Unlike most other U.S. Navy aircraft, the supersonic F-5E (one seat) and F-5F Tiger II (two seats) jets cannot be operated from an aircraft carrier. Northrop Grumman originally designed the F-5E/F as a small jet aircraft carrier for the Air Force.

In 1970, the U.S. Air Force held a competition for Military Assistance Program (MAP) fighters. Aircraft manufactures including Northrop submitted proposals. The F-5E/F Tiger design won. Earlier versions of Northrop’s F-5 were then retired in favor of the newer airplane with its much more powerful engine. Eventually, in addition to the Air Force’s adoption of the Tiger, the Navy found use for it in training exercises.

Though the F-5E/F never became the carrier aircraft that Northrop originally envisioned, the Navy has used the Tiger extensively as a stand-in for aggressor or enemy aircraft during training exercises. In the movie Top Gun, the MiG fighters are actually Tiger II jets. Not only do the Tiger II aircraft look much like the MiGs, they also have similar flight characteristics. In the real Top Gun Naval School, the F-5E/F Tiger II plays a critical role in training pilots for aerial combat against highly trained aggressor pilots and their formidable aircraft.

The F-5E/F Tiger II jets continue to receive upgrades and modifications to keep them flying for the United States and many other countries, including Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Chile. In recent years, digital avionics have been installed in the fighter jet.

Technical specifics about the F-5E/F Tiger II jets:

Maximum speed: 1.64 Mach
Range: 1,545 nautical miles
Ceiling: 51,200 feet
Length: 47.40 feet
Wingspan: 26.67 feet
Height: 13.35 feet
Maximum weight: 24,722 pounds
Engine(s): Two General Electric 5,000-pounds thrust J85-GE-21B turbojet engines
Crew: F-5E (one), F-5F (two)
Armament: Multiple stores on five pylon stations and two wing tip AIM-9 missile launchers
Contractor: Northrop Grumman