1/72 Northrop F-5E Tiger II Build 

by Chris St Clair



The F-5E was developed from the F-5A by Northrop and was intended for export as a cheap and capable fighter aircraft.  In the end, over 25 nations ended up flying versions of the F-5.  The United States Air Force, United States Navy and the US Marines all ended up flying the F-5E, mainly as an aggressor aircraft to mimic Soviet Block MiGs.  In April 1962 the US Secretary of Defence approved the selection of the F-5 for the Military Assistance Programme (MAP) and this lead to the F-5A and F-5B models.  Northrop then developed the F-5E in-house and proposed it to the Defence Department and the USAF.  In November 1970 the F-5E was chosen and in December 1970 a contract was issued for 325 aircraft, officially designated the F-5E.

The F-5E first flew in August 1972 and deliveries to the 425th TFTS at Williams AFB commenced in April 1973 (this unit was responsible for training foreign pilots, whose countries had, or would later purchase the F-5E.  The F-5F followed into service soon afterwards.

My build was the first batch of around 30 aircraft which I want to model, covering all variants of the F-5 in USAF service as well as the F-20 Tigershark.  Whilst there are a few kits of the F-5E available in 1/72nd scale, probably the best is the Italeri release which has now been around since the 1980s and the five models I built all came from this manufacturer (note that the Hobby Boss release appears to be a copy of the Italeri kit, although the fin does not fit well and I believe there are also issues with the canopy).

The Italeri kit is quite simple and goes together reasonably well, although it does show its age in that the panel lines are raised rather than being engraved. The cockpit is quite good and there is good detail in the undercarriage bays.  To increase the level of detail, I made a few changes.  The cockpit was replaced with a resin one from IPMS Austria, and I used True Details resin seats.  I modified the intakes to represent ones with blanking plates fitted and cast resin replacements.  I drilled out the gun barrels and replaced them with Minimecca steel tubing.  The navigation lights were drilled out, silver was added with a marker pen and Tamiya clear (red and green) was added.  I cast copies of the navigation lights on the intakes in clear resin, masked the fronts off and attached them removing the mask later left the front of the lights clear.

The only real fit problems I had were with the fuselage.  This comes in two halves (upper and lower) and all five of mine cracked after the halves had been joined.  Whether this was because the cockpits splayed the fuselage halves or because the plastic was waxy and didnt join well I dont know but friends who have also built this kit have had the same problem!  I also noticed that the 5 I built all came from different production batches as the plastic varied from a brittle medium grey to a very waxy light grey!

Click on images below to see larger images




For my first batch of F-5Es, I chose a wide selection of airframes to depict.  Two are aggressor aircraft, one in a modified Sand scheme, and the other in the VNAF Scheme (actually SEA!).  This latter scheme is quite interesting at the end of the Vietnam War, the USAF had a batch of F-5Es which were to be delivered to the VNAF.  When the US pulled out, the aircraft were redirected to Nellis AFB where they became Aggressors.

I have, for many years, wanted to model the F-5Es which were used to trial the Ferris camouflage schemes and two of my models depicted the different schemes.  After painting the two, I realised that the paint scheme information I had was incorrect as the shades of grey recommended were far too light (and one even missed the lower colour entirely!) I decided to accept this as the alternative would be a complete repaint!

The final aircraft was used for development work by the USAF.  I chose to depict it as used during trials of the GPU-5/A gun pod (the pod is not shown in the photographs as I had not painted it at that point!)


Paints used were mainly Xtracolor, although the Sand aircraft was painted using a custom mix of Humbrol paint.  I made a colossal error in using Humbrol Glosscote prior to decaling and completely ignored advice to the contrary (mainly because it was the only gloss varnish I had in stock!)  It never dried properly (even thinned 50/50 with thinner) and picked up dust and fingerprints afterwards.  Unfortunately, even a coat of Pollyscale Matt varnish did not hide all of the damage and the end finish is nowhere as good as it could have been you live and learn I guess...  However, I did try out a few new techniques, and this was the first use of my new Iwata Hi-Line HP-CH which I highly recommend!


Photos and text by Chris St Clair