Northrop F-5E Tiger II by AFV Club

1/48 scale
Kit No. AR 48102
Cost: $35.00
Decals: Four versions – U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, Royal Malaysian Air Force, Singapore Air Force
Comments: New tooling, engraved panel lines, drop tanks, two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles


The Northrop F-5E, and the F-5A from which it was developed, were both designed as lightweight, low-cost, reliable and effective tactical fighters for export to approved countries friendly to the West under the U.S. government’s Mutual Assistance Plan (MAP). The MAP had previously provided aircraft such as the swept-wing Republic F-84, the F-100 Super Sabre and the F-104 Starfighter to America’s Western allies. While the F-5A had been popular with NATO countries, the F-5E sold well to Middle Eastern, Asian and South American countries. While production of Northrop’s F-5A/F-5B was underway, the company developed an improved version
of the F-5 as a private venture, using the F-5A airframe as the prototype. The prototype F-5E flew for the first time in March 1969, powered by two afterburning General Electric J85-GE-21 turbojets capable of 5,000 lbs. of thrust — representing 22% more power than the powerplant of the F-5A.

The F-5E won the competition for the International Fighter Aircraft (IFA) , after some resistance from the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Air Force, who were not so eager to give up the highly successful and effective F-5A, which had fulfilled the same role intended for the IFA quite admirably in Vietnam. SECDEF and the Air Force first subjected the F-5E to extensive flight testing to determine whether or not there was really any improved performance from its new engines. At the time there was legitimate concern about whether Northrop’s redesigned fighter with its new engines would retain the capability of the F-5A and B series to be operated and maintained by Third World nations who did not have the technological expertise of the United States. This was critical, since export to such nations friendly to the West was the very reason for the F-5’s existence, and that of the new International Fighter Aircraft. At this time, 1969-70, the Air Force also wanted a fighter with expanded performance, capable of flying air superiority missions against such aircraft as the Soviet MiG-21.

Although Northrop initially offered the F-5E to the Air Force as a contender in the International Fighter Aircraft competition, the Air Force could not expect to receive federal funding for its development and production without the usual procedure of putting it out to bid and selecting a contractor. Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) were sent to eight U.S. manufacturers on February 26, 1970 and in March, four companies responded: Ling-Temco-Vought with an advanced design of the F-8 Crusader, Lockheed with a variant of the F-104 Starfighter, McDonnell Douglas with a version of the F-4 Phantom, and Northrop with the F-5E. On November 20, 1970, the Air Force announced that Northrop would be the prime contractor for the program.

The F-5E differed in several respects from the F-5A. It had full-span, leading edge, electrically operated manuevering flaps, much like the first F-5A’s and B’s supplied to the Royal Netherlands Air Force. This change was largely based on experience with the F-5A’s in Southeast Asia, indicating that manueverability was more important than speed. The full flaps could be operated in conjunction with the trailing edge flaps, which were also electrically operated. The wing area of the F-5E was increased by 10% over the F-5A, in addition to the E’s more powerful J85 engines. The increased fuel capacity in the F-5E’s larger, longer fuselage allowed the elimination of the distinctive wingtip tanks of the F-5A, making way for wingtip rails capable of launching an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile — a pair of such missiles became part of the F-5E’s standard armament.

The first production F-5E took its maiden flight on August 11, 1972, but the Air Force did not accept it for service until April 4, 1973, due partly to the need to work out the bugs in its J85-GE-21 turbojets, which were superior to the F-5A’s J85-GE-3 powerplant, but still had initial reliability problems. A two-seater version, the F-5F, was later developed for the dual purpose of training and combat, having the same integrated fire control system as the E, but only one M39 20mm cannon. The F-5F first flew on September 25, 1974, and production models went to active squadrons beginning in Summer 1976.

The top air combat training schools in the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School and the Air Force’s Aggressor Squadron, both use F-5E’s as mock enemy aircraft in combat training exercises against American squadrons of front-line tactical fighters. By early 1978 over 900 F-5E’s and 100 F-5F’s had rolled off the Northrop assembly line. The RF-5E reconnaissance version was approved for development on March 31, 1978, bearing a widened nose for photographic and other surveillance equipment. In 1982, Northrop
placed a new powerplant, a single F404 turbojet (borrowed from the Navy’s F/A-18) into the F-5E airframe, to develop the F-20 Tigershark. Although the F-20 had improved weapons capability, unlike its predecessors it did not sell well in the export market, often losing out to the F-16. In all, total F-5 production, including T-38 Talons and the Tiger II series, reached 3,840.


Powerplant: Two General Electric J85-GE-21B afterburning turbojets, capable of 4,000 lbs. of thrust
Maximum speed: 1,054 mph (Mach 1.38) at 36,000 feet
Service ceiling: 51,100 feet
Rate of Climb: 34,292 feet per minute
Weights: Empty 9,568 lbs.; Maximum take-off 24, 611 lbs.
Armament: Two M39A2 Colt-Browning 20mm cannon in the nose; two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, plus 6,985 lbs. of ordnance on fuselage and wing pylons
Wingspan: 26 ft. 8 in.
Length: 47 ft. 5 in.
Height: 13 ft. 4 in.
Operators: Brazil, Chile, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, South Korea, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and (as trainers) the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy

The Kit

AFV Club’s F-5E is simply the most detailed kit of the Tiger II in this scale ever manufactured. It is molded in light grey and consists of 194 parts, 5 of them photo-etched. It is loaded with raised detail on the instrument panels, wheel wells, landing gear door interiors, landing gear and Sidewinder missiles. The cockpit is highly detailed, including raised sidewall detail on the fuselage interiors, a detailed ejection seat and control stick, separately molded rudder pedals, and a clear gunsight. There are separately molded wing flaps and rudder, and separate access panels in the nose (but no interior detail provided) offering a further opportunity for superdetailing. The kit features a two-part access ladder and photo-etch parts for rear view mirrors in the canopy, which has alternate parts allowing it to be positioned opened or closed.


The decals are by AFV Club and are printed in Taiwan. There are markings for four different versions: 12 Squadron of the Royal Malaysian Air Force in overall natural metal; No. 144 Squadron of the Singapore Air Force, sporting a camouflage scheme of three-tone gray; an Aggressor Squadron aircraft of the U.S. Navy’s VFC-13, with a tiger-stripe camouflage scheme of Earth Red and Desert Pink; and finally an aircraft of the U.S. Air Force’s 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron, bearing a camouflage scheme of Earth Brown and Desert Pink.



  • The Encyclopedia of World Air Power; Crescent Books, New York, 1980
  • Modern Military Aircraft; Edited by Jim Winchester, Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, 2004
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