F-5 Tiger fighter jet
As an integral part of the United States Air Force’s elite aggressor program, the F-5 Tiger was instrumental in training some of the most successful and decorated pilots in the modern era. Its unique history both as a combat fighter and trainer makes it a first-of-its-kind addition to the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation with an even more important story to share.
Developed by Northrop in the 1960s, this supersonic light fighter was an offshoot of the manufacturer’s well-known trainer, the T-38 Talon, as a way to leverage the Talon’s immense success and transform it into a single-seat fighter.
Because the F-5 so closely resembled the Soviet MiG 21 that was flown by America’s adversaries, it was tapped by the USAF to train fighter pilots for aerial combat. Those selected for the aggressor program were considered experts in their field. They meticulously studied Soviet threat systems; deployed these tactics against their peers in flight every day; and even adorned their F-5 aircraft in various Soviet paint schemes and mixed markings. In addition to the markings of the 57th, the Heritage Flight F-5 features the blue aerial camouflage scheme that was a hallmark of Soviet-era fighters and was meant to help hide the aircraft in the sky.
In addition to equipping the F-5 with more powerful engines and hardpoints on the wings for additional armaments, Northrop also outfitted the aircraft with cannons, gun sights, radar, a drag chute, and installed an air refueling probe that were vital to its combat capabilities.