopted it, not even for training.

                         Photos: Northrop        
                             Northrop's own Northrop F-5A-15 serial 38372 was modified as RF-5A prototype in 1968, later modified again as F-5A-15 and used for tests.
                       Main difference to the fighter version was the modification of the nose to mount four KS-92 cameras, otherwise retaining its combat capabilities

                                                                                       Photo: R.A. Scholefield
                              Second built Northrop RF-5A (for the Norwegian AF) seen at le Bourget air show on 07-06-69
before onward delivery to the air force.