Got this a while ago, but should be available outside China about now. Most of this lot is made in Bangladesh, so it should not take too long to reach your shores as well. I had been wanting to get an F5 for years and almost went for the earlier HA3319 "Snake scheme" Alconbury release. In the end I didn’t as this grape scheme was the one I really wanted. So 2 years ago I e-mailed William with this pic to see if it was possible.
Fortunately, he was enthusiastic as he figured it would sell pretty well. I also think so, as most of the initial load at my local had already been sold and that’s even before you chaps get your hands on it! The first one I looked at had glue deposits near the tail, this one was the only other one left, but it's pretty good, apart from a bit of paint overspray near the nose.
The F5 has somehow always been in the shadow of more sophisticated (and far more expensive) US aircraft, even though it didn’t deserve to be. Born at time when the Air Force brass figured BVR missile combat would replace dogfighting, it was supposed to be a cheap, simple and easy to maintain fighter that could be sold to allied air forces. Soon however, antiquated Mig 17’s and 19’s would be blowing the pride of the Air Force out of the sky over North Vietnam as the entire doctrine fell apart under first contact with a real enemy.
Which kind of begs the question, why didn’t the Air Force use the F5, and especially the newer F5E Tiger II to counter the threat? After all, it was by far the most manoeuvrable fighter available and although not quite as cheap as the old Migs, it would certainly cost much less to replace than F4’s or F105’s.
Range was an issue, seeing as pretty much all combat would take place near Hanoi, which was a long way from bases in the South. And could it really have taken on the Mig 21’s, which were considerably faster.
The F5E already improved in many of the required areas, having uprated engines, more fuel, better payload capacity and superior avionics over the old Freedom fighters. And while it would have to sacrifice payload to carry more external tanks to get to Hanoi and back, it could be solved, while still allowing it to carry the wingtip Sidewinders and the all-important built-in 20 mm cannons. And forward airfields in South Vietnam as well as aerial refueling could have solved the problem further. The Mig 21’s were also not the primary threat; they were usually used in hit and run attacks as they were scarce. Even if they had tangled with an F5E, they would have struggled at lower speeds where the F5 is more manoeuvrable and still has a good thrust-weight ratio without a heavy payload. But principally the F5 could have caused all kinds of problems for the ubiquitous Mig 17’s, boasting both superior avionics and speed.
In the end, it never happened. The F5’s that the USAF did use were used in the ground attack role only. However, it is exactly this high-low partnership of top of the line, larger fighters and cheaper, more numerous smaller fighters that would be exploited so well by the succeeding F15 and F16. In fact, to demonstrate the Air Force’s newfound appreciation for manoeuvrability, they used an F5 as an opponent in a mock dogfight to prove the F15 was now able to turn just as well.
Eventually, they F5E’s did find their niche in the asymmetric aggressor roles, doing a decent impression of various older types of Migs. The squadrons would often try to mimic the Soviet style of fighting, being led to their targets by ground controllers. But it would go even further than that, right down to drinking Vodka and having busts of Lenin in their buildings.
As for the model, the mold is a bit older, so fitting the parts is not as slick as newer releases. The loadout is also a bit of a head-scratcher. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an aggressor aircraft armed with anything other than (blue) practice Sidewinders. The F5 can fire Mavericks, but I have no idea what it could do with laser-guided Mk 84’s without a targeting pod. It also just looks strange. Apart from that, I think it’s great. It is an absolutely beautiful aircraft, especially in this scheme. It has that same sleek, minimalist look of the Mirage III or F16. HM seem to have really nailed the colours as well. There’s an open and closed canopy option too. The centreline tank needs to be sacrificed to use the stand, but aggressors are unlikely to carry them during a dogfight anyway.
It’s a testament to the quality of the aircraft that the Navy still uses it in this role today, even if the days of scaring Air Force F15 & F16 pilots are now over.
The aircraft plays an important role in the Buck Danny Album “The Aggressors”, with Buck specifically flying one in a Grape scheme at Nellis AFB. This story is one of the best in the entire series and is well worth picking up.