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Swiss Air Force

Northrop F-5E Tiger II


Manufacturer: Northrop Corporation, Hawthorne, California, USA
Final construction: Federal aircraft construction plant Emmen (today's RUAG Aviation)
Year of Manufacture: 1976 and 1983/84
Purpose: Raumschutz
Crew: 1 pilot
Commenced service: 1978
Number of aircraft procured: 98
Number of aircraft still in operation: 21 (as per june 2016; without F-5F, two-seat fighter)

Registration: J-3001 to J-3098


YearF-5EF-5FMio. CHF

At the end of the seventies, the retirement of the Venom and the increased use of the Hunter aircraft for air-to-ground attack caused a gap in the field of area air-defence which was to be closed with the Northrop F-5E Tiger II.

In 1976, after thorough evaluation, the parliament decided on the procurement of 72 Tiger fighter aircraft, 66 of the type F-5E (single seater) and 6 of the type F-5F (double seater). The parts and assemblies were manufactured in the USA, but the Swiss Federal Aircraft Factory, Emmen, carried out the final assembly.

The transition training and the introduction of these aircraft went smoothly in the aeronautical and the technical field.

These reliable Tiger aircraft were especially well suited for our militia system and therefore the parliament decided in 1981 to reinforce the fleet with 38 additional aircraft, of which 6 double seater of the type F-5F. Again, the final assembly was done in Switzerland. This acquisition was concluded in the year 1984.

The double seater type F-5F is primarily used for conversion training and control flights. The pilots of the professional and militia squadrons fly aerial combat missions mainly with the single seater F-5E aircraft, limiting their weaponry to guns and infrared missiles. Despite the fact that, compared to modern fighter aircraft, their engagement possibilities in aerial combat might be limited, the Tiger aircraft serves well in area air-defence (up to approx. 6000 m elevation).

For the start-up procedure, the F-S‘s engines require compressed air, which is delivered by a power unit on the ground and transmitted to the engines through a thick tube. The ignition is switched on and fuel injected only after the engines have reached a sufficiently high torque through the outside air. The landing gear and flaps are extended and retracted and the control surfaces and the air brakes operated by means of two redundant hydraulic systems.



In 1982, during the regular modification service of the Swiss Federal Aircraft Factory Emmen the VHF radio antenna  (circled in red in this picture) was built into the F-5’s VHF radio installation system.

Patrouille Suisse

Patrouille Suisse (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window

For the Tiger to be more visible to both the spectators on the ground and the pilots in flight, twelve aircraft have been painted in the current red and white colour scheme, which in addition ensures that the pilots in a dogfight are able to better distinguish their own aircraft. Another feature to enhance attractiveness was fitting the aircraft with smoke generators, which at the command of the leader are switched on or off by means of a button on the control stick. A diesel-oil mixture is fed into the hot exhaust jet of the right hand side engine, generating the smoke, which lasts for three minutes in total. In order to make room for the additional tank for the smoke generator system, the red and white Tigers had their right hand side canon removed.


First sales

On 10 August 2002, the US Department of the Navy, in a unique “reverse” Foreign Military Sales (FMS) procedure, bought 32 used F-5E Tiger II from Switzerland. By June 2008, the purchased aircraft were allocated to the US Navy’s aggressor squadrons, which mainly used them in realistic training as F-5Ns. The aircraft were disassembled in Emmen and airlifted in pairs with C-130T Hercules Navy Reserve transporters to the Northrop Grumman Florida St. Augustine base. The last of these long-haul flights was on 26 October 2007. At Northrop Grumman, the aircraft were completely overhauled, structural parts exchanged and further modifications carried out. Three of the Swiss F-5Es were fitted with new noses. This change converted them into two-seaters and the Navy gave them the new designation F-5F.  Besides the VFC-13 squadron in Fallon, which took over its first F-5N on March 2004, two additional squadrons were equipped with the overhauled F-5Es from Switzerland. The Marine Corps VMFT-401 “Sniper” unit in Yuma, Arizona, received a dozen and the VFC-111 “Sundowners” in Key West, Florida, accepted about the same number of aircraft.

Including the purchase of twelve additional Swiss F-5E Tiger II aircraft, the USA bought a total of 44 Tiger aircraft at an overall price of $50 million for their Navy corps. The last aircraft, an F-5N Tiger II single-seater, was handed over to the Navy at a ceremony in St. Augustine on 29 April 2009. The US Navy used these F-5s, which were overhauled and modified by Northrop Grumman within five months, until 2015.

In addition to the aircraft sold to the USA, three F-5E aircraft were liquidated for various reasons.


Used in Austria for four years

In April 2004, in order to bridge the gap between decommissioning their Saab Draken and introducing the Eurofighter, and in order to maintain their airspace protection capability, Austria concluded a leasing contract with Switzerland for twelve Swiss Air Force F-5E Tiger aircraft.


The Swiss electorate says No to the Gripen

On 27 June 2007, the Federal Council approved eight million Swiss francs for the Tiger Partial Replacement TTE project. This decision allowed the actual procurement project for replacing at least some of the 54 F-5E/F Tigers to be launched in 2008. In a few years, the Tiger fleet, manufactured in a special Swiss configuration in the 70s, will reach the end of their technical lifecycle and no longer meet the requirements for aerial combat and not even the minimum technological requirements for air policing, as they lack the capability to fly at night or in adverse weather conditions. Therefore, it was planned to decommission them in 2016. In 2014, however, Parliament did not consider the Federal Council’s  proposals for decommissioning the aircraft, primarily for legal reasons, as the combat aircraft can only be decommissioned when the new Armed Forces Act comes into force. Thus, the Air Force will keep their 54 F-5 Tiger IIs in their inventory until 2017, when Parliament will make a decision.

In order to maintain both the aerial combat and the air policing capability, following decommissioning of the Tiger aircraft, more aircraft than the 31 remaining F/A-18 Hornets will be required. From July to December 2008, the federal procurement agency armasuisse and the Swiss Air Force tried and tested three aircraft considered suitable for procurement as new combat aircraft: the Rafale (Dassault), the Eurofighter (EADS), and the Gripen (Saab). After the decision had been made, the Federal Council requested Parliament in its decree of 30 November 2011 to approve the replacement of the obsolete Air Force TF-5 Tiger II with 22 Saab Gripen E single-seater combat aircraft for a total purchase price of 3.126 billion Swiss Francs, as part of the 2012 armaments programme. Delivery of the aircraft was planned to take place from 2018 to 2021. A Gripen Fund Act, however, had to be in force before the procurement of the Gripen with the 2012 armament programme could go ahead, and the act was subject to an optional referendum. In the referendum on 18 May 2014, the Swiss electorate rejected the plan to buy the Gripen. The Federal Council and Parliament are now required to decide on solutions to fill the potential security gap.


Last F-5 E/F recruit school

Over a period of 35 years, hundreds of conscripts attended the recruit school for air force pilots and were trained on the F-5 Tiger aircraft during their military service. In 2016, an era has ended with the completion of the final Tiger recruit school. In its commemoration the Tiger with the matriculation J-3074 has been given a special painting.

F-5E Tiger II J-3074 has been given a special painting. (Enlargement in new window)Enlargement in new window
F-5E Tiger II J-3074 has been given a special painting.

The F-5 is used all over the world

The following forces still use or have used the F-5A Freedom Fighter, CF-5A (CT-116), RF-5A Tigereye, NF-5A, F-5B, NF-5B, F-5D, CF-5D (CF-116), T-38 Talon (trainer) has also been operated by NASA), F-5E Tiger II and F-5F Tiger II:

Ethiopia, Bahrain, Botswana, Brazil (F-5E/F), Chile, Greece (NF-5A/B), Honduras (F-5E/F), Indonesia (F-5E/F MACAN), Iran (F-5A and F-5E/F, later modernised with two fins), Yemen, Jordan, Canada (built under licence as Canadair CF-5A Freedom Fighter), Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco (F-5A, RF-5A, F-5B, F-5E and F-5F), Mexico, Holland (from Canadair), Norway (from Canadair), Austria (leased from Switzerland), the Philippines, Portugal (T-38) Saudi-Arabia (F-5E/F and RF-5E), Spain (built under licence),  Singapore (F-5E/F), Sudan, South Korea (F-5 and T-38), South Vietnam (later Vietnam), Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey (F-5A, NF-5A and T-38), USA and Venezuela (from Canadair and NF-5A/B).

After the Vietnam War ended  on 30 April 1975, North Vietnam delivered at least two of their captured F-5Es to the USSR, and in 1977 one to Poland and one to Czechoslovakia for more rigorous assessment – which was not exactly what the manufacturer had intended.

After delivering the 3,806th aircraft in 1989, manufacture of the F-5 and T-38 Talon series ceased after 30 years of production.


Technical data

Max. speed:Mach 1.64 or 1,700 km/h
Take-off speed:145 kts / 270 km/h
Landing speed:155 ktd / 290 km/h
Take-off roll:610 m
Initial climb speed:174 m/s
Service ceiling:15,590 m over sealevel
Max. load factor:+7,3 / -3,9 g
Flight endurance:2 hours
Range:1,056 km
Ferry flight range:3.100 km (with an additional 1,000 litre tank)
Structure:Self-supporting low wing aeroplane, spear headed trapezoidal wings, all-metal
Length:14.68 m
Height:4.06 m
Width span:8.13 m
Empty mass:4,350 kg
Take-off mass:7,080 kg
Max. take-off mass:11,180 kg
Engine:2 General Electric Model J85-GE-21A
Type:Axial-straight turbine
Idle rpm bench:8,300 rev/min
Full tonnage:16,600 rev/min
Maximum thrust without afterburner:3,114 daN (each 1,557 daN)
Maximum thrust with afterburner:4,448 daN (each 2,224 daN)
Equipment:Ejection seat, pressurized cabin, retractable gear, brake shut, speed brakes, instrument and night-flight equipped
Armaments:2 guided air - air missiles SIWA AIM-9P,
2 20 mm bordcannons M 39 (560 rounds)
External carriage:3,170 kg, additional tanks
    For questions about this page: Public Information Swiss Air Force
    Last updated: 27.06.2016
    Badge Swiss Air Force


    Additional photographs of this type of aircraft are available here

    Squadrons F-5 Tiger


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