'Freedom Fighters' To Fly In From Spain
Published: 30 Jun 2015
Two of the rarest attendees to the Air Tattoo this year will come from the Spanish Air Force, which has confirmed that it will send two Northrop SF-5M fighter trainers for static display.
Spain is one of only two European countries still flying the F-5, the other being Switzerland, and Europe's sole operator of the earlier 'Freedom Fighter' variant, as the F-5A and F-5B models were unofficially dubbed. The Spanish Air Force received 70 such aircraft between 1968 and 1971, produced under licence by domestic manufacturer CASA. They comprised fighter, reconnaissance and trainer versions. Today, only the latter remain in use - 19 of them, used as lead-in fighter trainers and 'aggressor' aircraft. The sole wing flying them is Ala 23, based at Talavera la Real in south-western Spain.
An upgrade programme has made the Spanish F-5s (given the local designation AE.9) fit for the modern era, producing the SF-5M model with more advanced avionics. These enable greater compatibility with the front-line fighters in the Spanish Air Force inventory, the EF-18 Hornet and the Eurofighter EF2000 - vital for continued relevance to the lead-in fighter trainer role. The SF-5Ms rarely visit events outside their home country, making their Air Tattoo participation a very special occasion.