1/72 Esci Northrop F-5A(G) 

Freedom Fighter

by Jens H. Brandal


  Norway Constitution Day 2005 


Immediately after WW2, the cutting edge of the Royal Norwegian Air Force consisted of British equipment.  After the formation of NATO, military assistance came in the form of aircraft and equipment from the USA, and from the early fifties, the Spitfires, Mosquitoes and Vampires were gone - being replaced with Thunderjets and Sabres.  After the delivery of a squadron of F-104Gs to 331 Squadron, it was clear that the aid packages would be reduced, and we would need to carry a greater share of the purchase of new aircraft ourselves.  When the RNoAF was looking for a replacement for the F-86F and K in the early sixties, price and cost-effectiveness were important considerations.  The focus was on anti-invasion defence and supporting the ground forces, and air defence as a secondary role.  The aircraft should also be simple and rugged and require little maintenance.  After evaluating the F-104G (already in use in the interceptor role), F-104H, G-91, F-5A, A-4E and F-84F, the choice fell on the F-5A in January 1964.  The RNoAF requested some minor changes from the baseline model to make it safer to operate in the harsh winter climate and reduce the risk of fatigue cracks, the Norwegian model being designated by adding (G) to the version suffix.  On the 22nd of March 1966, the first F-5s were formally handed over to 336 Squadron, and was later followed by 332, 334, 338, 717 and 718 Squadrons.  332 Sqn. decommissioned on 31st December 1972, and the remaining F-5As and Bs and personnel transferred to 717 Sqn..   334 Sqn. transferred their F-5A/B aircraft to 332 Sqn. and 336 Sqn. in exchange for CF-104s in 1974.  336 Sqn. started the conversion process to the F-16 in 1984, only to revert to the F-5 the following year. 338 Sqn. surrendered their F-5s for the F-16 in January 1985.  The RNoAF's sole dedicated reconnaissance unit, 717 Squadron took delivery of their RF-5A(G) in April 1969 and the squadron was deactivated in August 1979, transferring their aircraft to 336 who set up a reconnaissance wing within the squadron.  Finally, the jet training squadron, no.718 Sqn. were set up with the F-5A and B in July 1968, and the last flight was made on the 3rd of January 1983.  By this time several aircraft were stored at Stavanger/Sola before return to the USA or for redistribution to Greece and Turkey.  The last unit to operate the F-5 in the RNoAF is therefore quite appropriately 336 Squadron, operating a handful of aircraft in the Electronic Warfare and aggressor role, as well as supporting the development of the NSM anti-ship missile designed to replace the Penguin.  Since the F-5 has been used by so many squadrons over such a long time, Northrop's lightweight fighter has an almost iconic status among Norwegian modellers. 

After finishing the P-3C, I was inspired to finish other kits I had started and then put back in the box.  When visiting my parents at Christmas, I came across this F-5 thinking to myself that it would be a simple build - after all, the fuselage was glued and most seams sanded.  The tip tanks had been glued to the wing tips, but when I realised I glued them the wrong way around, I tore them off, and put it back in the box in frustration, and that's where it remained for about ten years.  As the cockpit was painted and decaled, there was little I could do to improve it.  Esci's decal doesn't really look like the real thing, so I decided to close the canopy.  This would also preserve the sleek lines that I admire so much about the F-5.   The first improvement I decided to do was to put a True Details F-5/T-38 seat in - this is a gem, and once painted up looks really nice.

Click on images below to see larger images

With such a nicely detailed seat, I thought the sidewalls looked a bit bare, and I realised I could add sidewalls using 0.25 mm plasticard.

I used the Verlinden Lock on for the F-5E/F, drawings in a Norwegian Aviation Historical Society journal, a Warbirds of Norway newsletter and a Greek IPMS magazine for reference.  The sidewalls were painted dark gull grey like the seat and rest of the cockpit and then put in place.

At about this time, I realised the rear wall of the cockpit was too far aft - in reality it should line up with the angled panel, but this would then push the seat right up to the instrument panel.  I'll do something about it on the next one.

The canopy was designed to be in the open position, and the pieces were carefully aligned and glued with Tamiya Extra thin cement - the pointed brush allows great control.  When dry, I sanded the outside to make sure it was smooth, and then polished it inside and out with Micromesh polishing cloths and finishing off with Tamiya rubbing/polishing compound.  The clarity of the canopy allows the seat and sidewalls to be seen, though not fully appreciated.  The canopy has a horseshoe structure inside, and I added an impression of this using 0.5 mm plasticard that was straddling the ejection seat with a little trial and error.  A pair of photoetched rear view mirrors completed the canopy.

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Kit pitot tubes in 1:72nd and smaller tend to look over scale and break far too easily.  I now use 0.015" piano wire that I sharpen to a blunt point with the Dremel.  To get a thicker base, I stretch a piece of plastic tube around it and glue it with thin CA.  Then I drill a hole in the nosecone, and secure it in place with CA.  Now you can fill and sand to make the pitot tube blend in with the nosecone rather than being stuck on as an afterthought.  And if you handle the model carelessly, it will sting you.  Only one modeller was harmed in the process of building this model.

The kit has nicely scribed panel lines, but when I built the model originally, I didn't pay much attention to them.  The lines on the spine tend to be fairly prominent, and some of them are at an angle which makes it even harder to re-scribe.  I sandwiched layers of Tamiya masking tape that I cut to the desired radius after measuring with a set of scribing templates.  I then stuck the thick layers of tape on the spine and scribed them in using a photo-etched saw-blade.  Almost all joins required filler and sanding, and this was no doubt influenced by my previous lack of attention to making good joints early on instead of fixing mistakes by using filler.  Some bumps and lumps on the tailfin had to be removed for the version I wanted to build.

The Norwegian F-5s had a de-icing kit for the windscreen, and this was not included.  I used a 90 degree sector of Evergreen styrene tube and a slice of plastic strip for the basis.  Constant dryfitting with the windscreen was necessary to determine the exact position (here shown in the later stages with silver paint to highlight the position).  

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Then I faired it in with Milliput that was sanded to shape when dry.  

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At this time I also decided to add some detail to the coaming over the instrument panel and the simple gunsight.  
The exhausts in the kit are blanked, and this is not very convincing, although the wall detail is nicely representing the corrugations of the real thing.  I drilled out the blanks, and countersunk the rear face of the exhaust.  I then used a piece of aluminium tubing that was extending to the red turbine warning stripes on the fuselage.  To make the afterburners, I cut some Evergreen plastic tube and glued it on a piece of plasticard.  To these, I glued some plastic strips inside pointing towards the centre, and these supported a disc of 0.5 mm plastic hat I made with a punch and die set.   
The afterburner was painted Testors Metallizer Burnt iron, and the exhaust interior was painted burnt metal, the outside was painted Humbrol Polished Steel and then polished to a high shine with an old cotton T-shirt and set aside for later.  While working with the rear fuselage, I also made a flap for the brake chute with 0.25 mm plasicard.
One modification that should be done is to increase the gap between the flap and the fuselage, as there is a noticeable gap in real life.  Also note the amount of Mr.Surfacer that has been sanded smooth to eliminate the sinkmarks.  The leading edge flaps would later be glued in the lowered position as was common on Norwegian F-5s.  The trailing edge flaps, ailerons and stabilisers tend to be neutral (or with a slight droop on the ailerons as the control surfaces have hydraulic actuators), so I didn't change these.  The last modification I did was to drill out the holes for the guns so I could anchor the gun barrels properly - these I made from syringes.

The main wheel wells are nicely detailed but far too shallow, so I decided to glue this model to the base.  I added brake lines from fine copper wire and was happy with that.  The nose gear well is naked except for sidewalls made from Milliput - little would be seen without a dental mirror.  The kit gives you optional nose gear - the Norwegian ones should use the slightly raked back variety.  The scissor link is the wrong type - it is similar to the two wishbones used on the F-5E, so I cut off the nose wheel and scratch built some new ones.  I also took the opportunity to secure the nose wheel better with a 0.8 mm brass pin that also allowed me to position is slightly turning.  I don't know if the rudder should be deflected as well, but with no pressure on the hydraulics, I assumed there would be no coupling.

The coke bottle tip tanks are such a feature of the Freedom Fighter, and I wanted to include these.  The centreline pylon was almost a permanent fixture, and this carried a fuel tank a lot of the time.  For reasons that became clearer later, the centreline tank in the kit has a blunt nose, whereas it should be pointed as the under wing tanks.  I therefore snipped the vertical fin off a wing tank, and used that.  I couldn't find any period pictures of armed F-5s, but I decided to load it up with unguided rocket pods on the inner wing pylons, leaving the outer ones off.

Gluing the completed canopy was uneventful with Johnsons Klear/Future and a little filling, and it was off to the paintshop.

Paint and decals

I wanted to do this in the more colourful period of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, and that meant silver paint.  The aluminium paint tended to darken as it weathered, and for this purpose Xtracolor X500 Duralumin fit the bill perfectly.  In many pictures, the F-5s look very shabby with repaints and touch-ups, much like modern US Navy aircraft.  These would be touched up with brighter shades of the aluminium paint, and perhaps there was a case of different batches of paint as well.  I tried spraying Meetallizer aluminium, but couldn't get it to work, so I drybrushed the colour instead over latches, panels and edges where there would be the most wear and tear.  I deliberately kept it subtle as I didn't want to over-weather it.  The inside quarter of the tip tanks was painted Vallejo Olive Drab, and the tip of the fin light grey.  After an insurance coat of Polly S clear gloss, it was decaling time.

I was torn between 334 Squadron pre 1972 with the red-white-blue chevrons filling the tailfin or 338 Squadron in more subdued post 1972 markings.  Since I'm also working on a Classic Airframes kit that will have the pre 1972 markings for 338 Squadron, I didn't want to do those.  I settled on 338 Squadron markings, and Nils Mathisrud made the black markings on his computer and printed them on a laser printer onto clear decal film.  The print is very fragile so a coat of Microscale liquid decal film is recommended.  I then transferred the black outline of the lightning bolt to yellow decal film and cut it out.  The roundels came from an old Specialtryck sheet now long out of print.  Substitutes can be found on Flying Colours sheets from Rebell Hobby in Sweden.  The call number came from Vingtor Decals (http://vingtor.net/decals).  Stencilling came from the original kit sheet that settled down very well using my method of Tamiya acrylic thinner as decal solvent and setting solution.  The RESCUE arrows came from an old Microscale sheet for the Vigilante as the arrow is pointing forwards on both sides.  Once done, I sprayed a coat of Polly S clear flat with a bit of light grey to tone everything down. 


I then masked the nose and sprayed the black antiglare and the rear fuselage Metallizer Magnesium.  The canopy seal was made with thin strips of Tamiya masking tape which allows repositioning, but stays in place. The noses of the tip tanks were navigation lights and were painted Tamiya clear red on the left and clear blue on the right.  The wing has lights on the top and bottom surfaces as well - these were drilled out and filled with the same colours. When gluing the centreline tank to the pylon, I realised that the nose wheel would have hit the tank if it was raked back as per the kit, so I tried to bend the nose gear forwards with partial success.  A gentle turn disguised it further. I added the exhausts, and the model was ready to go on the base permanently.

The Esci kit has now been re-released by Italeri, but here in the UK, it can be found on swap meets for a couple of pounds.  Though not perfect, it is cheap to improve as there are no photoetch or expensive resin upgrade kits specific for this kit, so it is great value for money. 


Photos and text by Jens H. Brandal