30 August 1982

Russ Scott. (Northrop)

30 August 1982: Northrop test pilot Russ Scott made the first flight of the F-5G Tigershark prototype, N4416T, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. During the 40 minute flight the Tigershark, which would be re-designated F-20A, reached an altitude of 40,000 feet and speed of Mach 1.04.

Developed from the earlier F-5E Tiger II, the F-5G Tigershark was a Mach 2+ single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a General Electric F404-GE-100 turbofan engine, producing 17,000 pounds of thrust. It had a combat radius of 345 miles (556 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,800 meters).

Armament consisted of two 20mm Pontiac M39A2 autocannons with 280 rounds each, and two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, carried on the wingtips.

The F-5G was developed by Northrop at the request of the Department of State. U.S. policy at the time prevented the export of front line fighters, like the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, to Allied nations outside of NATO, with the exception of Australia, Israel, Egypt and Iran. Since the Republic of China was building the F-5E under license for its air force, the State Department had asked Northrop to design an advanced fighter based on that earlier type that could be produced in Taiwan.

Northrop F-5G prototype, 82-0062. (U.S. Air Force)
Northrop F-5G prototype, 82-0062. (U.S. Air Force)

Changing political administrations relaxed the export policies and the projected sales of the F-5G, now designated F-20A, did not materialize. The fighter competed against the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon for an Air Force contract. The F-20A was as good, and in some ways, superior to the F-16. It was also less expensive. Other factors, though, resulted in the order for the General Dynamics fighter.

Only three F-5G/F-20As were built. N4416T (82-0062) and the second prototype were both destroyed and their pilots killed during demonstration flights. Investigations found that both pilots had lost consciousness due to high-G maneuvers. The third Northrop F-20A, 82-0064, is on display at the California Science Center, Exposition Park, at Los Angeles, California.

The Northrop F-5G Tigershark prototype, N4416T, lands at Edwards AFB after its first flight, escorted by a T-38A Talon. Note the similarity of the two Northrop airplanes. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes

About Bryan Swopes

Bryan R. Swopes grew up in Southern California in the 1950s–60s, near the center of America's aerospace industry. He has had a life-long interest in aviation and space flight. Bryan is a retired commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor.

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