Military Surplus, Military-Grade Awesome

Top Gun – The movie makers Mig of choice

Can you name all the movies that F-5's have pretended to be Migs? I can't.

Formation of three aggressor F-5E aircraft of the 527th TFTS, RAF Alconbury, U.K., on Jan. 15, 1983. (U.S. Air Force photo)

No aircraft signifies fake MiG’s more than the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter in Hollywood.  During the late seventies and up until early nineties it would be featured in countless movies as the enemy. Naturally the truth is stranger than fiction on several levels.


So pointy and sharp.Just like a Tiger in some way i havent figured out yet

So we will get to the Hollywood and Top Gun angle in a minute but let’s start at this aircraft’s beginning.  The USAF’s policy was to give worn out aircraft to the lesser nations of the world. This would allow them to spend the lives of their pilots in a valiant attempt to stop the Soviets before they got the front line fighters of the US.   This seemed like a good idea in theory but reality was that you couldn’t get parts and that former front fighters have maintenance headaches and are really expensive to keep up. So  a contest was held among American companies to see who would get to build a ton of little fighters to arm the tiny third world nations of the world.



Around this time Lockheed would go about arming the second world nations with F-104’s. An aircraft wholly illsuited to the job. Lockheed would later get sued huge amounts of money when it was found out that hey had done a large amount of back room deals to make this happen.  Get who owns Northrop now? That’s why I bring this connection up. So back to our little Tiger/Freedom Fighter.  So the chief designer of the P-51 and F-86 gets to work on this project.  In something really similar to the A-4 Skyhawk there is a really simple list. What is the absolute minimum needed.  Northop did an amazing job thinking of who would be using this aircraft. Not only in creating an aircraft that could be used in border disputes but that could also put up a fight against the lower tier of Russian equipment. Sure it couldn’t up against the higher level Migs but it could go up against the lower level stuff that they were well known to use.


Show me like your French aircraft.


The F-5 was such a successful design that there was a movement in the USAF to see what it could do in our own service. So a group was sent to Vietnam for some tests. They would never go into USAF service for multiple reasons. They were’t muti-purpose and they didn’t have a thousand bells and whistles. Naturally they did their job flawlessly. Northrop have a true winner on their hands. They sold for decades. A modernized version would be tried called the Tigershark but would fail later in life. Of course it wouldn’t be the latest modernized version. Oh no for that I have a bit of a surprise like I did with the A-4.


Did you leave the digital camera or do you have it set for night mode?


So the F-5 was heavily used in the Top Gun aggressor squadrons as you see above. Which means I have to show this screenshot since it’s integral to the plot. Without this happening in the movie there would be no volleyball game. Seriously just understand that the F-5 Tiger II was the front line fighter for quite a large part of the free world for the second half of the twentieth century. A simple effective fighter without any bells and whistles.  Thankfully it also just looks cool as well because Northrop has a hard time making ugly aircraft.


See its a Blue Angels F18 in Iran


So let’s do a Quinn Martin epilogue here. For you millennials its like the ending of Gotham where they tie everything together at the end. The F-5 just can’t seem to die thanks to Iran.  When the Shah fell in 1979 fell they had F-5’s, F-4 Phantoms, and F-14s. Now it’s the F-5’s they keep messing with. Like this one above. Note the Blue Angel color scheme and the F-18 like tail. If they tried any harder to make it look like a Hornet it would have a kit code on it and say “Shown at 80”. Iran also had a “stealth” fighter a few years back as well. It was very clearly an F-5 underneath all the body work.  I’m not trying to beat up on Iran because you just work with what you have. It’s just funny that they chose the good old Freedom Fighter as their platform of choice. Maverick and Goose (RIP) would approve.

  • Victor

    Interesting story.

  • ptschett

    It’s worth noting that the trainer version of this aircraft, the T-38, was and still is a success in its own right. Advanced trainer for tens of thousands of military pilots; chase plane of choice for many X-planes and the Shuttle; demanding enough to be useful for Shuttle pilots to maintain proficiency. (And still useful for NASA post-Shuttle to instill the mentalities needed to handle in-flight emergencies under pressure.)

    • Wayne Moyer

      Yeah the Talon is a great aircraft in its own. If I remember correctly Northrop used turbojets that were designed for cruise missiles in the aircraft.

  • 1977ChevyTruck

    The Canadian Air Force used a home-built version as well, the CF-5, and, IIRC, took a bunch of flack for choosing such a low-spec plane.

    They retired them in 1994 or 1995, and one ended up at the the museum I work at.
    (Not my pic, but it is from the museum).

    • Wayne Moyer

      You guys rock for the fact that you keep coming back to finding my stuff.
      I wasn’t aware that the Canadians did this and I’m a bit of a fan of the F-5. That’s pretty cool. What museum do you work for?

      • 1977ChevyTruck

        I work at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, in Wetaskiwin, Alberta.

        It’s a small-ish transportation museum just outside a small city, but they’ve got quite the collection (second-largest collection of aircraft in Canada). The Wikipedia page isn’t 100% correct, but you should get a pretty good idea of the collection.

        For example, the CF-5 is kept company outside by a F-86 Sabre, a CF-100 Canuck, a Voodoo, a T-33, a CL-41A Tutor, and a Bristol Freighter. The Freighter is formerly of the the New Zealand air force, otherwise the rest are ex-Canadian Air Force planes (the tutor is an ex-Snowbird, i.e. Canada’s Blue Angels).