KIT: Monogram 1/48 F-20 Tigershark
KIT #: 5445
PRICE: $long out of production
DECALS: Two options


Murphy’s Child

In the multi billion dollar world of combat jets, the Northrop F-20 Tigershark will probably go down as an object lesson in Murphy’s Law (something all of us modelers are familiar with):  If anything can go wrong, it will.

The Tigershark began life as an internal Northrop project to bring their F-5 family of fighters into the 1980s and 1990s.  The whole purpose of the project was to design a radar equipped fighter capable of firing radar guided missiles without sacrificing the features that made the F-5 Tiger series a worldwide hit (such as ease of maintenance, simple design, good performance and affordable for those US allies who couldn’t afford to spend 50 million (in 1980s bucks) per F-15C.)

The F-5G (as it was known as then) was equipped with a single GE 404 turbofan with afterburner (same engine as the FA-18.)  It also came with a lot of high tech goodies (for the 80s) such as a ring laser gyro inertial guidance system and an AN/APG-67 radar with look down shoot down capability.

To help its PR campaign, Northrop hired the world’s most famous test pilot, Chuck Yeager, who had a very media high profile at the time (didn’t hurt that the movie “The Right Stuff” and Yeager’s autobiography came out a couple of years earlier) to do promotional flights and act as spokesman/salesman.

A major plus was that Northrop had an established customer base of nations who flew F-5s and who were in the market to upgrade their F-5s to something faster and deadlier than what they had.  In Northrop's thinking, this meant that it would be fairly cheap to transition from a F-5 to an F-20 unlike the F-16 (or so Northrop thought.)

Finally, according to the historians on the Internet, the F-20 handed the more expensive F-16 its
afterburning butt in most performance categories. The stars seemed lined up for the F-20 as being as successful as the rest of the F-5 family.  A plane with superior performance to the F-16, Chuck Yeager, an established market and history, one could understand Northrop for not asking what could really go wrong?  As it turned out, everything did.

The first and most important blow was that Reagan’s administration changed the rules to allow the F-16 to be exported or built locally by the customer as part of the Military Assistance Program (MAP) just as the F-20 program kicked into development in the early 80s. This legislative change meant that Northrop had to compete with the established, combat tested and sexy F-16—famous as the destroyer of Iraqi nuclear reactors—as well as the Sovs, the Chinese and the French in the world market for "cheap" fighters.

Another knock against the F-20 was the USAF itself.  For reasons unknown to this reviewer, the USAF and Northrop had a very acrimonious relationship for most of the jet age.  What this meant was that the USAF was more than willing to turn a blind eye to any Northrop product when it could—such as the YA-9A, the YF-17 and the F-5.  Aside from the T-38 Talon, Northrop products
were rarely purchased by the USAF and mostly sold overseas through the MAP program.  It did little to help matter that the USAF generals happily recommended the F-16 over the F-20 to their allied counterparts.

Prototypes by their very nature have an awful safety record, but it did Northrop little good when two of the three prototypes crashed in front of potential customers during sales demonstrations.  To make matters worse, both crashes were fatal to the test pilot flying the Tigershark.  No matter what tales Northrop’s sales group could spin about reliability the only things that the potential customers could see were the crash vehicles and burning wreckage.

The last nail in the coffin of the Tigershark was the age of the design.  The F-16 had a lot more expansion room than the F-20 because it was based on an airframe that was 10-15 years younger than the F-20.  Thus there was a lot more room for future capabilities in the F-16 such as the HARM AGM-77, advanced ECM, JDAM GPS guided bombs and the AMRAAM AIM-120 whereas the
F-20 had maxed out the capacity of the airframe.

By 1986, Northrop was forced to cancel the F-20 after spending some 1.2 Billion dollars (in 1980s bucks) of their own money in developing it without getting a single sale.  This failure put the company into serious financial trouble until they won the B-2 development contract.


Monogram’s F-20 Tigershark was first released in 1986 (and judging by the introduction in the instructions, it was probably printed just before the program was cancelled.) 

It comes on 3 sprues with 62 parts molded in a black grey plastic and a separate sprue of 3 parts for the various clear parts.  The model is basically free of flash and well molded.  The clear parts are typical 80s Monogram—thick, and distorted.  It will take some sanding and polishing if you want that perfect clear canopy.

The kit is very similar to Monogram’s F-5E kit in layout and engineering so I think it will be similar
to build.  Like all RM kits of the 1980s, it does have raised panel lines, but the detail is good.  I can’t comment on accuracy of the scale or shape as I’ve only seen the F-20 in pictures and not up close and personal measuring every nook with a micrometer.  It passes the LOTM “Looks okay to me” test.

Many of the small parts have fallen off the sprues, but I know that all the parts are there as the parts were in their original bagging.

There are ejection pin markings in some odd places, but nothing too serious to fix with some putty and sanding.  The fit seems to be good and I'm hoping that the kit did not warp too badly as it is about 20 years old.

The cockpit is well detailed for its time and reasonably accurate—I compared the cockpit to some
F-20 cockpit photos off the Internet.  Considering the age of the model and the fact that there are no aftermarket sets for it, this is as good as you’re going to get.  Actually, for those of you who have this kit and are infected with AMS (I have a case of it myself) you can replace the original ejection seat with a resin seat from an AV-8B Harrier (the SJU-4 or S-III-S seat) as they used the same seat.

It does come with some weaponry, a pair of AIM-7 Sparrows and AIM-9 Sidewinders and a centerline fuel tank.  Monogram thoughtfully added all the hard point pylons so you can load the Tigershark for bear with anything from the spares box or any Hasegawa weapons sets you have lying around.  From what I understand, a maximum effort Tigershark air-to-air warload was to
have been two Sparrows and four Sidewinders or six Sidewinders.  For air-to-ground missions, the Tigershark had the same carrying capacity as the F-5. In other words, a mix of Mavericks, fuel tanks, napalm, cluster bombs, GP bombs or rocket pods.

The decal sheet has yellowed with age and are rather thick and glossy (as with most Monogram Decals of the decade) but they do not seem to be out of register. The Tigershark comes with only two possible paint schemes of the prototypes.  The first prototype is one of the two that are painted in racing red (both of which crashed) and the other prototype is painted in something called BMW metallic grey (What is that?).  I think this is the markings of the sole survivor located at the California Aerospace Museum in LA.  One interesting note is that they do come with civilian
registration numbers.

The instructions for the kit are typical 1980s Monogram.  Minimal words and lots of diagrams which is fine considering this kit has fewer parts than most modern WW2 fighter kits.

Considering the age and quality of the kit decals, I wouldn’t really want to use them nor would I recommend them.  I think that you could probably get away with using decals designed for the 1/48 F-5A and F-5E without too much trouble for a "What If" model.  The only time I would consider using the kit decals is if one REALLY wants to build the prototype—even then it is probably better to make your own versions.


This kit is long out of production (like the F-20 itself), but can be found on ebay (where I bought this one) where if you have luck to get one cheaply or have the money & obsessiveness/determination to snag one in a bidding war.

Note (trivia):  Despite the fact that the F-20 never flew as anything but a prototype, it did feature in a novel written (in 1988) by noted aviation author Barrett Tillman called the Warriors.  One of the points that Barrett makes in the novel was that BVR (Beyond Visual Range for those not into Three Letter Acronyms or TLA) missile fights are not as accurate as the weapons salesmen want people to believe thus air combat will always end up in a close in knife fight where pilot training, positional advantage and situation awareness are the keys to victory.  It is in this scenario where it would be possible for a plane like the F-20 to defeat its more expensive and sophisticated counterparts such as the F-15 and F-14—a situation that noted air warfare maverick Colonel John Boyd believed to be true.  For those who do not know, Colonel Boyd was a man hated by the Pentagon and USAF brass because of his ideas and the blunt way he pushed them:  the concept of the OODA loop (which is the basis of USMC maneuver warfare thinking) and his proposal for a fast, maneuverable and simple fighter jet with a small visual profile like the F-20 or F-16A.

As one might figure, I'm considering building the Tigershark based on one "flown" by a character from the Warriors.

Your editor would like to point out that the F-5G/F-20 is prominent in the 'Area 88' series as well.

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