What if? F-20 Tigershark Aggressor Aircraft, 1/48th scale, Freedom model kits.
F-20 Tigershark Aggressor Aircraft, 1/48th scale, Freedom model kits.
The Northrop F-20 Tigershark was a transformation of the classic F-5 series into a low-cost export fighter for U. S. allies during the cold war. At this time the F-5 was a best seller to countries across the world in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Canada. F-5Es were also being used by the USAF and Navy as aggressor aircraft for Top Gun and Red Flag exercises. The F-16A was being developed and being adopted by the NATO countries. F-16s were very advanced for its time and was considered too advanced for many allied countries. Northrop developed the F-20 as the next development of the export F-5 (the F-5G was the first designation) by adding the General Electric F404 engine. What eventually happened was that the export restrictions on the F-16s were relaxed and it took the place of the lower cost and less sophisticated export aircraft. Northrop offered the F-20 to the USAF as an aggressor aircraft at a price less than the F-16 to provide a manufacturing base and to attract other buyers. The USAF declined for a number of good reasons and with it the F-20 program halted.
What if the USAF bought F-20s as aggressor aircraft for Red Flag and the Navy adopted them for Top Gun? The F-20 was a highly maneuverable aircraft with a tremendous initial rate of turn. In ACM it was able to slew its nose to point its guns or heat seeking missiles at the opposing aircraft. The aircraft could pull Gs so rapidly that the highly experienced demonstration pilots for Northrop lost consciousness while practicing the maneuvers for upcoming airshows. To this day there is speculation that the F-20 would have been a better dogfighter than the F-16.
The model depicts the what if the USAF had bought the F-20 for a large number of aggressor aircraft for the Red Flag and other training activities. The kit is from Freedom models and features recessed panel lines and a number of engraved panel lines and rivets. While there is a lot of detail the fit is not great. The area where the leading edge extension and air intakes come together is difficult to join together. Clearly a two-seater version was planned by the way the nose was attached to the main fuselage. While some of the details are excellent, other items like the wheels are tires have less clear detail. I prefer the detail of the AFV kit of the F-5E, but it is not an F-20.
The paint scheme of the model is based on the Flogger scheme used by aggressor F-16s in the early to mid 1990s and continues to this day. The markings are from the 64th Aggressor Squadron from Nellis AFB next to Las Vegas in 1990 for a F-16. Decals are from Bullseye sheet 48-003 and it still has 17 F-16s left to model. The colors are various Tamiya mixes to match photographs. The missiles are inert AIM-9 and AIM-120 missiles that have the radar and seeker heads still active. AIM-120s were not used in 1990 so a little artistic license was applied. Underneath the left wing is an ACMI pod while on the right wing is an AMA pod to enhance radar return. The cockpit is from the kit but the ejection seat is an Aces from the Monogram F-15E kit. Oil washes were used to highlight the details and to show wear.
I suspect that F-20s would have been challenging aggressor aircraft for the F-16s, F-15s, F-18s and F-14s. On the other hand the F-5 series of aircraft were based on a wing and fuselage from the late 1950s and early 1960s. The legacy imposed limitations on the radar, wing loading, sustained turning rate and the ability to load stores under the wings. So the legacy of the F-5 (and T-38) limited the transformation of the F-20 into a 21st century fighter.