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Andrew H
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What If: Northrop F/A-20C TigersharkFreedom Model Kits 1/48

December 27, 2022 · in Aviation · · 23 Comments

Good day. As we wrap up 2022, I've been fortunate enough to have some time to wrap up one more kit. This time, I present something a bit different, a "whiffer" or what-if aircraft, an ANG "" .

The Tigershark was a continued evolution of the F-5 Freedom Fighter airframe, which by the mid-70s was beginning to show some inadequacies. The intent was to provide foreign allied nations with an improved fighter capable of greater performance and better weaponry than its predecessor, without giving up any of the latest US defense secrets. Much of the improvements made to the slated it to become a more accessible and affordable F-16. Unfortunately for the program, which ultimately produced 3 complete airframes, changes to US policy pitted the F-16 directly against the F-20 for both foreign and domestic sales. After a number of unfortunate events, efforts to sell and therefore produce the F-20 were repeatedly denied, ultimately resulting in the cancellation of the program in late 1986.

The kit is one of a few F-20 kits variants from Freedom Models, and generally the kit is well done. The surface details are a bit heavy handed (rivets and panel lines), but this provides a good means of detailing panel lines, etc. The fit is mediocre, but by no means terrible, and frankly there are just some areas [esp the nose to fuselage joint] that will require puttying. The cockpit details are well done, and the provided decals fit the IP and side consoles well. The kit provides parts for an open canopy, and also includes a boarding ladder. I simply like the look of the canopy being closed, and because the plastic is decently clear and unobtrusive, details can still be well seen in person. Most of the control surfaces and doors can be optionally positioned, and as such I chose to build with the flaps, slats, spoilers and gear doors all dropped. Additionally, the kit provides a retracted and extended front strut, and due to the payload, I chose to use the extended strut. There are a number of other options, such as radome, pylon, and antennae options, but with no explanation of what option should go with which scheme.

For this project, using FMK's F/A-20C boxing, I built what is intended to be a multi-role ANG aircraft. This may be what a late-life F-20 may have looked like, with various service life upgrades and additions, such as the AN/AAQ-13 and AN/AAQ-14 pods under the intakes. Much of these upgrades do little to improve the fact that the F-20 is a light, low wing aircraft with wide-stance main landing gear legs, all of which limit the payload options of the aircraft. We'll have to assume that there was some level airframe reinforcement for this variant, as I chosen to display it with GBU-12s and Mk-82s underwing, and with AIM-9's on the wingtips. The kit also provides an AGM-84 and a pair of AGM-65s, and TER/MERs for more MK82s, but I really would have liked to have added some AIM-7s or AIM-120s in lieu of the A/G ordinance, as that would have been more appropriate for an ANG unit, I think. With that said, just don't look too much into the armaments...

For paint, I first black-based with MR 1500 Surfacer, then pre shaded with yellow and green mottling. I then sprayed the medium grey belly and nose, and then simply free-hand sprayed the darker Gunship grey. Some minor post shading was done, though mostly on the Gunship grey areas. Decals were applied over a coat of X-22 Clear, and then black/umber oil wash was applied. Following this, XF-86 Flat Clear sealed the paint and wash. Lastly some thinned umber was selectively applied top and bottom to mimic some grime and corrosion.

The selected decals came from a Super Scale International sheet for ANG F-16C's. I found that they were not really correct for the FIS F-16C that I planned to build, so I thought it would be neat to adapt them to this kit, especially since Kinetic's new F-16C comes with a Have-Glass Stinger scheme. The "" are based out of Toledo, OH, which is fairly local to me, and I also find their tail art to be pretty novel, if simple. Unfortunately, the tail decals did not contrast quite enough with the Vallejo colors I used for the two-tone grey scheme (Med Gunship Grey, and Medium Grey), perhaps due to them being thinly applied over the black-base. In regard to the rest of the airframe, I used best judgement to decide where to place the demarcation, and in doing so decided to leave the top of the nose in the Gunship grey, which is similar to the schemes on the F-20 prototypes.

Overall, this kit built up OK. There are some elements of the assembly that were more disjointed than I would have liked to see, but with just a little modelling magic, favorable results can be achieved. If you're looking for a decent what-if project, or just a good representation of an F-20, I'd surely recommend this kit.

I hope you like!

22 additional images. Click to enlarge.


23 responses

  1. Super cool! I've always liked the look of these as well as the F-5 family. Great result and write up

    • Thanks David @dbutlr! I too like this airframe from a legacy standpoint. I prefer the F-16 shape and function, I think, and despite the prolific use of T-38s as USAF trainers, my mind's eye sees the F-5 / F-20's as ubiquitously "foreign" aircraft.. Whether it was from all of the foreign allied/aggressor roles or just my own short-sightedness, I simply wanted to see what an F-20 would look like in "normal" USAF colors. At best, it still looks "80's" to me.. :/

  2. Well done, Andrew (@pb_legend). I have always been intrigued by the F-20 and I have wanted to do a "What if" version. Yours looks great in ANG markings. Very cool.

    • Thanks George, @gblair! I'd be curious to see what direction your knowledge and career experiences might do to guide an F-20 "what-if"... just in case you need some encouragement to build one... twiddles thumbs..

      • It is farther down the queue, but I was thinking about doing an F-20 in Navy aggressor markings. There are some great paint schemes to use as inspiration, and the decals for T-38 aggressors would work on the F-20.

        • @gblair, If you haven't got the ol' Monogram kit in your stash, FMK has a two-seater F-20, which comes with a number of aggressor schemes. Note, the kit decals were quite stiff and took forever to respond to solvent (IP, armament stripes), and only went down quickly when applying direct heat with a heat gun.

          • I have always liked the F-20, and I have both the single and two-seat versions in 1/48. I am also a big fan of the F-5A and F-5E. There was a detachment of F-5s at the base where I went through pilot training in 1976/77 that served as a motivational tool for us.

  3. I saw Chuck Yeager put the first prototype through its paces back in 1982. It was definitely a performer.
    This is some very nice work Andrew, and a very good result.

    • Very cool, Tom. The engine improvement alone was said to have provided 60% more thrust than the F-5's, and who's to say a whole new engine wouldn't have been fit over its speculative service life... If only, if only.. thanks for chiming in.

  4. A wonderful model, Andrew! The F-20 is a classic what-if candidate. I like your approach a lot with the add-ons that the plane received during its career.
    Great writeup and thanks for the kit and build details!

  5. Amazing buid, Andrew @pb_legend
    Your F20 looks great in this scheme.
    The shape of the F5 family has always been one of my favorites.
    Another, to my opinion, nice looking variant of the F5, is the HESA Saeqeh, an Iranian built with two tail fins.

    • Thanks @johnb! I've not heard of the Saeqeh until now, but that is a very interesting evolution of the F-5 indeed. It appears AFV club offers a 1/48 kit of that subject, but that's just a bit too obscure for me. It looks like a baby F-18, though. 🙂

  6. Very sharp Tigershark, well-done Andrew!

  7. Lovely Tigershark! Gives me a couple of ideas of what to do with the kit I have...

  8. A spot on what-ifer, great job!

  9. Stunning result. Such a good looking jet. It would also be interesting to build one with Brazilian Air Force markings since they have continuously upgraded their F-5Es up to very recently, which resulted in a reportedly very capable version only now being replaced by Grippens. If the Tigershark had ever become available, I suspect some would be flown by Brazil.

    • Marcello @marcellorosa1, thank you very much. You bring up a perfectly valid possibility. In fact, the kit manufacturers thought the same, and included a Brazillian AF scheme in this boxing! It is hard to contest a Grippen, but maybe the F-20s would have been favored for some time longer.

  10. Very cool! I used to be a Crew Chief out at the 180th in the early 2000s. I still run outside and look up when I hear them flying over. Awesome work!

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