1/48 F-5S Tiger II

by Andy Lee on Aug 9 2003



Hiya! This is a 1/48 F-5E kit modified into Singapore's F-5S upgraded F-5 standards.

I was asked to build this for someone by a friend of mine. The kit was supplied by the customer and I wished I hadn't agreed to the job in the first place! This was the worst kit I've ever made in many a moon bar none! But more on that later. First here's some info on the F-5 upgrade:

The F-5E/F Tiger II was introduced into service with the RSAF in the 70s as our first supersonic fighter and gave sterling service thru the years. As it was getting long in the tooth, the air force decided to undertake an upgrade program similar to that for the Skyhawks to give it a new lease of life and bring it's antiquated avionics up to current standards. The contract was awarded to ST Aerospace Engineering to carry out the upgrade. Under the program, the aircraft would be fitted with the Fiar Grifo multi-mode radar and the cockpit upgraded to a 'glass cockpit' config with 2 MFDs(1 color and 1 monochrome) and a modern wide angle HUD, HOTAS as well as NVG compatible lighting. I've included a pic from ST's newsletter showing a sanitized cockpit. Internally it would have all new avionics like the MIL 1553 databus, digital mission computers, new Honeywell INS etc... Externally there were minor changes that were barely noticeable at the distance. The nose section was shortened by a foot to accommodate a larger diameter radome and the 2 undernose antennas were moved back for this reason. With the addition of all the new avionics, the stbd M-39 cannon was removed to make way for all the black boxes and the cannon port faired over on initial upgraded aircraft. Later a ram air intake similar to that found on the F-5Fs was installed for avionics cooling and the mod retrofitted to all upgraded aircraft which didn't have it initially. More noticeable at least to F-5 fans was that the entire fleet now had the larger W6 LEX commonly seen on sharknose birds fitted. Other mission equipment to enhance the combat and survival capabilities of the F-5 were also installed but which I will not comment on although it has be speculated on other websites. The upgrade also serve to bring the fleet to a common standard as we had at that time aircraft from early and late production blocks as well as the 7 ex Jordanian aircraft. The upgrade was applied to the entire fleet including the T-birds and the RF-5s. As the upgraded birds were so different in capability from the baseline aircraft, their designations were change to RF/F-5S/T to reflect their new status. S for Singapore and T for trainer. The fleet of 40+ aircraft are more or less equally distributed between the 3 squadrons, 144 SQN(OCU/ Fighter), 149 SQN(Fighter) and 141 SQN(Recon/ Fighter), with all the RF-5Ss concentrated within 141 SQN. All 3 sqns are based at Paya Lebar AB. With the upgrade, the RSAF has an aircraft that is equivalent or better than the F-16, in terms of the capabilities but not the payload or range, capable of soldiering on until replacement by the next generation fighter that will be selected by the RSAF with the F-16 Bk 60, Eurofighter, Rafale amongst the frontrunners.

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Now for the kit. As I said it was a project I shouldn't have taken on but I was asked by a close friend and besides, having worked on the F-5s for 4 years, I've wanted to build one for a while and so I agreed. I've included a pic of the rollout for the last bird to be upgraded (AC 821). I'm in there as well as my friend. Of course the payment receivable upon completion was what made me persevere to finish the kit! ;-)  Upon opening the box (there was no brand on it), it looked remarkably like the Monogram offering so I assume it was a Taiwanese carbon copy of that kit. Unfortunately, that was where all similarities ended. The fitting was horrible and the surface looked like miniature pebbles got mixed in during the molding process. During the initial fitting, the gap at the wingroots were big enough for me to swipe my credit card in! No joke!! The left side of the forward fuselage bent inwards and required copious amounts of Miliput and cyano to solve (think I included a after sanding pic) while the right side was fine but had a huge gap I filled using cyano. In fact I used lots of cyano on the kit(if it can be called that) as the plastic used was rather rubbery and didn't take too well to Tamiya's cement, hence the cyano as I didn't want the kit to fall apart. Also the instrument panel tilted back towards the back so much that if it were on a real aircraft, the pilot would have to fly with his head on the cockpit floor and his legs sticking up as that's the only way he can see the instruments to fly! The flash inside the intakes were so thick I thought it was a stopper for a intake blanking plate but it wasn't! I also added the mods that go with the upgraded aircraft and not found in the kit like the new cockpit, scratchbuilt refueling probe, dorsal UHF antenna and the larger LEXs etc... ACMI pod was made using the crappy AIM-9 in the kit while the AIM-9P4 was a Hasegawa AIM-9J. Last problem encountered was the the canopy angle when left opened was way too low.

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After solving all the above and other problems and sanding down most of the 'rocky' surface, it was painted in the new fleet camo of FS 36375 Lt Ghost Gray and FS 36231 Dark Gull Gray. These are the official colors stipulated by the air force and applied by ST's paintshop before the aircraft goes back to service whether after the upgrade or after routine phase servicing. I hope this dispels any further speculation about the actual colors used. Even the instruction of the Siam Decal sheet I used provided the wrong colors. The radome was sprayed Dark Ghost Gray to show the larger radome. Actual item is a lighter color although like the F-16 radome, it gets darker as it gets dirty. The decals as mentioned came from Siam Decals as it the only game it town. It went on really well even without solution and the only complain being that the stencils were in the wrong colors. Those for the aft fuselage should have been FS 36118 Gunship Gray. Nit picking I know but I guess after working on the actual aircraft for so long it does happen I guess! I think most aircraft fixers suffer from this problem whenever they make a model of the plane they worked on. A note on serial numbers and sqn markings: the sqns don't have permanent serial nos assigned but will pick aircraft coming out of maintenance in accordance with their operational requirements. We had delivered aircraft before with no sqn marking painted as the air force had not decided which sqn it was going to! Hence it's not uncommon to see the same aircraft in the markings of different sqns during different periods of time so check your references! Exception being aircraft 813 and 850 as they are assigned to the Flight Test Center(marking not included in decal). 


I don't know where the kit was bought but the hobby shop owner must be laughing all the way to the bank as the kit was priced higher (pic of price tag included) than the Revell or Italeri offerings! Hence I hope this article serves as a warning for Singaporean modellers who may be under the persuasion that this is the only F-5E kit available in Singapore! It's not! I have included a pic of the box as well. Other hobby shops are still selling the Revell and Italeri/ESCI kits and they are cheaper! Also the Monogram/ or Has/Monogram offering can still be found on the net. Maybe if it were an F-5F it would be understandable as only Monogram makes those and they're almost impossible to find here. For those who already have bought the kit, well, guess the choice would be to complete it asap and get it out of the way! Completed it does look alright though.


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Phew this was a looong article for me! It was to be a short article at first but after all the problems I encountered I felt I had an obligation to warn fellow modellers hence this final edition. I'll be building the Monogram F-5F into an F-5T after I finished the Phantom I was building when I got this project.

Lastly I would like to dedicate this article to a friend of my, Desmond Chia, who passed away last Nov after a long illness. We used to worked together on the F-5s before I left the company and he was also my mentor when I first joined the company.

Cheers and happy modelling!


Photos and text by Andy Lee