The F-5 fighter is a truly special warplane.

F-5 fighter

Earlier this month, the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation welcomed the addition of the F-5E Tiger fighter to its aircraft lineup. This non-profit organization brings heritage flights to the public, with performances incorporating several historic airframes that flew in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

With the legendary F-5 fighter playing a significant role in shaping some of the most prolific pilots of the modern era, its inclusion in the honorable Heritage Flight program is a no-brainer. Although currently in only limited service by the US Air Force, the F-5 fighter has been exported around the world.

The platform’s affordability and versatility have helped make it a mainstay of modern fighter fleets.

A brief history of the F-5 fighter

The initial design of the F-5 light fighter dates back to the post-World War II era. When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) requested a light tactical fighter capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear artillery, manufacturer Northrop Grumman got down to business.

In 1955, the General Electric J85 turbojet engine was incorporated into the airframe design. This powerful engine was originally designed for use in the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and was considered more advanced than its close relatives as its thrust-to-weight ratio was much higher.

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Simply put, the F-5 fighter was cheap and versatile.

Capable of speeds of Mach 1.63 with a range of 554 miles, the F-5 was a favorite of the Air Force. The fighter could climb at a speed of about 35,000 feet per minute and could carry two 20mm M39A2 Revolver cannons. 

Although the aircraft was intended to function as a daytime air superiority aircraft, its ground attack capabilities also highlighted the versatility of the F-5. The F-5A platform entered Air Force service in the early 1960s, and more than 800 airframes were built for US allies through the mid-1970s.

Presentation of the second generation F-5EII Tiger

As the threat from the USSR continued to increase in the midst of the Cold War, the US government wanted a better air-to-air aircraft that could take on the Soviet MiG-21. In 1970 Northrop was selected as the winner of the International Fighter Aircraft competition to produce a more modern variant of the F-5A.

The second generation F-5E Tiger II fighter included a number of improvements, such as more modern engines, increased wing area, increased fuel capacity, and improved avionics. 

The new variant of the  F-5 fighter was used extensively in combat during the Vietnam War. By the late 1980s, more than 1,400 F-5E Tiger fighters had been built.

The F-5 fighter family of fighters was easily exported.

The F-5’s versatility and lower maintenance costs made it an ideal candidate for export. In fact, the fighter has been acquired by countries from all corners of the world, such as South Korea, Brazil, Taiwan, and Honduras. Although the F-5 may have seen more action in the fleets of foreign air forces, the fighter is the ancestor of the recognizable American T-38.

The world’s first and most produced supersonic trainer aircraft, the T-38 Talon, represents another incredible feat of American manufacturing. In the future, the Talon will likely join its F-5 fighter predecessor in the Air Force’s Heritage Flight Foundation program.