Because of the Canadian government's fiscal difficulties, some 73 of the single-seat CF-5A aircraft procured for the Canadian Armed Forces had to be kept in storage due to the lack of operating funds. These stored planes attracted the attention of Venezuela, which ordered 20 of them in 1972.
The F-5s were delivered to the Fuerza Aerea Venezolianos in two groups between February 11 and June 11, 1972. CAF serials of the 16 single-seaters delivered to Venezuela were 116767, 116773/116783 and 116786/116789. The two CF-116Ds were 116803 and 116808. The money paid by Venezuela for these planes enabled a new batch of 18 CF-5Ds to be built for the CAF (CAF serials 116829 to 116846).
The 16 CF-5As and two CF-5Ds were issued to Grupo de Caza No 12. based at Barquisimeto. They were given the local designations VF-5A and VF-5D, and two of the single seaters were converted into reconnaissance RVF-5As.
Seven aircraft had been lost by 1990, and in May of that year, fatigue problems and budgetary difficulties forced the FAV to retire its entire VF-5 force and place the entire surviving fleet in storage.
These planes were supplemented in late 1990 by 7 surplus NF-5s from the Royal Netherlands Air Force (6 NF-5Bs and a single NF-5A). These were all delivered by 1993. These new deliveries released the 13 surviving VF-5As and single VF-5D for refurbishment by Singapore Aerospace. A contract had been signed in June of 1990 with Singapore Aerospace to upgrade the VF-5 aircraft with GPS avionics and midair refuelling probes. This work is carried out in Venezuela with the assistance of Singapore Aerospace technicians.
On November 17, 1992, elements of the FAV participated in an unsuccessful coup against the Venezuelan government. At that time, the VF-5 force was fairly widely scattered due to the ongoing upgrade program, and did not play much part in the fighting. However, one VF-5 aircraft did scramble to defend Barquisimeto AB against the rebels, and three VF-5As were destroyed on the ground by rebel Mirages and Broncos.
A refurbished VF-5A and VF-5D were returned to Venezuela in May of 1993.
Two new-build CF-116Ds were delivered by Canadair to Venezuela on January 27, 1974. They were assigned CAF serials 116827 and 116828, but were never actually taken into CAF inventory but delivered directly to Venezuela. They were designated VF-5D in FAV service.
The Canadair deal with Venezuela made the Northrop company very unhappy, since the parent company had not agreed to Canadair's resale of license-built aircraft to other countries. In 1974, the Northrop company sued the Canadian government over resale rights and royalties. The matter was finally settled out of court when the Canadian government paid Northrop $9 million.
By the year 2000, Grupo 12 still operated its fleet of VF-5s and NF-5s from Barquisimeto as part of Escuadron 36. There were 8 VF-5As, three NF-5Bs, and one VF-5D that remain. They all received the Singapore Aerospace upgrades. However, Grupo 12 was at that time now very largely a training group, providing support for the F-16s of Grupo 16 and the Mirages of Grupo 11.
By 2015, there were no longer any F-5s in service with the Venezuelan Air Force. They were replaced by 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighters purchased from Russia in July of 2006, as a result of a US-imposed embargo on spare parts for their F-16 force.