Northrop F-5E Tiger Adversary at Flying Leatherneck Museum

Plane Details

Plane: F-5E Tiger II Adversary
Manufacturer:Northrop Corporation; Inglewood, CA
Model Service Dates: 1962 – present
Variant Introduction Date: 1972
(F-5A) “Skoshi Tiger”
Function: Lightweight, multipurpose fighter

F-5E Tiger II History:

The F-5E Tiger II and its predecessor, the F-5A Freedom Fighter, are examples of the challenges that come with going against mainstream thinking. Both fighters defied contemporary trends in fighter design. Whereas other fighters were increasing in size, technological complexity, and cost, the F-5 was light and cheap to procure, operate, and maintain.

As a result, the United States Air Force did not seriously consider acquiring it when it was first developed in the 1950s. Northrop, however, was confident in their design, so they decided to continue developing it themselves.

Another reason the United States Air Force didn’t take the F-5 seriously was that their design philosophy called for powerful, fast fighters. The F-5 was not as powerful or fast as its contemporaries, like the F-4 Phantom. In reality, though, the F-4’s speed was not helpful in a dogfight because planes rapidly lose speed when performing maneuvers. As such, the F-5 didn’t really need to be much faster than it was.

In the 1960s, Northrop’s confidence finally paid off. The Kennedy administration, seeking to rearm key NATO allies like Greece, Norway, and Turkey, created the Military Assistance Program (MAP). It called for a cheap yet effective new fighter that nations with fewer resources could operate. This would be more effective than giving them obsolete fighters. Only Northrop’s F-5 met that need. Despite its simpler systems, it was highly accurate and maneuverable. Other customers included South Korea, Thailand, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, and Indonesia. By 1986, more than 8,000 Freedom Fighters and Tiger IIs were built. They are still used today.

Variant Notes

To prove the F-5A’s capabilities to potential buyers, the United States Air Force formed a squadron of 12 F-5As and deployed them to Vietnam. While the test was highly successful, the squadron’s pilots had some recommendations for improvements, and these led to the development of the F-5E Tiger II. The F-5E had more powerful engines and greater internal fuel, range, operating ceiling, and speed. Its leading-edge extensions and maneuvering flaps also made it more agile than the F-5A. Since the F-5E had approximately the size and performance characteristics of a Soviet MiG-21, it was used to teach adversarial tactics and provide dissimilar air combat training for American pilots.

Bureau Number: 741564

Airframe History

This plane was slated for export to South Vietnam, but the United States had to keep it when North Vietnam took over. Several F-5s had already been delivered to the South by then, and they all ended up in North Vietnamese hands. Instead, this one was delivered in 1976 to the Air Force’s 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Nellis AFB, NV, where it served as the Commanding Officer’s aircraft. It was transferred to the U.S. Navy and sent to the “Desert Bogeys” of Strike Fighter Squadron 127 (VFA-127) at NAS Fallon, NV, where it provided adversary training to Navy squadrons. ‘1564 served with VFA-127 until it was disestablished on March 23, 1996. It was transferred again to the “Saints” of Fighter Squadron Composite 13 (VFC-13). The “Saints” assumed the adversary training role at NAS Fallon when the Navy relocated the Naval Fighter Weapons School, or TOPGUN, to NAS Fallon. This aircraft was struck from the inventory in 2007. It is on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL.


Length: 47 ft, 5 in
Wing Span: 26 ft, 8 in
Height: 13 ft, 5 in

Crew: pilot only

Max Speed: 585 kts (673 mph)
Initial rate of climb: 8,440 ft/min
Ceiling: 42,250 ft
Range: 1,700 nm (1,956 mi)

Powerplant: 2 × General Electric J85-GE-21
Thrust: 3,500 lbs each
Thrust (AB): 5,000 lbs each

2 × 20 mm M39A2 Revolver cannon, 280 rounds per cannon
Missiles: AIM-9 Sidewinder; AIM-120 AMRAAM; AGM-65 Maverick
Rockets: 5 in. Zuni rocket pod
Bombs: Mk-82 500 lb. GP; Mk-83 1,000 lb. GP; Mk-84 2,000 lb. GP; GBU-10, 12, 16 Paveway; Mk-20 Rockeye II Cluster

External Stations: 7 – 6 wing, 1 fuselage
7,000 lbs total load