Development/Production - Northrop F-5E - Tiger
testing of an uprated General Electric J-85-GE-21 engine in a
highly modified Northrop F-5B started in March 1969 and
lasted till August of that year for a total of approximately 130 flying
hours; this demon-
strated the availability of an engine which could
power an higher performance fighter of the family to be used mainly
air-superiority missions by nations with little technological knowledge.
Northrop made an unsolicited offer to the US Secretary of Defence/Air
Force but these wanted confirmation of the higher performance by
flight tests. The US Congress required a competition between several
factures, before funds would be granted covering the 1973
Fiscal Year for the so-called Advanced International Fighter programm.
Four companies answered in March 1970 to the request for proposal
26-02-70: Northrop with its F-5E; a stripped down version of its the F-4E Phantom was offered by McDonnel-Douglas, Lockheed a versionof its F-104 Starfighter, Ling-Temco-Vought of its F-8 Crusader.
All these underwent a seven months USAF evaluation at the end of which
the Northrop F-5E was officially declared winner on 20-11-70.
A fixed price contract for 325 aircrafts was placed on 08-12-70, all funded bs Military Assistance Grant Aid;
deliveries were foreseen: 26 in Fiscal Year 1972, 71 during FY 1973, 120 in
FY 1974 and 108 in FY 1975.
On November 1970 the first flight date was
set to December 1972.
The new fighter was officially named Northrop F-5E Tiger on 28-12-70.
Construction lines for Northrop F-5Es Photos: Northrop
first production F-5E was initially planned to be produced in February
1973; the aircrafts during February to October 1973 were to be used by
the USAF for tests and evaluation, for training and a few to be
delivered to Vietnam.
First four F-5Es were built on F-5 subassembly line at Hawthorne, fifth
and following aircrafts were assembled at Palmdale; these five were
foreseen to run the test program, but various modifications delayed
completion (and increased the costs) of the programm, necessitating
the addition of a sixth aircraft to flight testing. All these aircrafts
were refurbished and transferred to the Air Force for operational use upon
completion of the
development phase, as they actually were.
The most important difference to the Freedom Fighter was the
installation of an Emerson Electric radar, AN/APQ-153 in the early
examples, replaced by an improved search range Emerson Electric AN/APQ-159 in
later examples; the double-seaters were equipped with Emerson Electric AN/APQ-157, a dual-control variant of the first radar.
engine tests were completed by May 1972, roll-out of the first
prototype took place at Hawthorne plant on 23-06-72, first
flight on 11-08-72 at Edwards AFB. An altitude of 20'000 feet was
this flight. The aircraft was fluly combat capable (as the other prtotypes).
Engine malfunctions happend the same
month, forcing suspension of flight tests between 21-09-72 and
16-12-72. Finally, the first Tiger was accepted by the Air Force on
03-08-73 for flight tests at Edwards AFB.
approval had been given on 25-04-73 after modifications by General
The third prototype seen at an open-day at Edwards AFB in 1973 with early Sidewinder AIM-9B
on wing tip. No tiger painted on tail.
number two with Tiger painted on tail landing on 11-04-79 at Edwards
Northrop F-5E 11418 testing GPU-5A 30mm underbelly
cannon Photo: Northrop
Of note 30mm underfuselage gun pod
MBB Modular Dispenser System demonstration and test prototype under the fuselage of the
second Northrop F-5E prototype.
tousand simulated flight hours airframe fatigue tests
were completed on 22-11-75, consisting of 85% air-to-air combat and 15%
air-to-ground combat. Tests continued till 1955; 24'000 flight hours
lated. This brought to a redesign of the vertical stabilizer
due to failure.
Delivery of the first Tiger to the 425th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at Williams AFB was on 06-04-73, four months ahead of schedule; Squadron's role was to train pilots of countries that had ordered Tigers.
May 1975 there were 6 Northrop F-5E undergoing tests by the Joint Test
Force (Northrop /USAF) at Edwards AFB; they participated from this Air Base to the development of special features for non-US customers.
Northrop showed its new
product at the le Bourget air show in June 1975
with the presence of one Northrop F-5E, serial 01467 code 51.
All prototypes were transferred to the US Air Force between 1976 and 1981 and used at Williams AFB for training.
and LGBs underwing plus tests noseboom Photo: Northrop
A little known configuration/test of second prototype Northrop F-5E 11418 with 4 Hughes
AGM-59 Mavericks, configuration
available only to SaudI Arabia.
See under the respective Air Forces pages for information regarding delivey/use of the Northrop F-5E.
Development/Production - Northrop F-5F Tiger
Sidewinder armed prototype
serial 00889 on official roull-out, Hawthorne 14-08-74
No second generation conversion trainer was initially deemed necessary
in view of the
modest number of single-seater thought to be sold;
the Northrop F-5B would take care of training new pilots. Increasing
of Tigers sold dictated the development and production of the
next generation traine. This was combat capable and first flew on
25-09-74; it had a longer nose whiich enabled the provision of on M39
it had an Emerson AN/APQ-157 radar with dual control and display systems with the same range (ca 10miles) of the single-seater AN/APQ-133.
Two Fiscal Year 1973 (00889/00891) were
completed as two-seaters, both aircrafts first flying from
Edwards AFB on 25-09-74 where they remained, undergoing several additional tests.
First prototype with AIM-9J Sidewinder, testing
an underwing target pod
Second prototype ready for
armament/bombs tests in -11-76. In the backgound Northrop F-5E 11419
Demostration flights, eg. Le Bourget Air Show in June 1975, were performed as well as armament and target tug tests from Edwards AFB for foreign customers at least until November 1976. These tests were taken
care by the 6512nd Test Squadron, 6510th Test Wing/Air Force Flight Test Center-Edwards AFB in conjunction with Northrop technicians.
Badge 6512 Test Sqdn Tail on show at Le Bourget
First prototype F-5F
00889 at Kefkavik on the way to Le Bourget air-salon on 16-06-75
in a typical Groenland day.
The second prototype being prepared for spin tests on 10-11-76 at Edwards AFB.
Weapons tests on 16-11-75 at Edwards AFB with 250 l(500?) lbs bombs and Sidewinders
of note the extra long nose pitot tube.
See under the respective Air Forces pages for
information regarding delivery/use of the Northrop F-5F
Development/Production - Northrop RF-5E Tiger
Original Northrop plan was to provide
the Tiger with limited
reconnaissance capability, installing a similar nose as the RF-5A; This solution had already applied earlier to some Saudi Northrop F-5E
Mix of 2 Saudi Arabian Northrop F-5E with early Northrop RF-5A nose, 2
standard Northrop F-5E
and an air-refuelling Lockheed KC-130H.
The solution was unsatisfying as the nose was
not effective due to
the high costs and too small to accept, new, latest
reconnaissance equipment; the company decided therefore to go (using
company funds) for a
design carrying sensors as cameras or infrared systems on quick-change pallets inside the lengthened, strengthened, wider nose. It would have similar capacity
the McDonnell RF-4E for countries already opera-
ting the Tiger, a market tht was forecasted for between 100 and 150 aircrafts.
Therefore, one of the Northrop F-5E
Tiger prototypes (74-01420) was leased back from USAF to be converted as prototype and first flown as RF-5E on 29-01-79 from Edwards AFB's Air Force Flight Test Center.
RF-5E 11420 seen on 14-03-79 in its original metallic colours; clearly
Camouflaged Northrop RF-5E 11420 on a test flight. Photo: Northrop
undernose camera windows.
It was shown also at the Le Bourget (France) show in June 1979
but the sales were disappointing mainly due to the high cost (50% more
than the fighter).
Flight evaluation took
place at the same base; the aircraft
was converted again to a pure fighter
configuration by December 1979/April 1980,
at the end of the evaluation.
Demonstration flights had been hold during this period to possibe non US customers: Jordan, Thailand, Korea,
China/Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Norway, Switzerland, Morocco and
Portugal, thourgh only 12 new
aircrafts were ever sold: two bought by Malaysia and ten by Saudi
Northrop F-5E conversion to Northrop RF-5E Tiger (new standard)
for a reconnaissance version of the Tiger was still felt in Asia
beginning of the 1990s; Singapore initiated a programm to locally
convert eight Northrop F-5E to reconnaissance aircrafts by STAerospace in
1991, delivered in 1994. The same company converted seven Republic of China (Taiwan) Northrop F-5E to the reconnainsance version with initial delivery in August 1997.
Saudi Arabian Northrop RF-5E seen in 1985 on final tests in USA
See under the respective Air Forces pages for information regarding delivey/use of the Northrop RF-5E.
End of Tiger production
of F-5E, F-5F Tiger variants was completed on 16-01-87 with the
hand-over at Northrop's Palmdale plant of two single-seaters Tiger to
Bahrain. These were not the last as five additional Northrop F-5E and
3 F-5E were assembled from spare parts for Singapore by the beginning of July 1989, almost to underline the vitality of the design.
Final variants seen in flight: Northrop F-5F N3139Y, F-20A N4416T (both Northrop demonstrators) and Malaysian AF RF-5E M29-20.
A total of around 2'160 aircrafts of all variants were built by Northrop or built under licence abroad,
an enormous success in consideration that the aircraft was not originally taken in consideration by the US Air Force.
Upgrades - Life extension of Northrop F-5E/F-5F Tigers
and other US companies, had no luck in selling F-5 upgrade programs (as well as thenew light fighter(F-5G/F-20)
mainly due to missing government support and
late entry into the hard fought update market
for Freedom Fighters and Tigers.
The second Northrop F-5E prototype was used at Edwards AFB, starting from November 1982,
for trials of the Northrop AN/ALQ-171(V) pod-mounted Conformal
Countermeasures System, partially paid by the Swiss
government. This pod fitted around the underfuselage pylon, allowing the pylon to carry external fuel or ordnance. The
prototype completed a nine flights demonstration program at Edwards AFB
that included aircraft
handling and jamming capabilities; additional
tests were held beginning 1983 at the USAF Electronic Warfare
Environment Simulator at Fort Worth, completed in June 1983. The pod was not adopted by any country.
Another upgrade trial took place in 1985, when an Emerson APG-69 was installed in a
Swiss double-seater (J-3209); the aircraft was demonstrated at the Le
Bourget Air Show in June 1985 without any sales success.
Another radar set was installed on a USAF 425th Squadron Northrop F-5F and completed 200 test missions at Williams AFB.
One Tiger was tested in 1991 at Fallon NAS with an
Westinghouse APG-66 radar, but the radar was again not adopted by any Air Force.
(Northrop had purchased Grumman in 1994) tried to
enter the very competiteve upgrade market at the end of 1993 with an avionics upgrade in
order to establish the Northrop F-5s as a lead-in trainer to the
The project was realised in partnership with the Air Force San Antonio
Air Ligistics Center; stored Northrop F-5E (serial 74156) was obtained as a free loan 1994 from the US Navywas modified to represent between
April 1995 and the end of 1997 an improved version named "Tiger IV"; avionics companies supplied their products, NorthropGrumman
made a structural upgrade. The first flight of the modified aircraft took place on
20-04-95 from Los Angeles International Airport,
transferring directly to Edwards AFB wHere it underwent a six months flight test
initial 12 flights concentrated on evaluating air-to-air modes of the
Westinghous APG-66 pulse-Doppler radar, doubling the detection range,
after which the aircraft was grounded for a software upgrade. A furter
The project had no luck, though partial modifications, according to the client's wishes were offered; the aircraft was modified
seven flights tested air-to-ground radar modes of the integrated
weapons system and delivery. This version was offered in several possible packages; costs were lowered using
components already in use in various
other aircrafts. Main packages
included 1 or 2 Bendix Multifunction Displays as used by the Taiwanese
IDF, a GEC Head Up Display as used by the F-16, an
Westinghouse APG-66 radar, an INS, HOTAS control and many
features; one cannon had to be removed to allow space for the new
back to the original version at the end 1997 and re-delivered to the US Navy as no interest was shown by Air Forces.
Costs of modifications had been sustained by the various firms supplying the
aircraft was reconfigurated to a
normal Northrop F-5E end of 1997.
Northrop F-5E 741568 modified as
US Navy airframe/avionics upgrading
New "old" US Navy Tigers
Worn-out US Navy Tiger airframes needed to be replaced by the beginning of the 2000 years. Several options were taken into consideration; a modification/upgrade program
by Norair, involving initially 32, later 44
former low-time (an average
of 2'500 flight/hours) Swiss Northrop F-5E, was selected.
The program started in 2003 (with the delivery of airframes from Emmen, Switzerland): 41 were modified at St Augustine's Manufacturing and Flight Test Center as upgraded single-seaters with the designation
were converted as double-seaters, keeping the designation
F-5F "Franken Tiger" (not officially), the forward fuselage being
replaced by an original, refurbished US Navy aircrafts. The programm
ended on 29-04-09
with the handing over to the US Navy of the last aircraft of the first batch; additional 42 were bought by the US Navy, first delivery to St Augustine plant for modification in 2020. They will also
modified to Northrop
Last modified, ex Swiss F-5E (serial
761550) seen at the handing over ceremony at the "Franken
Tiger" Northrop F-5F 761586 roll-out on 23-04-08 at the St Augustine plant,
St Augustine plant.
the aircraft was
delivered to the US Marines, colours were changed to standard camouflage.
Photos : Northrop Grumman
Critical fatigue components were replaced. areas of the aft fuselage were
refurbished, newly designed upper cockpit longerons were installed,
avionics were brought up to the ๖atest standard, aircrafts were completely
rewired, the liquid oxygen system was replaced by a gaseous one,
anti-skid brakes were added; the conversion lasting approximately five months with the cost of around USD 1m each.
A first increase in service life to 8'000 hours (the Northrop F-5E anf F-5F were
originally cleared for a service life of 4'000 flying hours) was granted in 1977 following thorough tests on a complete
Northrop F-5E airframe
The new clearance was given in the assumption
of 85 percent of flights in air-combat and 15% for ground-attack missions.
A great number of Freedom Fighters and Tigers built between 1968 and 1989 ewre
still in use with many Air Forces. This dictated the necessity to
maintain and enhance the structural integrity of the airframes.
Grumman was selected in 1995 to manufacture 14 new wings, upper and
lower cockpit/dorsal longerons, fuselage bulkheads and other parts for
foreign Northrop RF-5A, F-5A, F-5B, F-5E, F-5Fs; the company
contemporanously expanded its spare parts business providing a
"one-stop" team for
total support of the fighters. Upgrade retrofit kits, including INS/GPS
navigation system, antiskid brakes, an onboard oxygen-
to reduce costs compared to the early liquid oxygen system were also
The role of the Tiger switched in
the world more and more to that of a lead-in trainer; the company
offered (without success) in mid 90's a conversion kit to convert single-seaters F-5E to double-seaters F-5F with new
Beginning of 2005 Northrop developed a new system support plan in order to enable the users
to obtain part of the necessary structure and other spare parts from another company. A teaming
agreement was signed
on 04-05-10 with the Swiss company RUAG
Aviation to provide worldwide sustainment and life cycle logistics, as well as modifications and upgrade programs, to countries flying the F-5 Tiger. RUAG is the prime support
provider for the Swiss Air Force and other F-5 operators.