June 2020

IAI F-21A Lion/Kfir C.1

Northrop F-5E Tiger II

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Israel Aircraft Industries F-21A Lion/Kfir c.1

VF-43 USN, NAS Oceana, Virginia, 1986

Italeri 1/72

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The IAI Kfir is an advanced derivative of the Dassault Mirage V, with its origins in the late 1960s Israeli “Nesher” project which produced unlicensed Mirage V aircraft using stolen plans and with covert technical assistance from sympathetic western sources.

The original Mirage V was designed by Dassault to Israeli specifications, producing a simplified aircraft that was optimised for ground attack in the middle east.  However, shortly before delivery, the French government introduced strict sanctions on the supply of arms to Israel in response to Israeli raids on Lebanon and the Israeli aircraft were impounded in France.  

To prevent a similar event in the future, the Israelis decided to built an indigenous version of the Mirage, reverse engineering the design from pre-delivery documents and plans, and using covert means to obtain those items that were missing.  The Nesher (Griffin Vulture) proved itself during th e 1973 Yom Kippur war, scoring over a hundred kills against Arab forces.  A modified variant known as the Dagger was also used very successfully by Argentina during the Falklands war.

From 1974 a more advanced Israeli version, known as the Kfir (Lion Cub) was produced by IAI. The most obvious difference was the introduction of the more powerful US General Electric J79 engine, also used in Israel’s Phantom jets.  This required enlargement of the rear fuselage and the addition of prominent auxiliary cooling intakes.   Modernised avionics and an increase in fuel gave the Kfir a significant advantage over the Nesher design.  Kfirs remained in Israeli service until the mid 1990s.

In 1985, the US Navy and USMC acquired 25 ex-Israeli Kfirs to use as Aggressor aircraft for dissimilar air combat training.  The aircraft was chosen because its performance and size were similar to the widely exported Soviet MiG-23 which was increasingly likely to pose a threat to USN operations.  USN Aircraft were allocated to VF-43 “Challengers” at Oceana Naval Air Station.  The aircraft were withdrawn in 1989 and replaced by F-16Ns.

Building the Italeri F-21A kit:

This is one of Italeri’s better kits, first released in 1987.  It has slightly over-soft engraved detail, reasonable cockpit detail and adequately boxed in wheel wells. Fit is good in all areas except the air intakes, which are overly complex and difficult to assemble tidily - I had to use some Tippex filler to tidy the inevitable gaps.

The canopy is also a slightly vague fit, which wil require carefull cleaning before assembly.  However, the wing to fuselage fit, so often the bane of Mirage models is particularly well executed and did not require any filler.  The three-tone camouflage and decal application is more difficult than it should be, not least because Italeri’s painting instructions are vague and incomplete.  Indeed there are two embarrassing mistakes in my build, only one of which I can blame on Italeri - no prizes for spotting them! However the decals applied well and settled without any silvering.  Two ACMI Pods are provided for the wing pylons along with a large centre fuel tank.   

I don’t believe they would carry more than one ACMI pod on an aircraft and reference photos confirm this suspicion, so I modified one to be a dummy Sidewinder/Acquisition pod.  Similarly, I doubt that the centreline tank is used for other than ferry flights as it would limit manoevering, although there are photos showing it being carried.  Wire ejector seat handles were added to the seat, but other than that, the kit is built as supplied and looks to be a good replica of this sleek and aggressive design.


Northrop F-5e Tiger II

VMFT-401 “Snipers” USMC, MCAS Yuma Arizona, 1996

Airfix 1/72  with  weapons fit modified

In many ways, Northrop's F-5 was the US' answer to the MiG-21.  Relatively low cost to acquire and run, easy to maintain, aggressive looking and remarkably effective in the air, in its original 1960s F-5A & twin seat F-5B Freedom Fighter guise it was the ideal aircraft for US Client nations that might find themselves facing the MiG.

Over 800 were built with most being exported. The upgraded F-5E and twin seat F-5F Tiger were introduced in 1972 and brought more powerful engines, more fuel, radar and aerodynamic improvements to keep it a credible combat aircraft, with 1,400 being built mainly for US allies, in a production run that ended in 1987. It also formed the basis of the USAF T-38 Talon trainer aircraft of which a further 1,200 were built and a dedicated reconnaissance version, the RF-5 Tigereye, also saw service. An advanced version, the F-20 Tigershark, was a competitor of the F-16 in the 1980s USAF Light fighter competition, but was cancelled in 1986 when no orders materialised, although some elements of the design were carried forward into the YF-17 and F/A-18 Hornet aircraft for the US Navy.  

The Iranian Armed Forces have also produced locally designed aircraft derived from the basic F-5 design, although not in large numbers.

Because of its small size, manoeuvrability and similar flying characteristics to the MiG-21, the USAF, US Navy and US Marines have all used F-5Es and ex Swiss F-5Ns as aggressor aircraft for dissimilar air to air combat training, with the aircraft painted in a range of schemes and markings intended to simulate aircraft from likely adversary nations.

Building the Airfix F-5E kit:

This was my first build of the 1983 F-5E Airfix kit, in this case in its starter kit guise. I have also built the earlier 1966 era Airfix F-5A kit, which is one to be avoided at all costs!.  This one is much nicer, still a little chunky and crude in places, but at least the parts fit.  The kit is a relatively easy build, although it will be very fragile in its finished form, so not really one I would have chosen for beginners.  Nevertheless, I doubt that F-5 enthusiasts will choose this kit over the more accurate and sophisticated offerings form other manufacturers, so I guess Airfix has to make the most of the mould.  The open canopy option is a nice touch, one that others could follow.

In the end, my choice of colours was limited by what I had available during lockdown and I had hoped to replicate the effect I achieved on my A-6 Intruder build, which started off looking like a cartoon cow, but toned down well after a light stone wash. This time I wasn’t quite so successful and the lighter colour is definitely too strong and yellow.  Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable build that cost less than £5 from Hornby in Swindon and complements my Kfir well.

Have a look at many more USN Aircraft on my US Aircraft pages

And finally…..

Here are some real F-5Es, operated in this case by the Swiss Air Force aerobatic team, as seen at RIAT a few years back.  

Have a look at many more USMC Aircraft on my US Aircraft pages