Northrop F-5A by Kinetic

1/48 scale
Kit No. K48020
Cost: $40.00
Decals: By Cartograf for 16 different versions – USAF (3), Canadian Air Force (3), Netherlands Air Force (2), Royal Norwegian Air Force (2), Greek Air Force (5), and South Vietnamese Air Force (1)
Comments: Engraved panel lines; highly detailed cockpit and wheel wells; trademark F-5A wing-tip auxiliary fuel tanks; ordnance includes two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and two Mk. 82 500 lb. general purpose fragmentation bombs; two rocket pods; optional position canopy with boarding ladder; centerline and wing mounted drop tanks; photo-etched details and separately molded control surfaces


One of the most enduring military aircraft designs ever produced, Northrop Grumman Corporation’s (formerly Northrop’s) F-5 tactical fighter series has served the air forces of various Western nations for over four decades. The Northrop F-5A is a small, lightweight, low cost, easy-to-maintain supersonic fighter, tailored to the needs of nations friendly to the West who do not need, and cannot afford to purchase or maintain the bigger, more complex fighters in the U.S. inventory. Northrop began development of the type in the mid-1950’s, but for a time it took back seat to the development of the related T-38 trainer, which entered service in 1961. In 1958 Northrop began building a prototype of this small fighter, designated the N-156F. Northrop’s N-156 airframe was the seminal design from which both the T-38 and the F-5 series evolved, with the T-38 prototype being designated N-156T.

Two fighter prototypes were built and flown, with a third partially constructed. A firm market for this airplane didn’t develop until May of 1962 when the U.S. Department of Defense selected the N-156F as the basis for the airplane to modernize the air forces of selected countries under the Military Assistance Program (MAP). The airplane was given the designation F-5A, with first flight of the prototype (a modified N-156F) on July 31, 1963 at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Countries receiving the F-5A under the MAP included Iran, South Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, Greece, and the Republic of China. Norway, Spain, and Canada made direct purchases of the airplane. The F-5A was also modified by the U.S. Air Force and evaluated in Vietnam with those airplanes dubbed “Skoshi Tigers”.

Following more than eight years of production, the last F-5A was delivered in June, 1972. More than 2,600 of all F-5 types were built by Northrop and under co-production and licensing agreements with Canada, the Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Switzerland. Approximately two-thirds of the original production F-5’s remain operational in 26 countries, including the United States. The U.S. Navy operates the F-5 in its adversary squadrons to simulate enemy aircraft in aerial combat training exercises. The U.S. Air Force used the F-5 in a similar training role.

Since two-thirds of F-5 user countries also operate F-16s, F/A-18s, F-15s or Mirage aircraft, the F-5’s role has shifted from a front-line fighter to an introductory jet trainer. Many of the international F-5 operators are considering (and some have committed to) basic structural life extension programs and avionics/subsystems upgrade packages to obtain an effective lead-in trainer with a modest investment. Because this new projected role will extend the life of the F-5, Northrop Grumman has focused on a total system support plan approach that will insure current F-5 users can obtain the necessary structure spare parts and systems upgrades.


Wing Span: 25 feet, 3 inches
Length: 46 feet, 11 inches
Height: 13 feet, 2 inches
Wing Area: 170 square feet
Clean Takeoff Weight: 13,170 lbs.
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 19,860 lbs.
Maximum Speed: Mach 1.4
Cruising Speed: Mach 0.84
Range: 1,400 miles
Service Ceiling: 50,000 feet
Powerplant: Two General Electric J85-13 Turbojets rated at 4,080 pounds thrust
Armament: Two Colt 20mm Cannon; two AIM-9 Sidewinder infra-red missiles

This is one of two identical sprues.

The Kit

Kinetic’s Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter is moled in gray and consists of 184 injection molded plastic and 11 photo-etched metal parts. Assembly begins with the cockpit, which features a detailed ejection seat and a separate ejection rail assembly that must be altered as indicated in the instructions if the canopy is depicted in the closed position. Also featured are a detailed cockpit tub into which the seat is cemented, including raised detail on the side instrument panels, to match that on the main panel. The PE detail parts do not include seat straps, although the cockpit detail is nicely rounded out with a clear plastic part for the reflector gunsight and a detailed control yoke.

There are separate parts for the nose-mounted 20mm cannon, as well as photo-etched parts to be cemented to the nose if you are building the Canadian version, the CF-5A. Other highly noticeable parts specific to the CF-5A are the fixed, kinked refueling probe on the starboard side of the fuselage, PE parts for the tail, and the replacement of the standard F-5A large ventral panel at the rear of the airframe with the Canadian version, just forward of the engine exhaust nozzles.

A nice bit of detail are the separately molded flaps, wing leading edges, dive brakes and rudder, each of which can be positioned as the modeler desires. Finally there is internal intake trunking for each of the two turbojet engines, with separate intake fan faces for both. The ordnance provided for the kit is extensive, beginning with two launch rails to be used in lieu of the wing-tip fuel tanks so that the kit’s two Sidewinder missiles may be mounted. The instructions provide a diagram for the various loads the F-5A was capable of carrying, with each item provided in the kit: Not only Sidewinders but LAU rocket pods, Mk. 82 fragmentation bombs, as well and centerline and underwing drop tanks.


The instructions dedicate a full page featuring four-view drawings to each one of the sixteen versions for which markings are provided. The colors cite Vallejo and Mr. Color brands, but not with total consistency, and also reference either Federal Standard or RAL numbers.

Canadian Armed Forces
Two of the Canadian CF-5A’s feature matt camouflage aggressor schemes of Blue Gray FS 36257 combined with two different shades of gray (FS36307 and FS 36251). Only one of these is identified as belonging to a specific unit, No. 434 “Bluenose” Squadron, circa 1988. The third Canadian version, also of No. 434 Squadron as of 1979, features a camouflage scheme of Green and Dark Blue Gray over Sky Grey (Vallejo Model Air 14 and 54 over Vallejo Model Color 989).

Greek Air Force
Two of the Greek Air Force versions feature schemes of Navy Blue with black anti-glare panels over Natural Metal. The wing-tip tanks are Navy Blue even on their undersides. The first of these is a machine of the 341st “Arrow” Squadron, 1992. The second is with the same squadron, 1998. The third Greek version is identical to the Canadian aggressor paint schemes of Blue Gray FS 36257 combined with two different shades of gray (FS36307 and FS 36251), and is also a machine of the 341st Squadron, 1993. The fourth Greek version is for an aircraft of the 349th “Kronos” Squadron, and features a two-tone gray scheme of FS 36320 over FS 36270, with the upper surface a slightly darker shade of gray — in this case the wing-tip tanks match the color for the upper and lower surfaces of the rest of the airframe. The fifth Greek version is a two-tone grey camouflage scheme of FS 36118 Dark Grey and FS 36320 Gray over a lighter Gray, FS 36270, for an NF-5A of the 343rd “Star” Squadron, 1998.

Netherlands Air Force
The first of the Netherland versions belongs to 315 Squadron, circa 1979, and features a camouflage scheme of Yellow Olive and Basalt Gray over Silver Gray. The second is also for 315 Squadron as of 1985 and has a camouflage scheme of Dark Gray FS 36118 and Gray FS 36320 over Gray FS 36270.

Royal Norwegian Air Force
Both RNAF versions call for paint schemes identical to the natural metal U.S. versions. The first is for 336 Squadron, an acrobat team called “The Flying Jokers” based at RAF Faiford, 1977. The second is for 334 Squadron, based at Bodo, 1969.

South Vietnamese Air Force
The South Vietnamese version is for an aircraft of the 23rd Wing, 522nd Squadron, circa 1969, and features a camouflage scheme of Tan, Dark Green and Forest Green (FS 30219, 34102 and 34079) over Light Gray FS 36622.

U.S. Air Force
Two of the U.S. Air Force feature overall natural metal paint schemes, with black anti-glare panels on the nose and a horizontal band of white at the top of the tail. One of them is unidentified, the second is for the 4441st Combat Crew Training School at Williiams AFB, in Tactical Air Command markings. The third U.S. version is designated only as belonging to Kelly AFB, and has a scheme of overall aircraft gray with flourescent red wing tips, horizontal tail surfaces, and a matching fuselage band immediately aft of the nose cone.


This is a beautifully detailed kit of Northrop’s famous low-cost export fighter. It appears that the Kinetic offering has spared no effort in providing modelers the most detailed F-5A possible. While this kit has a similar number of parts as AFV Club’s F-5E, the Kinetic version takes the prize as the most detailed and accessorized F-5 kit in this scale. Highly recommended.


  • Northrop Grumman website ~
  • Western Museum of Flight ~
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