1/72 ESCI F-5A

Republic of Viet Nam Air Force

by Richard "RJ" Tucker




In October 1965, the USAF "borrowed" 12 combat-ready F-5A Freedom Fighters from MAP supplies and turned them over to the 4503rd Tactical Fighter Wing for operational service trials in Viet Nam. The program far exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic proponents!  After the 4503rd TFW finished their trials, the aircraft were eventually turned over to South Viet Nam; the 522nd fighter squadron transitioned from the A-1 Skyraider to the F-5.  Derided by some as "not as good" as current fighters such as the F-4 Phantom and the F-105 Thunderchief; it was not designed to be F-4 competitor. The F-5 was fast and agile, making it ideal for dodging ground fire during attack runs. It actually proved to be the least vulnerable (losses per 1000 sorties) jet aircraft in the war zone. The F-5 compared very favorably to the other in country fighter, the F-100D.  The F-5 was a runway hog, but not quite as bad as the F-100. It carried as much or more than the Hun, was faster off the alert pad, and had a more accurate weapons delivery. It did not have the range, speed or endurance of the F-100, but when loaded with bombs the F-100 was not significantly faster than a loaded F-5. However, the F-5's maintenance time per sortie and availability rate was much higher than all the aircraft providing CAS in South Viet Nam. In fact, the F-5 ultimately achieved the lowest maintenance time per flight hour of any aircraft operating in Viet Nam! 

Proven in combat, the F-5 was an effective low-cost combat aircraft in the same weight and performance class as the MiG-21. It was envisioned to be a low cost, simple fighter suitable for less advanced allies.  However, its bang-to-buck ratio soon had NATO's most sophisticated nations buying the F-5; Canada, The Netherlands, and Norway modernized their air forces with the F-5. Other NATO nations and US allies such as Greece, Turkey, Spain, Iran, ROC (Taiwan), South Korea and others all added the F-5 to their inventory. Close to 40 years later, a few  F-5As and Bs are still in service! 

The ESCI kit is the definitive kit for the F-5A in 1/72 scale. It's accurate in size and shape with loads of optional parts to model just about every modification individual users made to their F-5s. The kit's draw back is the modular approach to the parts breakdown. The forward fuselage is 4 pieces. This, almost, ensures you will fill and sand the many seems. The ejection seat is split down the middle leaving a seam down the back and seat cushion that is very hard to clean up. I didn't try; I put a pilot from the Monogram F-4 kit in the cockpit.  GOOD NEWS! Italeri announced it will re-release this kit in 2002!


My model is pretty much SOB with the following additions; I replaced the blade antennas with ones cut from photo-etch trees. The napalm and Mk 82 bombs are from the Hasegawa weapons set I, and the decals are from SuperScale sheet 72-135. I painted the model with Model Master enamels using the soft-mask method and lighten the medium green to increase the scale-effect. Both techniques are in the "Tools'n' Tips" section of ARC.

ARC BONUS!  Here is the camouflage diagram from the USAF tech order (TO1-1-4). I used this for the soft mask patterns. 

Happy Modeling!

Photos and text by Richard "RJ" Tucker