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.
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 (65-13071/13074) 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
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.