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F-20A Tigershark

Freedom Models 1/48 F-20A Tigershark Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review August 2015 Manufacturer Freedom Models
Subject F-20A Tigershark Scale 1/48
Kit Number 18002 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros Beautiful detailing Cons Nothing noted
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $59.95

First Look

F-20A Tigershark
F-20A Tigershark
F-20A Tigershark
F-20A Tigershark

Recognizing a need for a newer low-cost/high performance fighter to replace the F-5A and similar types, Northrop invested its own money to develop the F-5G. The F-5G incorporated modern avionics which also allowed for radar-guided missiles to be employed as well as the AIM-9 series that have armed the earlier F-5s. The most notable difference with the F-5G was the replacement of the twin J85 engines with the F404 which powers the F/A-18 Hornet. The single F404 had far more power that both J85s combined.

The F-5G's launch customer was Taiwan, but warming relations with mainland China blocked the export of the F-5G or any other radar-missile-capable fighter from the US. The aircraft was also caught up in a political clash which favored the F-16. Even after a formal program called FX which would pit the F-16/79 against the re-branded F-20 (F-5G) Tigershark, the requirements were stacked against Northrop. While the F-20 was a far superior point defense interceptor to the F-16, its design precluded any significant carriage of air-to-ground ordnance shifting the multi-role capability in favor of the F-16. The program was cancelled with no customers in 1986.

Until now, the only option for a 1/48th scale F-20A Tigershark was the long out of production Monogram kit. Freedom Models has released this new-tool kit of the F-20A and the kit looks fantastic. I've seen build-ups of this kit though we'll do one (or more) of our own soon enough. The kit is molded in light gray styrene and is presented on 12 parts trees plus one tree of clear parts and a small fret of photo-etched details. Among the features and options in this kit:

  • Choice of short or long shark-nosed radomes
  • Nicely detailed cockpit
  • Boarding ladder included
  • Positionable canopy (canopy lift mechanism provided for open and closed)
  • Detailed landing gear
  • Positionable leading and trailing edge flaps
  • Positionable ailerons
  • Positionable stabilators
  • Positionable speed brakes

The kit provides the following external stores options:

  • 2 x AIM-9J/P/N Sidewinders (identified as AIM-9L in instructions)
  • 2 x AIM-9L/M Sidewinders (identified as AIM-9M in instructions)
  • 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow
  • 2 x AIM-120B AMRAAM (identified as AIM-120C in instructions)
  • 2 x 150 gallon external fuel tanks
  • 1 x 275 gallon centerline fuel tank

The kit provides weapons stores that were widely seen on the prototypes including the distinctive AIM-9J/P and the later AIM-9L Sidewinders (the AIM-9L and AIM-9M have the same fins), the AIM-7 Sparrow which would have given the F-20 all-weather intercept capability, and a what-if upgrade of the AIM-120 AMRAAM which replaces the AIM-7 with a fire-and-forget capability. The kit identifies its AMRAAMS as AIM-120C, but the C-models have clipped fins to allow the missiles to fit inside the confined weapons bays of the F-22 and F-35. If you are building the F-20 as it would have looked today, in addition to the AIM-120, you'll also want to add the AIM-9X as well (not included).

The kit provides markings for three schemes:

  • F-20A, red/white racing scheme, Paris Airshow markings, 1983
  • F-20A, medium gray over light gray, 1983-1985
  • F-20A, BMW Charcoal Gray, 1984-1986

The red/white color scheme made the aircraft look like it was moving at high speed, though the first time I saw the F-20A in the overall BMW Charcoal Gray (metallic) paint job, that should have become an operational paint job. Wait - the F-35 is wearing a similar color...

The first prototype was given serial number 82-0062 under the FX program but all three wore civil registrations at one point or another: #1 N4461T, #2 N3986B, #3 N44671. The decals provide Paris Airshow demonstrator numbers: F-20A, 20062, 339; F-20A, N3986B, 340. The decals also provide a variety of potential international users in their roundels should you want to go there.

The F-20 has always been a favorite subject of mine along with the F-5s. Ever since I was gifted with a stack of F-5 and F-20 pilots manuals and factory color scheme charts, we've shared as much of that information as practical in our online references. We'll be updating these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you're going to want one or more of these nice kits. One for the colorful prototype color schemes, one for what might have been had the Tigershark not run afoul of the F-16 fighter mafia.

My sincere thanks to Freedom Model Kits and Stevens International for the review sample.