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F-5E Tiger II

Kitty Hawk Models 1/32 F-5E Tiger II Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review May 2018 Manufacturer Kitty Hawk Models
Subject F-5E Tiger II Scale 1/32
Kit Number 32018 Primary Media Styrene, Resin, Photo-Etch
Pros Nicest F-5E kit in any scale Cons See text
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $129.95

First Look

F-5E Tiger II
F-5E Tiger II
F-5E Tiger II
F-5E Tiger II
F-5E Tiger II
F-5E Tiger II
F-5E Tiger II

The F-5E Tiger II is a single-seat lightweight fighter developed by Northrop along with its two-seat counterpart, the F-5F. This design was a follow-on of the company's earlier F-5A/B Freedom Fighter developed in the late 1950s for export to allied nations. The F-5E/F featured an enlarged fuselage for more fuel capacity, up-rated J85 afterburning engines, a radar, and the ability to accommodate a variety of avionics and weapons options to suit specific customers. While the basic F-5E/F could carry unguided bombs and AIM-9 Sidewinders, the more elaborate versions were equipped with radar homing and warning (RHAW), electronic countermeasures, chaff/flare dispensers, and additional communications systems. One of the more elaborate versions was delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force and included AGM-65 Maverick capabilities along with the above options. Over time, the F-5E/F airframes were updated with newer radar sets, glass cockpits, and additional weapons capabilities. While the F-5E/F never served in front-line service with the US military, the F-5E's performance was so close to the MiG-21 that it was a natural choice to serve with the USAF aggressors and USN adversary squadrons.

I was pleasantly surprised when Kitty Hawk announced that they were producing the F-5E and F-5F in 1/32 scale. Until now, the only choice for the F-5E was the Hasegawa kit (or the clone kit from Ace). On opening the box, I am equally impressed with the design and layout of the kit. There are a few things we'll discuss in the builder's notes later on, but let's look at the overall kit. The model is molded in gray styrene and presented on six parts trees plus one tree of clear parts, two frets of photo-etched parts, and a set of resin parts. The surface detailing is nicely done, and the overall kit is not over-engineered nor overly complex to build. Among the features and options in this kit:

  • Nicely detailed ejection seat
  • Beautifully detailed cockpit
  • Relief detail provided in instrument panel, designed to be overlayed with instrument panel decal
  • Details behind the ejection seat headrest nicely done
  • Canopy lift mechanism nicely replicated (designed to be displayed open only)
  • Choice of no pilot, resin seated pilot, or resin standing pilot
  • Nicely detailed landing gear and gear wells
  • Tires are 'weighted'
  • Nose gun bays are nicely detailed
  • Gun bay doors provided for 'open' display
  • Choice of early radome or 'sharknose' radome
  • Radar dish provided if you want to display the aircraft with radome removed
  • Two J85 engines provided though not overly detailed/complex
  • Choice of styrene or resin afterburner nozzles
  • Photo-etched splitter plate inserts with nice holes for the boundary air flow
  • Choice of open or closed auxiliary intake shutters
  • Positionable rudder
  • Positionable ailerons
  • Positionable stabilators
  • Positionable leading and trailing edge flaps
  • Positionable speed brakes
  • Beautiful wingtip missile rails with hollow tracks
  • 'Optional' antennas and dispensers (see builder's notes)

Among the external stores options included in the kit:

  • 2 x 275 gallon underwing external fuel tanks
  • 1 x centerline fuel tank
  • 2 x Mk.82 500lb bombs with choice of three fuses
  • 2 x Mk.20 Rockeye cluster bombs
  • 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinders with choice of AIM-9B or AIM-9L/M seeker heads
  • 2 x AIM-7 Sparrow (never carried on the F-5E though proposed for the later F-5G)

Markings are included for nine options:

  • F-5N, 76-1543, VFC-111, AF/101, NAS Key West, USN, Skipper's aircraft
  • F-5N, 76-1557, VFC-111, AF/106, NAS Key West, USN
  • F-5E, 50-521, RoKAF
  • F-5E, 70-1431, IRIAF
  • F-5E, 873, Royal Singapore Air Force
  • F-5E, 4605, FAM (Mexican Air Force)
  • F-5E, 70-1401, 425 TFTS, Williams AFB, USAF
  • F-5E, 70-1405, 425 TFTS, Williams AFB, USAF
  • F-5E, 4835, FAB (Brazilian AF)

Builder's notes:

This is indeed the best F-5E in any scale. That said, there are a number of 'nits' that I want to bring up so you can do your homework for your own build. The instructions are usually one of the weaker features of Kitty Hawk kits and this one is no different. As I mentioned above, they don't tell you to add the pilot restraints to the ejection seat even though they do point out where the other photo-etched parts need to go. The instructions also have you install or retain antennas and sensors on the airframe though many of the subjects presented in the decals don't have them. You'll need to review photos of the subject you're building to see if those details apply to you.

  • Many subjects don't use the dorsal antenna (part B31), so you'll need to fill the hole and remove the molded-on antenna base
  • Ditto on the rear RHAW antennas (parts B42/B43)
  • The kit nose (parts E45/E46) has the RHAW antennas molded just behind the radome, these will need to go on most US examples (the USN purchased used F-5Es to become F-5Ns and many of these do have the RHAW antennas still in place - check your references)
  • The fuel filler caps are molded onto the right side of the dorsal spine (they belong on the left side). I show how to correct that in my F-5E build review
  • The kit provides the horizontal plate antenna atop the vertical stabilizer, you'll want to see if this antenna was installed on your subject
  • Most of the Latin American F-5Es have the extended vertical stabilizer fairing, but the kit does not replicate that feature. You'll need to modify the vertical stab for the FAB or FAM examples
  • This F-5E has the chisel-type wing LEX which is common for late-block and some updated aircraft. Earlier F-5Es have the swept-back LEX, which is easy enough to replicate with a careful cut of the kit's LEX. As always, check your references
  • The ejection seat is nicely done and while the photo-etch fret has the pilot's restraints provided, they're not mentioned in the kit's instructions
  • No option for the 'extended' nose gear strut used during take-off
  • The gun bay doors can be posed closed but you'll need to make some minor adjustments
  • The pilot figures are beautifully done and represent the older hard-shell helmets of the 1970s and 1980s. If you're doing a contemporary aggressor/adversary, you'll want to tweak the helmet to look like the current lightweight version
  • No mold lines in the canopy or windscreen
  • The canopy has the later-block exhaust vent on the left-rear side of the canopy frame. Earlier F-5Es did not have this vent, so you may need to fill in this detail if your subject didn't have that feature
  • The fuselage is divided front and rear to allow for the F-5F nose to be substituted in the next release
  • One of the puzzling 'features' in this kit are the intakes trunks. There aren't any. When you look down an intake, you'll see both engines inside along with the hollow fuselage shell. While someone in the aftermarket may come up with a fix, this might be a good time to either blank off the back of the intakes like the Hasegawa kit or install some intake covers
  • The box art correctly depicts the 425th TFTS aircraft armed with AIM-9J Sidewinders as those were the front-line heaters for the USAF at the time. The one version of the AIM-9 not included in the kit is the AIM-9J. Instead, we have AIM-9B, which may have been exported to some nations, and the AIM-9L, which was still in test while the 425th was in operation. You'll need aftermarket AIM-9Js for F-5Es operating in the 1970s/80s

As I said above, most of these are nits which can be addressed with a little modeling skill and some good reference photos. With a subject like the F-5E which has been around for more almost 50 years, you'll not only want to find specific photos of the tail number you're building, but also of a particular time frame as even some of the early F-5Es were later updated with the sharknose radome, RHAW antennas, and other features. On the other hand, the two USAF F-5Es from the 425 TFTS never had those features while stationed at Williams for international pilot training duties.

With all the features and options in this kit, there are many possibilities right out of the box, and just imagine all of the colorful subjects that will come with the aftermarket decals. You can see this kit built-up here.

My sincere thanks to Kitty Hawk Models for this review sample!