Light, simple and relatively inexpensive, the F-5 fighter clearly stands out among its fellows in the US Air Force. American fighters of the second and third generations were distinguished by their large mass, design complexity and, as a result, high cost. Heavy machines of the "hundredth" series, which began to enter the US Air Force in the late 1950s, proved too expensive for many US allies. They demanded high costs for operation, repair and training of flight personnel.
In 1958, the Pentagon signed a contract with Northrop to develop a relatively simple and inexpensive supersonic fighter, optimized for strikes against ground targets, and at the same time capable of maneuvering aerial combat. The fighter was intended primarily for export deliveries under various "mutual assistance" programs.
At the same time, the US Air Force came to the conclusion that they did not need such a fighter and the F-5 could be promoted to the foreign market.
The lifebuoy to Northrop and the F-5 fighter jet was thrown by President Kennedy, who came to the White House in 1962. His administration urged not to spare funds to “defend freedom and fight communism.” For this, a wide sale of supersonic fighters to the allied countries of the United States was envisaged.
Northrop beat competitors with two cards - cheapness (the F-5A cost $ 100,000 less than the cheapest version of the F-104, devoid of radar and navigation system) and the possible "international" choice of the T-38 with which it had much in common, as a single NATO trainer aircraft. Officially, the Pentagon announced the choice of the F-5A as a fighter intended for deliveries within the framework of mutual assistance in April 1962, and in August of the same year, a contract was signed for the serial production of 170 single-seat F-5A and combat training two-seat F- 5B.
F-5A Norwegian Air Force
In February 1964, the firm received its first export order for 64 vehicles for Norway. The customer demanded to modify the original version of the F-5A in order to ensure normal operation in the Arctic. On the Norwegian F-5A (G), a device for heating the windshield of the cab, a brake hook for landing on short runways of mountain airfields was mounted. This was followed by offers from Iran, Greece, South Korea, and by the end of 1965 the company's order book was about 1000 fighters. The F-5A was indeed becoming an "international" fighter.
F-5 of various modifications were or are in service with the Air Forces of Bahrain, Brazil, both Vietnam, Holland, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Spain, Yemen, Canada, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sudan, USA, Thailand, Tunisia, Taiwan, Turkey, Philippines, Switzerland, Ethiopia.
The Americans were the first to test light fighters in Vietnam in combat conditions. Especially for military trials in July 1965, the 4503rd tactical aviation squadron was formed with 12 fighters produced in 1963 and 1964. Before being sent to Vietnam, the planes were equipped with 90 kg body armor, dumped underwing pylons for weapons, an air refueling system and sights with computers. Silver vehicles received a three-color camouflage pattern.
For three and a half months, the squadron pilots flew about 2,700 sorties, having flown 4,000 hours. They destroyed at least 2,500 different buildings, 120 sampans, about 100 trucks, about 50 fortifications. Own losses amounted to one F-5, shot down in December from small arms. The pilot ejected unsuccessfully and died in the hospital. Two more planes were hit by Strela MANPADS missiles in the engines, but were able to return to base on one operating turbojet engine. All combat missions were made only to combat ground targets.
The pilots noted the excellent stability and controllability of the aircraft under all types of combat load. Emphasizing that the aircraft is almost impossible to spin, due to its small size and good maneuverability, the F-5 was a difficult target for Viet Cong anti-aircraft guns (according to statistics, the Super Saber was hit once in ninety sorties, in the F-5 - once in 240 sorties), ease of maintenance and reliability of the machine.
After successfully completed combat tests, these aircraft began to be supplied to the South Vietnamese Air Force.
In total, the Vietnamese received 120 F-5A / B and RF-5A and at least 118 more advanced, modernized F-5E, and some of the latter came to Vietnam from Iran and South Korea. There is no information about air battles with MiGs, but it is known that at least four RF-5A reconnaissance aircraft were shot down over the Ho Chi Minh trail. In April 1975, Lieutenant of the South Vietnamese Air Force Nguyen Thanh Trang in his F-5E bombed the presidential palace in Saigon, after which he flew to one of the airfields in North Vietnam. This bombing was the prologue to the victory of North Vietnam and the stampede of the Americans from Saigon.
The war ended in May. As trophies, the Vietnamese communists got 87 F-5A / B and 27 F-5E. Some of them entered service with several mixed squadrons, which also had the MiG-21. By 1978, all fighters of this type were concentrated in the 935th Fighter Aviation Regiment, based in Da Nang, the aircraft were actively operated until the mid-80s.
The Vietnamese handed over several captured aircraft to the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Poland, where they underwent a comprehensive assessment and testing. One F-5E is on display at the aviation museums in Krakow and Prague.
On the initiative of the Chief of the Air Force Research Institute, General I. D. Gaidaenko, supported by the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force for Armaments M. N. The technical staff who prepared the elegant American aircraft for flights remembered it for its simplicity and thoughtfulness of design, ease of access to serviced units. One of the participants in the study of the American aircraft, the leading engineer of the Air Force Research Institute A. I. Marchenko, recalling, noted such an advantage of the fighter as a non-glare instrument panel: high-quality enlightened glasses of instruments in any lighting did not create problems with reading information. The engineers of the Air Force Research Institute puzzled over the purpose of the button at the bottom of a deep niche in the cockpit for a long time. As it turned out later, it was intended to release the lock on the use of weapons when the landing gear was extended.
F-5E on trials in the USSR
Soviet test pilots appreciated the comfort of the cockpit, good visibility from it, rational placement of instruments and controls, easy takeoff and excellent maneuverability at high subsonic speeds. The F-5E flew in Vladimirovka for about a year, until one of the chassis tires collapsed. After testing at the Air Force Research Institute, the aircraft was transferred to TsAGI for static tests, and many of its components and assemblies ended up in the design bureaus of the aviation industry, where interesting technical solutions from Northrop were used in the development of domestic aircraft.
The direct participant, Honored Test Pilot of the USSR, Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel V. N.
After a thorough analysis of the materials, the conclusions of the F-5E tests were as follows:
- the MiG-21 BIS fighter has the best acceleration characteristics, the rate of climb at speeds over 500 km / h - due to
higher thrust-to-weight ratio and angular rates of turns at speeds over 800 km / h;
- at speeds of 750-800 km / h, none of the aircraft benefits
has - the fight was on an equal footing, but close combat did not work out due to large
- at speeds less than 750 km / h F-5E has the best
maneuverability characteristics, and this advantage increases with increasing altitude and decreasing flight speed;
- The F-5E has a wider maneuvering area where
it is possible to perform steady bends with a radius of less than 1800 meters;
- on the F-5E, a better view from the cockpit and a more comfortable cockpit layout;
- The F-5E has more ammunition, but a lower total rate of fire of the cannons, which allows them to have a longer firing time.
Kondaurov wrote about the American fighter: “Not inclined to perform vigorous maneuvers in the flight configuration of the wing (wing mechanization removed), it changed when the pilots transferred it to the maneuverable configuration (rejected slats and flaps). From a heavy "bump" he turned into a swallow."
It was noted that without the use of wing mechanization, the F-5E has no advantage in maneuverability. On the F-5E "Tiger II" of the first series (it was one of these aircraft that the Soviet test pilots mastered), the pilot, using a switch installed on the engine control stick (throttle), could set the toes and flaps in 5 fixed positions, which I gave in table. On the F-5E aircraft of the later series, the deflection of the toes and flaps was made automatic - according to a signal from the altitude and speed sensors.
The analysis of the tests carried out forced us to reconsider the degree of importance of certain parameters in assessing the maneuverability of the aircraft.
Tactics were developed for conducting air combat with the F-5E and recommendations for combat fighter pilots. The general meaning of these recommendations was as follows: to impose a battle on the enemy in conditions where the MiG-21 BIS has advantages over the F-5E, and to evade the battle (or try to get out of it) under unfavorable conditions - taking advantage of the advantages in speed and acceleration characteristics.
Despite the widespread prevalence around the world, in the United States, "Tigers" entered only specialized units of the "aggressors" of the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. In terms of their maneuverable characteristics, they turned out to be the closest to the MiG-21. The best pilots were selected in the squadron of "aggressors" and it is not surprising that they quite often won in battles with much more modern F-14, F-15 and F-16.
The F-5Es available in the American flight units were operated very intensively, flights on them were often carried out at low altitude with significant overloads. This could not but affect the technical condition of the machines.
In the late 90s, a program was adopted to modernize the F-5E for "Aggressors" in order to extend the service life. However, the technical support of the F-5E "Tiger-2" aircraft that remained in service at the beginning of the 21st century became too expensive, and for this reason it was decided to write them off.
To make up for the "losses" in the flight units of the "Aggressors", it was decided to buy from Switzerland the "Tigers" being removed from service there.
F-5E Swiss Air Force
The start of the F-5N modernization program was given in 2000, when the US Navy decided to purchase 32 F-5F aircraft from Switzerland to replace the decommissioned F-5Es. The upgraded fighter made its maiden flight in March 2003. In 2004, after the decision was made to create a squadron at the Key West airbase, the Ministry of the Navy signed an agreement for the additional supply of 12 aircraft. At the Northrop-Grumman facility in the United States, an upgraded version of the F-5N is being assembled from the F-5E that has served its life and the Swiss delivered aircraft.
The modernization of the F-5N used the cockpit and tail section of former Swiss aircraft and the newer center fuselage section of the Swiss F-5E. The refurbishment took about 2 years. The avionics include a new navigation system, an integrated multifunction display, which will significantly improve the pilot's ability to navigate and understand situational awareness. The armament and equipment necessary for its use were dismantled from the aircraft, which saved weight. The modernized aircraft are additionally equipped with equipment for recording various flight information, a weapon imitation system with the ability to distribute missile launch points, fix a target and evaluate the effectiveness of the use of simulated weapons.
The implementation of the second stage of the F-5F aircraft modernization program began in September 2005 as part of an urgent operational requirement of the Navy leadership, which decided to equip a new "aggressor squadron" formed at the Key West airbase (Florida) with two-seater aircraft.
Satellite image of Google Earth: F-18 and F-5 aircraft of the US Navy, Key West air base
The first aircraft made its maiden flight on November 25, 2008 and was transferred to the 401st Marine Fighter Training Squadron (VMFT-401, Yuma, Arizona) on December 9, 2008, the second F-5N was delivered to the 111th Mixed Squadron in Key West. The third aircraft was transferred to the mixed squadron (Fallon, NV) in January 2010.
Currently, work on the modernization of aircraft purchased in Switzerland has been completed.
On April 9, 2009, a solemn ceremony of rolling out the last F-5N car (tail number 761550, originally assembled at the Northrop enterprises in 1976) took place.
However, it looks like the story didn't end there. In February 2014, information appeared about the intention of the United States to purchase an additional batch of F-5 fighters from Switzerland. The Swiss Air Force currently operates 42 F-5E and 12 F-5F fighters. They are used as interceptors, aerial target towing vehicles, as well as in airspace patrolling.
The used fighters will be put up for sale after a decision is made to buy 22 new Swedish JAS 39 Gripen E fighters. In addition to the US Navy, several American private companies have shown interest in buying aircraft. The planes can be sold for 500 thousand francs apiece (560 thousand dollars).
Until now, several hundred fighters of the F-5 family are in service with the Air Force of more than 10 countries.
A number of companies offer projects for their modernization in order to extend their service life by ten to fifteen years. So, with the help of the Israeli company IAI, the fighters of Chile and Singapore were modernized. The Belgian SABCA is modernizing the aircraft of Indonesia, and Northrop-Grumman together with the Samsung firm - the South Korean aircraft. Thus, the F-5 fighter will remain in service in the first quarter of the 21st century.