Freedom Fighter in Service with Libya

Last revised May 19, 2001

Libya had been an Italian colony prior to the Second World War, but became a trustee of the United Nations after the end of the war. In December of 1951, the United Kingdom of Libya became an independent state, with King Idris I as the soverign. The nation was basically a feudal monarchy, but with a prime minister, a bicameral legislature, and a council of ministers.

In its foreign policy, Libya was a member of the League of Arab States and generally maintained a pro-Western stance. In return for substantial American economic aid, Libya granted the United States the right to operate Wheelus Air Base until 1970, along with the right to use desert reservations as practice firing ranges.

As a recepient of American aid, Libya was a natural customer for the Freedom Fighter. In 1968, the government of Libya placed an order for 18 F-5As and Bs to equip the the Royal Libyan Air Force (Al Quwwat Alijawwiya Al Libiyya). Eight F-5As and two F-5Bs were delivered in 1968.

However, this was prior to the September 1, 1969 military coup which deposed King Idris and brought a Revolutionary Command Council under the control of Colonel Muammar al Qadhafi to power. After the coup, the United States proceeded deliberately with the planned withdrawal from Wheelus Air Base, as had been agreed upon with the previous regime. Wheelus was formally turned over to the Libyans on June 11, 1970. The increasingly anti-American stance of Qadhafi's regime resulted in the cessation of further military aid from the USA, and Libya turned to the Soviet Union for its military equipment. The remaining 10 aircraft from the original F-5 order were never delivered.

The loss of US aid also cut off the supply of spare parts and support for the Libyan F-5s. but those that had already been delivered were kept flying with the assistance of Greek personnel. It has been reported by some sources that the Libyan F-5s were loaned to Pakistan during its war with India in 1971, primarily for use as training.

In the 1970s, Libya became a major supporter of various national liberation movements such as the Irish Republican Army, Muslim rebels in the Philippines, as well as various leftist extremists in Europe and Japan. The United States viewed Libya's support for these movements as aid and comfort to international terrorists, and throughout the 1970s relations between the two countries went from bad to worse. As relations with the US got steadily worse, spares for the Libyan F-5s became impossible to find, and in 1975, seven of these planes were transferred to Turkey. I don't believe that any F-5s remain in Libya today.


  1. F-5: Warplane for the World, Robbie Shaw, Motorbooks, 1990

  2. Northrop F-5/F-20, Jerry Scutts, Ian Allan Ltd, 1986.

  3. Northrop F-5, Jon Lake and Robert Hewson, World Airpower Journal, Vol 25, 1996.

  4. Library of Congress Country Study--Libya