F-5E, Empire State Aerosciences Museum – and the ‘Infamous Ice Road Trip’!

I am fortunate to know David Lee; David is one of those friends who are quite irreplaceable. He and I go way back, more than 30 years. He is a noted aviation author, a past President of the Transport Trust, and Deputy Director of the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. In other words, when he’s speaking, I usually jot down some notes so I can regurgitate them to you kind people, later! Seriously though, in our combined spare time we formed a fairly well-received commentary team at various UK aviation events. I remember one airshow, the first day of which was 90% rained out, when I did about 10 minutes over the public address system on a ladybird which had settled on David’s rectangular Tupperware lunchbox, and was busy crawling a perfect ‘circuit’ around the rim. As I explained to David (and the soggy, long-suffering enthusiasts), ‘Well, its got wings, hasn’t it ?’

In 2011, David took off on a major, around-the-world trip to see aviation museums. His last four days were spent with me on what has become known as ‘The Infamous Ice Road Trip’, through MA, RI and NY. We were very fortunate, in that I was able to make a few ‘phone calls explaining that the former Deputy Director, IWM Duxford (he still works for them on a consultancy basis) was in the neighbourhood, and could we come and have a look around? We were welcomed with open arms, and saw reserve collections, conservation units, and had whole collections opened up, even when the museums were closed!

The Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Glenville, NY, treated us magnificently, with a personal tour around the whole facility. I cannot say enough about these people. They thoroughly deserved to receive the displaced Supermarine Scimitar jet fighter from New York’s Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, and it shows a great deal of confidence in their abilities that the Fleet Air Arm Museum would be happy to loan such an item (with only three left in the world).

Another loan item, from the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida, is this superb Northrop F-5E Tiger II, from VFC-13 out of NAS Fallon, Nevada. An outgrowth of the simple NATO-inspired F-5A, the F-5E Tiger II first flew in 1972, its two G.E. J-85s pushing it to Mach 1.6 (1,100mph). As well as the two inbuilt M39 20mm cannon, the armament fit could include two AIM-9 Sidewinders and other stores, for a total of up to 7,000lbs of ordnance (on short-range missions) on five weapons stations. VFC-13 had a particularly interesting role, in that they provided dissimilar air combat training for the United States Navy and other units. How the USN came to use the F-5E Tiger II is an interesting story. In 1976, having retired their ‘long-in-the-tooth’ de Havilland venoms, the Swiss Air Force, placed an order for 72 Tiger II aircraft; these were to be 66 F-FE single-seaters and 6 F-5F two-seat trainers. The F-5E was equipped with a radar, something the earlier F-5 aircraft had lacked. The radar was the Emerson AN/APG-69 (a derivative of the AN/APQ-153fitted to other F-5s) which had a 10 nautical mile range and mapping capability. A later order, in 1981, expanded the F-5 fleet by 38. All these aircraft were delivered in ‘kit form’ and re-assembled at the Swiss Federal Aircraft Factory at Emmen.

In the early 2000s, the Swiss decided to dispose of some of their F-5’s and since the airframes were low-time, the United States Navy acquired no less than 38 to cover their dissimilar air combat training requirement. These aircraft were delivered between 2004 and 2007.
The F-5E was very agile, and had a performance envelope not unlike several Soviet era fighters – it could simulate a MiG 21, for example – and VFC-13’s pilots (the ‘Fighting Saints’) really made the candidates going through the Navy Fighter Weapons School, who were flying F-4, F-14, and F/A-18 aircraft, work hard.

This particular aircraft is also a movie star in that it was, apparently, one of those flown in the Tom Cruise movie ‘Top Gun’. I am told, however, that not all of it flew in the film, as the replacement wings were obtained from surplus Swiss Air Force stocks! This is a fine example of a rare aircraft in U.S. service, and the Empire State Aerosciences Museum are to be commended for their sterling work and diverse collection. David and I had a great time!


One comment on “F-5E, Empire State Aerosciences Museum – and the ‘Infamous Ice Road Trip’!”

  1. That is a sharp looking livery 🙂


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