The F-5 Freedom Fighter Reaches 50 Years Of Service In The Spanish Air Force

The SF-5M Freedom Fighter with the special colored tail taxiing at Talavera la Real Air Base. (Screenshot from the YouTube video in the article)

The F-5 flew for more than 170,000 hours and contributed to the training of over 1,000 fighter pilots.

The Spanish Air Force (Ejército del Aire) reached the historic milestone of 50 years of service of the F-5 Freedom Fighter on Nov. 12, 2020.

The F-5s, built under license from Northrop by Construcciones Aeronuticas SA (CASA), first arrived at Talavera la Real Air Base on November 12, 1970, where they were assigned to the then Escuela de Reactores (Jet School), now Ala 23 de Instrucción de Caza y Ataque (Fighter and Attack School).

To mark the anniversary, Ala 23 unveiled a SF-5M, serial AE.9-10/23-04, with a special colored tail showing a gold 50 with the F-5’s shape over a black background, underlined by the colors of the Spanish flag and the name F-5 Freedom Fighter, while on the tail’s tip figure the years 1970-2020 over a white stripe.

Initially, the unit was assigned 34 F-5B twin-seater aircraft, called locally CE.9, which replaced the T-33 Shooting Star and the F-86 Sabre and were later joined by 18 F-5A (C.9) and 18 RF-5A (CR.9) single seat aircraft that were initially assigned to Ala 21 at Morón de la Frontera Air Base. Currently only 19 F-5B remain in service, which were upgraded in the early 2000s to the SF-5M standard (with a cockpit similar to the one of the USAF T-38C Talon) and are expected to remain in service until 2027/2028.

The Freedom Fighter represented also a milestone for the Spanish aerospace industry as it was the first high performance aircraft built and assembled entirely in Spain. Over half a century, the Freedom Fighters flew in Spain for over 170,000 hours, contributing to the training of more than 1,000 pilots. Recently Ala 23 integrated also Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality systems in its training program to complement the advanced flight simulators already in service.

Two instructors of Ala 23 walking towards the celebratory SF-5M on the flightline. (Screenshot from the YouTube video in the article)

Airbus announced last month that development is in progress for a new jet trainer, called Airbus Future Jet Trainer, that is intended to replace both the F-5 and the CASA C-101 Aviojet trainers of the Spanish Air Force around 2027 or 2028.

The concept is envisioned as a multi-role integrated trainer system, featuring live-virtual-constructive (LVC) training environment and the ability to emulate the Eurofighter Typhoon’s and F/A-18 Hornet’s performance. The aircraft is being developed based on the Spanish Air Force’s requirements and timeline, even if the government has not yet allocated any funding towards the project, with Airbus aiming to a first flight around 2025.

Here below you can find also a video (in Spanish) about the history of the F-5 Freedom Fighter in the Ejército del Aire released by Ala 23.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.