CF-5/CF-116/NF-5 Freedom Fighter
Canadian Forces CF-5A Freedom Fighter on display at Trenton, Ontario
Role Fighter-bomber
Manufacturer Canadair
First flight 6 May 1968
Introduction 5 November 1968[citation needed]
Status Retired from Canadian service in 1995, still in service with some countries
Primary users Canadian Forces (former)
Royal Netherlands Air Force
Venezuelan Air Force
Turkish Air Force
Number built 240
Developed from Northrop F-5

The Canadair CF-5 (officially designated the CF-116 Freedom Fighter) is a Canadian licensed-built Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter. It is a light, supersonic, twin engine, daylight air superiority fighter primarily for the Canadian Forces (as the CF-5) and the Royal Netherlands Air Force (as the NF-5). The CF-5 was upgraded periodically throughout its service life in Canada. While Canadian Forces retired the aircraft in 1995, it continues to be used by other countries.

The CF-5 was ordered by the Royal Canadian Air Force, which became part of the Canadian Forces on 1 February 1968. The new unified force took delivery of the first CF-5s (it was almost universally referred to as the CF-5 except in official documentation[1]) at the end of 1968. Production by Canadair for the Canadian Forces was 89 single-seat aircraft, 46 dual-seat aircraft and 75 single-seat with 30 dual-seat aircraft for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, a total production of 240. Twenty surplus Canadian aircraft were sold to Venezuela.[2][3][4]

Design and development

CF-5A at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

Originally designed by Northrop as a low-cost, low-maintenance fighter jet, the F-5 was intended for use by air forces that had limited resources and technical expertise. In 1964, the Royal Canadian Air Force, searching for a replacement for both the conventional attack fighter CF-104 and the nuclear strike interceptor CF-101, proposed entering into a joint production agreement with the United Kingdom to build over 100 F-4 Phantom II (which the Royal Navy was eager to acquire) but this was rejected as too costly.[5] In February 1965, Chief of Operational Readiness and a future CDS, Lieutenant-General Jean Victor Allard, evaluated four possible replacements: Northrop F-5, Grumman A-6 Intruder, Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and LTV A-7 Corsair II.[6] While the Royal Canadian Navy wanted the A-4 Skyhawk, as a replacement for its carrier based McDonnell F2H Banshee, the only aircraft deemed "not suitable" was the F-5, and the A-7 Corsair was recommended.[7] Nonetheless, Defense Minister Paul Hellyer "questioned the RCAF’s preoccupation with fighters generally, and he rejected the need for and the utility of the nuclear strike role specifically" and changed the requirements, thus "guaranteeing that the CF-5 be selected as the new tactical fighter, and that the RCAF was to adopt an affordable aircraft capable of performing a conventional attack role," even though he later wrote in his biography that the F-5 was “little more than a trainer with guns hung on it.”[8][9] In Canada, which had a mature aerospace industry, selection of the less sophisticated F-5 was a disappointment and "clearly unpopular" among those in the RCAF.[10] Selected to provide a tactical support role, based in Canada but to relocate to Europe, CF-5 squadrons were also committed to NATO's northern flank to act as a rapid-deployment force. However, the role for the CF-5 throughout its service with the RCAF was changed frequently and eventually the diminutive fighter would serve as an attack strike fighter, reconnaissance platform and trainer.[3]

Compared to the Northrop F-5, the Canadian CF-5 had several modifications to make it more suitable for operating in Canadian Forces theaters of operations. In order to address complaints about long takeoff runs, the Canadair version featured a two-position nose landing gear; compressed it operated like the original, but extended (before takeoff) it raised the nose and thereby increased the angle of attack and increased lift. The system reduced takeoff distance by almost 20%. A midair refueling probe was installed, Orenda-built General Electric J85-15 engines with 4,300 lbf (19 kN) thrust were used, and a more sophisticated navigation system was added. The nose of the CF-5 was also interchangeable with a specially designed reconnaissance set with four cameras in it. Over the course of its life, it received many upgrades to its avionics and capabilities.

An order for 105 aircraft for the Royal Netherlands Air Force was signed in early 1967, 75 single-seaters to replace the Republic F-84 and 30 twin-seaters to replace the Lockheed T-33. The plan to use some single-seaters for photo-reconnaissance to replace the Lockheed F-104G Starfighters never materialized. Production of the F-5 in Europe was originally planned by Fokker and SABCA, for the Dutch and Belgian Air Forces, but hesitancy by Belgium led to the Netherlands government ordering under a production sharing agreement with Canada.[11] As part of the production sharing agreement between the Canadian and Dutch governments the centre fuselages for all but the first 31 aircraft were built by Fokker in the Netherlands.[12]

The first CF-5 was officially rolled out in a ceremony at the Cartierville factory on 6 February 1968.[13] The first NF-5 was rolled out on 5 March 1969.[14]

Operational history


CF-5 badge worn by Canadian Forces aircrew and ground crew in the mid-1970s

Initially 433 Squadron and 434 Squadron were the only two squadrons to operate the CF-5. It was intended that three squadrons would fly the aircraft, but due to budgetary restrictions, the excess aircraft were put into storage in CFB North Bay and CFB Trenton, some later being sold to other countries. 434 Squadron was assigned to do lead-in tactical fighter training for the Canadair CF-104 Starfighter, but was transitioned to the role of a rapid reaction squadron, being ready to deploy to Europe at short notice in the event of hostilities. The squadron moved to CFB Bagotville with 433 Squadron, for a short time, and then on to CFB Chatham.[3]

The training role was adopted by 419 Squadron at CFB Cold Lake; it would continue to provide jet training, dissimilar air combat training (painted in Soviet style "aggressor" schemes), and serve as a lead-in fighter trainer for the McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet until retired in 1995. All remaining airframes were put into storage at CFD Mountain View.

While originally intended to be deployed to Europe, due to budgetary limitations the CF-5 became a rapid deployment reinforcement, to be deployed to central Europe or later Norway in time of war. CF-5s did deploy to Europe for several reasons many times during the Cold War: in 1970 six CF-5As deployed to CFB Baden–Soellingen in Germany, later flying to Norway in early 1971; in 1973 eight CF-5A and CF-5R flew to Norway; in 1974 four CF-5A and CF-5Rs participated in a NATO reconnaissance exercise at Leck, Germany; two Canadair CF-5R visited Leeuwarden, Netherlands in 1974; sixteen CF-5As flew to Europe in 1977; in 1978 eight CF-5As deployed to Norway to participate to NATO's Arctic Express exercise; in 1980 eight CF-5As participated in the Anorak Express exercise in Norway; in 1985 and 1986 CF-5As deployed to NATO exercises (Brave Lion) in Norway, and finally, the last deployment to Europe was in 1987 when four CF-5As arrived at CFB Baden–Soellingen; in June, 1988 the CF-5A was replaced in the rapid deployment force by the McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet.[15] Additionally, CF-5R photo reconnaissance aircraft participated in Best Focus exercises in Europe during 1978, 1980 and 1985, with a Canadian pilot winning the NATO "Photo Derby" in 1985.[15]


The Royal Netherlands Air Force took delivery of its first aircraft (an NF-5B two-seater) in October 1969, with the first squadron to be formed being 313 Squadron at Twente. The initial role of 313 Squadron was a conversion unit to train pilots on the new type. The NF-5 would serve with four operation squadrons, 313 and 315 Squadron at Twenthe, 316 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen and 314 Squadron at Eindhoven. The last NF-5 was delivered in March 1972.

From 1986 the squadrons began to convert to the licence-built General Dynamics F-16 and the last NF-5 was stood down in March 1991.

Most surplus aircraft were sold to Turkey (most to Turkish Stars) and Venezuela (mix CF-5A and CF-5D - 18 in 1972, 2 new CF-5D in 1974 and 7 ex-RNAF NF-5A/B in 1990; all served with Grupo de Caza 12) or retained for spares support.[16] A dozen aircraft were donated to Greece.


Venezuela Air Force Northrop (Canadair) VF-5A (CL-226)

After a reorganization of the Venezuelan Air Force in the late 1960s, the government realized that it was time to replace its obsolete de Havilland Vampires and Venoms active at that time, as well as the last surviving F-86 Sabres in active duty. In 1971, 54 Canadian-built CF-5As were put in storage, after the RCAF could not take them due to budget cuts. From this batch, Venezuela acquired 16 CF-5As and two CF-5Ds. In 1972, after all the aircraft were delivered, the F-86s, Venoms, and Vampires were finally scrapped.

The F-5 became the first military plane in Venezuela capable of flying at supersonic speeds. After a legal dispute between Canadair and Northrop, two more CF-5Ds were built and delivered to Venezuela in 1974. Their first base of operations was the General Rafael Urdaneta Air Base in Maracaibo. After 1974, the fleet was relocated to Teniente Vicente Landaeta Gil Air Base in Barquisimeto.

In 1979, after several upgrades to the fleet's communication, navigation and approximation equipment, the aircraft were renamed VF-5s, designating the CF-5As as VF-5As and the CF-5Ds as VF-5Ds. Venezuelan F-5s could also carry weaponry such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile, Mk.82 and M117 bombs, and 70mm rocket launchers.

In 1991, after tensions between Colombia and Venezuela almost led to a conflict, the air force started yet another modernization program for the F-5s, called "Proyecto Grifo" (Project Gryphon). Some aircraft (VF-5D number 5681 and VF-5A number 9124) were sent to Singapore for testing, then brought back for upgrade of the remaining airframes. That same year, a small fleet of four NF-5Bs and a single NF-5A, was acquired from the Netherlands to replace aircraft lost in previous years.

In 1992, during the coup d'état attempt against president Carlos Andres Perez, 3 F-5s were lost to a rebel-operated OV-10 Bronco bombing Barquisimeto Air Base. The failed coup delayed the modernization program for a year, finally coming together in 1993. The fleet was equipped with inertial laser navigation systems (similar to those in Venezuelan F-16s), IFFs, HUDs, refueling probes and modernized engines with an estimated lifespan of 22 years.

In 2002, small upgrades were made to the remaining F-5s. The fleet was kept operational until 2010, when a batch of Hongdu JL-8s was delivered as their replacement. By late 2010, it was known that at least one VF-5D was in flight-worthy condition; it is unknown if more aircraft are in operational condition.

Between 1972 and 2002, a total of 9 Venezuelan F-5s were lost.[17] [18]



CF-5 of the Botswana Defence Force
Canadian Air Force CF-116 Freedom Fighter, displayed at CFB Borden
Greek CF-5B Freedom Fighter
NF-5A of the Turkish Air Force.
Venezuela Air Force Northrop (Canadair) VF-5A (CL-226)
 United States

Former operators


Aircraft on display

CF-5A on display at the Cold Lake Air Force Museum
NF-5A on display at the Nationaal Militair Museum


Specifications (CF-116)

Orthographically projected diagram of an F-5 Freedom Fighter
Orthographically projected diagram of an F-5 Freedom Fighter

General characteristics



See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists



  1. ^ Canadian Armed Forces (5 March 2010). "Historical Aircraft". Archived from the original on 5 December 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  2. ^ CF-5 with Venezuela
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Aeroware (2012). "Canadair CF-116 CF-5". Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  4. ^ Canadian Armed Forces (6 April 2004). "Canadair CF-5 Freedom Fighter". Archived from the original on 5 December 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  7. ^ Ibid.
  8. ^ Ibid.
  9. ^ Paul Hellyer, Damn the Torpedoes: My Fight To Unify Canada’s Armed Forces, (Toronto:McClelland & Stewart, 1990), p. 131.
  10. ^ Major Ray Stouffer,COLD WAR AIR POWER CHOICES FOR THE RCAF: PAUL HELLYER AND THE SELECTION OF THE CF-5 FREEDOM FIGHTER, Canadian Military Journal, Autumn 2006, p.63
  11. ^ "Canadian F-5s for RNAF". Flight International. 91 (3022): 223. 9 February 1967.
  12. ^ "Canadair's CF-5 Production". Flight International. 94 (3113): 759. 7 November 1968.
  13. ^ "Defence". Flight International. 93 (3076): 280. 22 February 1968.
  14. ^ "Photo caption". Flight International. 95 (3133). Iliffe: 459. 20 March 1969.
  15. ^ a b Canadair CF-5 Canadian Profile, (Aircraft No 4) by Bob McIntyre, SMS Publishing, Ottawa, 1985 (ISBN 0-920375-02-2) pp.34-43, 47
  16. ^ "CF-5 with Venezuela".
  17. ^ a b "El caza bombardero ligero VF-5 en la Fuerza Aérea Venezolana – FAV-Club". 19 December 2015. Archived from the original on 17 May 2017. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Botswana Defence Force". Archived from the original on 20 January 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  20. ^ World Aircraft Directory, 2022 (FlightGlobal, part of DVV Media International Ltd, 2021) p. 14.
  21. ^ World Aircraft Directory, 2022 (FlightGlobal, part of DVV Media International Ltd, 2021) p. 31.
  22. ^ Gallop, Gerry (5 March 2013). "Launch of F-5 Parts Sales Enterprise". Tactical Air Support Inc. Retrieved 22 September 2015.
  23. ^ Ottawa, The (22 April 2006). "Forces to scrap jet parts worth $200M". Archived from the original on 25 June 2014. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  24. ^ "Hellenic Air Force Historical Aircraft". HAF Official website. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Goldsborough, Gordon. "Historic Sites of Manitoba: Air Force Heritage Museum and Air Park (Air Force Way, Winnipeg)". Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  27. ^ Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum. "Canadair (Northrop) CF-5 Freedom Fighter". Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  28. ^ Canada Aviation and Space Museum (n.d.). "Canadair CF-116 (CF-5A)". Archived from the original on 1 January 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  29. ^ Canadian War Museum, Where People and History Come To Life Archived 13 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine, dated 2003-4, retrieved 10 August 2013
  30. ^ Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. "Northrop CF-5A Freedom Fighter Vintage Fighter Aircraft". Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  31. ^ "Cold Lake Museum – F5". Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  32. ^ "Wrecks and relics online - Aircaft wreck or relic at Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada".
  33. ^ Kenter, Peter (2012). "Steel key for CF-5 fighter jet monument at Toronto defence facility". Daily Commercial News. Reed Business Information. Archived from the original on 25 March 2014.
  34. ^ Boyko, Steve. "On laughter-silvered wings." Flickr, 12 November 2012.
  35. ^ Memorial Military Museum
  36. ^ AVROLAND Memorial Military Museum - Campbellford
  37. ^ "Aircraft – National Air Force Museum of Canada". Retrieved 10 August 2013.
  38. ^ "Aviation". Reynolds Museum. Government of Alberta. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  39. ^ The Military Museums (2020). "CF-5". Archived from the original on 3 August 2020. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  40. ^ Henniger. "Feature: Canadian Air, Land and Sea Museum.", August 2005. Retrieved: 27 January 2010.
  41. ^ " Wrecks and Relics".
  42. ^ Van Gent, C.J. De Northrop NF-5: De historie van de NF-5 bij de Koninklijke Luchtmacht.
  43. ^ " Wrecks and Relics".
  44. ^ "Northrop NF-5B 'Freedom Fighter' jachtbommenwerper / trainer met registratienummer K-4011 (in Dutch)".
  45. ^ " Wrecks and Relics".
  46. ^ "Canadair (Northrop) CF-5 Freedom Fighter." Retrieved: 23 July 2011.


  • McIntyre, Bob. Canadair CF-5 (Canadian Profile: Aircraft No. 4). Ottawa, Ontario: Sabre Model Supplies Ltd., 1985. ISBN 0-920375-02-2.
  • Pickler, Ron and Larry Milberry. Canadair: the First 50 Years. Toronto: CANAV Books, 1995. ISBN 0-921022-07-7.
  • Stachiw, Anthony L. Canadair CF-5 Freedom Fighter (Canadian Service Aircraft No.1). St. Catharine's, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-55125-073-X.
  • Van Gent, C.J. De Northrop NF-5: De geschiedenis van de NF-5 in Nederland. Alkmaar, Netherlands: Uitgeverij De Alk, 1992. ISBN 90-6013-518-0.
  • Van Gent, C.J. De Northrop NF-5: De historie van de NF-5 bij de Koninklijke Luchtmacht. Odoorn, Netherlands: Uitgeverij Lanasta, 2020. ISBN 978-90-8616-179-9.
  • Van Gent C.J. De Starfighter: De geschiedenis van de Starfighter in Nederland. Maarssen, Netherlands: Uitgeverij Geromy, 2012. ISBN 9789081893619.
Canadian Armed Forces post-1968 unified aircraft designations