Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter

Last revised January 1, 2000

Following the acceptance of the N-156F as the fighter for the Military Assistance Program, trials with the first two N-156F prototypes had indicated the need for a stronger wing structure that could accommodate an additional stores station underneath each wing and a stronger undercarriage to accommodate the added load. It was expected that up to 6200 pounds of ordnance could be carried on four underwing pylons and one under- fuselage pylon.

These changes were built into the third N-156F (59-4989), which was given the designation YF-5A and became in effect the first production F-5A. At the same time, uprated J85-GE-13 turbojets were fitted, each offering 3050 lb.s.t. dry and 4080 lb.s.t. with afterburning. 59-4989 took off on its maiden flight on July 31, 1963 with Hank Chouteau at the controls. The first and second prototypes were subsequently brought up to F-5A production standards.

An initial production contract for 71 F-5s was awarded on October 22, 1962, and a further contract for 99 was awarded on August 27, 1963. About 1 out of 9 of these machines were to have been two-seat F-5Bs. Each plane was to have cost about $600,000, with the bill being paid partially or wholly by the US government under the provisions of MAP. A production rate of twelve F-5s per month was to be attained by the end of 1964, with first deliveries taking place early in 1965.

The first two genuine production F-5As (63-8367 and -8368) joined the test program at the end of 1963. Initial deliveries, beginning in April of 1964, were to the 4441st Combat Crew Training Squadron based at Williams AFB in Arizona, where the USAF trained the pilots and maintenance personnel of nations receiving F-5s. This base acted as the instructional center for foreign personnel who were to act as instructors on the F-5 in their own countries.

The original configuration of the F-5A provided for only minimal fighter capability. In mid-1964, the Secretary of Defense directed a revision of the Specific Operational Requirement 199, requiring the addition of two internal 20-mm cannon in the nose and provision for nose fuel tanks and cameras. The two Colt-Browning M-39 cannon were fitted in the top decking of the nose, immediately ahead of the cockpit. This imposed a delay of four months while the cannon fit was designed and incorporated. The delay resulted in Category II and Category III testing taking place almost simultaneously between February and October of 1964.

The F-5A is optimized for the air-to-ground role and has only a very limited air-to-air capability. In the interest of achieving low cost, the F-5A was not equipped with a fire-control radar, the weapons being aimed by a simple optical sight acting in conjunction with a small Emerson radar ranging set installed in the extreme nose. The initial avionics fit was rather austere, the standard electronic equipment including an AN/ARC-34C UHF radio, PP-2024 SWIA Missile AVX, AN/AIC-18 interphone, J-4 compass, AN/APX-46 IFF and AN/ARN-65 Tacan receiver.

The first overseas order for F-5As was from Norway, which ordered 64 aircraft plus four attrition replacements on February 28, 1964. They differed in having a heated windshield, an airfield arrester hook, and provision for JATO.

The F-5A has very docile handling attributes. It is almost unspinnable, and exhibits little, if any, wing drop at the stall. By grouping the two J85 engines so closely together, Northrop has greatly reduced engine-out asymmetric effects.

Production of the F-5A by Northrop ended in June of 1972, after 636 examples had been manufactured.

Serial numbers of Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter:

59-4987/4989		Northrop YF-5A-NO Freedom Fighter
				4988 at Seattle Museum of Flight
				4989 on display at WPAFB Museum
59-4993			Northrop XF-5A static airframe c/n N6000 
63-8367/8437		Northrop F-5A-15-NO Freedom Fighter
				8367/8370 remanufactured to F-5B
				8371 to Thailand
				8373/8374 to South Korea
    				8375/8379 to Thailand
				8381 to Greece
				8382/8392 to Iran
					8383,8385 later transferred to Vietnam
				8405,8409,8420,8422,8423 to Greece
				8393/8404,8406/8408,8431/8437 to Korea
				8428 used in Skoshi Tiger, later to Korea
				8429 used in Skohsi Tiger
				8421 to Turkey
64-13306/13376		Northrop F-5A-20-NO Freedom Fighter
				13306/13309 to Korea
				13310 to to Philippines
				13311,13312 to Korea
				13313 to Philippines
				13314,13315 to Vietnam
				13317,13318 used in Skoshi Tiger, later to 
					Vietnam.  13317 later to Taiwan
				13320/13324 to Philippines
				13325/13331 to Taiwan as 1201/1207
				13332 used in Skoshi Tiger.  Later to Vietnam
				13333/13351 to Turkey
				13352/13353 to Greece
				13354/13360 to Iran
				13361/13367 to Greece
				13368/13376 to Norway
64-13389/13408		Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter - cancelled contract
65-10476/10581		Northrop F-5A-25-NO Freedom Fighter
				10476/10480 to Greece
				10481/10484 to Iran
					10482 later to Vietnam
				10485/10487 to Greece
				10488/10498 to South Korea 
				10499/10507 to Philippines
				10508/10512 to Ethiopia
				10513/10515 to South Vietnam
				10516/10517 to Taiwan
				10518/10520 to South Vietnam
				10521/10523 to Taiwan
				10524/10526 to South Vietnam
				10527/10532 to Taiwan
				10533/10544 to Iran
					10536 later to Vietnam
				10545 to South Korea
				10546/10547 to South Vietnam
				10548/10554 to South Korea
				10555/10560 to South Vietnam
				10561 to Turkey
				10562/10581 to Norway	
66-8405/8515		Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter - cancelled contract
66-9119/9229		Northrop F-5A-30-NO Freedom Fighter
				9119,9120 to Morocco
				9121/9128 to Turkey
				9129 to Thailand
				9130,9131 to South Vietnam
				9132,9133 to Greece
				9134 to Turkey
				9135/9138 to Greece
				9139/9141 to South Vietnam
				9142 to Greece
				9143/9147 to South Korea
				9148/9150 to Philippines
				9151/9154 to Turkey
				9155 to Iran
				9156/9158 to Turkey
				9159/9161 to Thailand
				9162/9163 to Morocco
				9164/9168 to Greece
				9169 to Thailand
				9170/9176 to Iran
				9177/9188 to Taiwan
				9189/9192 to Iran
				9183/9195 to Taiwan
				9196/9198 to Ethiopia
				9199/9206 to Taiwan
				9207/9229 to Norway
66-14457/14466		Northrop F-5A-30-NO Freedom Fighter
				14457/14463 to Taiwan
				14464/14466 to Turkey
67-14775		Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter - cancelled contract
67-14894/14905 		Northrop F-5A-35-NO Freedom Fighter
				to Norway	
67-21153/21218		Northrop F-5A-35-NO Freedom Fighter
				21153,21154 to Taiwan
				21155,21156 to Norway
				21157/21162 to Taiwan
				21163 to Turkey
				21164,21165 to Norway	
				21166/21174 to Taiwan
				21175 to South Vietnam
				21176/21180 to South Korea	
				21181,21182 to Turkey
				21183/21191 to South Korea
				21192/21195 to Turkey
				21196 to Ethiopia
				21197/21199 to  Libya
			 	21200 to Ethiopia
				21201/21211 to Turkey
				21212/21218 to Iran
67-21236/21258		Northrop F-5A-35-NO Freedom Fighter
				21236,21237 to Thailand
				21238/21242 to Turkey
				21243/21247 to Morocco
				21248/21256 to Turkey	
				21257,21258 to Thailand
67-21259/21271		cancelled contract for Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter
67-22548/22555		Northrop F-5A-35-NO Freedom Fighter
				22548/22550 to Iran
				22551/22555 to Libya
68-9043/9085		Northrop F-5A-40-NO Freedom Fighter
				9043/9046 to Korea
				9047 to Iran
				9048,9049 to South Korea
				9050,9051 to Taiwan
				9052,9053 to Iran
				9054/9056 to Greece
				9057 to Iran
				9058 to Greece
				9059/9085 to Iran
69-6462/6483		Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter - contract cancelled
69-7091/7134  		Northrop F-5A-45-NO Freedom Fighter
				7091,7095,7105 to Iran
				7092/7094,7099,7100,7106/7109 to Morocco
				7096/7098,7101/7104,7110/7124 to Taiwan
				7125/7134 to Norway
69-7174/7177  		Northrop F-5A-45-NO Freedom Fighter 
				Sold to Iran
70-1373/1407		Northrop F-5A-50-NO Freedom Fighter
				1373/1382 to Iran
				1383/1388 to South Korea
				1389 to Morocco
				1390/1392 to Thailand
				1393/1395 to Korea
				1396,1397 to Taiwan
				1398/1400 to Greece
				1401/1404 to South Korea
				1405/1407 to Turkey
71-0260/0276		Northrop F-5A-55-NO Freedom Fighter
				0260/0262 to Ethiopia
				0263/0265 to Thailand
				0266/0275 to South Vietnam
				0276 to Morocco	
71-1276/1317		Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter
				Ben Marselis thinks that these do not exist.
71-1377/1390		Northrop F-5A-55-NO Freedom Fighter  

Specification of Northrop F-5A:

Engines: Two General Electric J85-GE-13 turbojets, rated at 2720 lb.s.t., 4080 lb.s.t. with afterburning. Performance: Maximum speed: 925 mph (Mach 1.4) at 36,000 feet. Maximum cruising speed without afterburning: 640 mph (Mach 0.97) at 36,000 feet. Stalling speed 147 mph with flaps extended. Initial climb rate 30,400 feet per minute. Service ceiling: 50,500 feet. Takeoff run: 2650 feet with two Sidewinder missiles. Landing run from 50 feet with braking parachute was 3900 feet. Range with maximum fuel was 1387 miles. Combat radius with maximum payload 195 miles. Combat radius with maximum fuel and two 530-pound bombs 558 miles. Fuel: Two internal fuel tanks composed of integral cells with total usable capacity of 583 US gallons. One 150 US gallon drop tank could be carried on the fuselage centerline pylon, two 150 US gallon droptanks could be carried underneath the underwing pylons, and a 50-gallon tank could be carried at each wingtip, bringing total fuel capacity to 1133 US gallons. Dimensions: wingspan 25 feet 3 inches, length 47 feet 2 inches, height 13 feet 2 inches, wing area 170 square feet. Weights: 8085 pounds empty, 11,477 pounds combat, 13,433 pounds gross, 20,677 pounds maximum takeoff. Armament: Armed with two 20-mm cannon in the fuselage nose. Two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles could be carried at the wingtips. Five pylons, one under the fuselage centerline and four under the wings that can carry up to 6200 pounds of ordinance or fuel tanks. A 2000-pound bomb or a gun pack can be carried from the centerline pylon. Underwing loads can include four air-to-air missiles, Bullpup air-to-surface missiles, bombs, up to 20 unguided rockets, gun packs, or external fuel tanks.


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  2. Jane's American Fighting Aircraft of the 20th Century, Michael J.H. Taylor, Mallard Press

  3. The World's Fighting Planes, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.

  4. Modern Air Combat, Bill Gunston and Mike Spick, Crescent, 1983.

  5. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  6. Post-World War II Fighters: 1945-1973, Marcelle Size Knaac, Office of Air Force History, 1986.

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  9. The World's Great Attack Aircraft, Gallery, 1988.

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

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

  12. e-mail from Ben Marselis