AFV Club 1/48 F-5E Tiger II
KIT #: AR48102
DECALS: Four options
REVIEWER: Stefan Buysee
NOTES: Afterburner Decals 48-062 “Red Flag Tigers” used.


The Pentagon never intended the F-5E to be used as a front-line USAF fighter, but the aircraft was ideal for imitating the Mig-21 during air combat exercises. The types do not only have nearly the same flying characteristics, they are both relatively small and hard to spot during air-to-air combat.

From the mid-1970’s, the USAF operated four squadrons of F-5E’s in the aggressor role. Two squadrons were at Nellis AFB: the 64th aggressor squadron with red “bort numbers” and the 65th aggressor squadron with blue “bort numbers”. The Nellis-based aggressor squadrons were obviously the ones providing the opposing air force for the famous Red Flag exercises. When they weren’t busy with Red Flag, they sent detachments to USAF bases around the USA to teach dissimilar air combat tactics. The other aggressor squadrons were the 527th at RAF Alconbury for USAFE and the 26th at Clark AB for PACAF.

In 1988, the USAF replaced its aggressor F-5E’s with F-16C’s because these were considered much better suited to mimic more recent  threat aircraft like the Mig-29. (Your editor saw the F-5s from the 527th being escorted back to the US by a pair of VAK-308 KA-3B Skywarriors during his stay at Keflavik.) USAFE and PACAF only had their aggressor F-16C’s for about one year, but to this day, there are aggressor F-16’s at Nellis AFB.

The F-5E’s were not scrapped: they moved on to new careers with USN and USMC Adversary squadrons and foreign air forces. Some went to the Brazilian Air Force, for example. 

There are plenty of reasons for me to like the Nellis-based F-5E’s.

For decades, the Monogram kit was the best F-5E in 1/48 scale.

Several manufacturers were said to be preparing a new tool 1/48 F-5E, but in the end it was AFV Club from Taiwan who released their F-5E in 2009. The kit is designed to allow for several versions to be commercialised. Options include a recce nose, a two-seater fuselage and a “duckbill” nose. Make sure that you get the right box for what you have in mind. So far, I’m not aware of a boxing that includes both a standard and a “duckbill” nose for example.

AFV Club also released the following 1/48 F-5 kits:

AR 48102 “F-5E US Air Force Aggressor”

AR 48103 “F-5F Sundowners”

AR 48105 “RF-5E Tigereye”

AR 48106 “Northrop F-5F”

AR 48S01 “F-5E RoCAF 46TFS

AR 48S06 “F-5E Swiss/Austrian AF”

AR 48S07 “F-5F RoCAF Aggressor”

There are optional parts for open/closed canopies, airbrakes and engine louvres. The flaps can also be positioned as one desires. There are two nosegear struts, allowing you to build a parked F-5E with the shorter one or an F-5E ready for take-off with the nosegear extended. Two AIM-9 sidewinders, two underwing droptanks, a centerline droptank, access ladders and (at least in ER 48102) an air combat instrumentation pod are included.  The panel lines are recessed and look absolutely fine to me.

There is a small photo-etch fret with a canopy frame with rear-view mirrors and with two mesh screens that go on the splitter plates of the intakes. Some modellers have mentioned that there are shape problems on the AFV Club kit, saying that the old Monogram kit captured the shape of the F-5E spine better.  Personally, I do not see the problems and I quite like the surface detailing and the delicate parts of the AFV Club F-5’s.


 The first of my F-5E’s was the one in the Pumpkin scheme with serial 73-0866. My intention was to build it straight from the box as a parked aircraft with the canopy closed. Our friend and forum member Harold of AMS resin produces beautiful early and late F-5E seats.

I do not know if these Nellis-based F-5E’s had the early or the late seat. Keeping it cheap and because I do not perform great work on cockpits anyway, I went with the kit seat. Pictures revealed that the USAF aggressors very rarely carried droptanks: sometimes a centerline tank on cross-country deployments but never anything under the wings. The underwing tanks, pylons and their delicate sway braces went into the spares box. I did install the centerline pylon, but left it empty.  

Construction went pretty smoothly except for a step on the bottom where the front and rear fuselage meet and closing the port gun bay panel. This panel is provided separately, but there is no gun bay interior. Also, the nose pitot tube is very delicate and not easy to install straight. So far, mine have had a tendency to droop. I should probably drill even more out of the hole in nosecone in which it is to be glued.

Be careful when you assemble the intakes, there is some potential for unwanted gaps there but by taking my time I achieved an acceptable result by my standards. There is nothing inside the intakes, which are pretty small anyway. Steel Beach produces a set of intake covers for the Monogram kit, but I have no idea if these are useful for the AFV Club kit. The Afterburner Decals sheet provides yellow stars to put on the intake covers.

I have seen pictures of 73-0866 which show it in the early antenna configuration, so I could build it per the kit instructions, leaving part P22 off the top of the tail and the small antenna off the spine just behind the canopy. When I finished my first AFV Club F-5E, I felt I hadn’t enjoyed building a kit that much for years.

Naturally, I wanted to build another one.

One of the things I was going to do differently was to build as carefully as possible, but not fill any gaps unless they were really bad. My feeling is that most of the gaps can be seen as panel lines and that my efforts at filling and sanding on the first model had only made it look worse.

After I built the F-5E in the pumpkin scheme , I saw a model by a guy who had worked on USAF F-5's. The red dots on the rear fuselage were really inspection gauges to check the oil level. He drilled them out and replaced them with a piece of clear plastic, painted red at the bottom. So, I gave it a shot on the “New Blue” F-5E too. I've circled the dot in red in the picture.
Circled in yellow is a location tab that I reduced in size a bit hoping to reduce the step in the lower fuselage. The “careful construction” plan went all right until I assembled the forward fuselage. Something went wrong and I ended up with a bigger step in the lower fuselage than on the first F-5. I think that the trouble originated from the open gun bay panel.
The presence of the centerline pylon makes the step a bit less obvious.

I built this one as an aircraft that’s about to start its take-off run. The engine louvres are open, the nose gear is extended and I positioned the flaps as I had seen on pictures of Swiss F-5E’s taking off. The pilot figurine is from an Hasegawa F-16. I posed his head as if he’s looking at his leader starting to roll. This was done to make the red star on the back of his helmet visible. The tiny red star decal comes from one of the Fightertown Decals adversary Skyhawk sheets.


 Afterburner Decals produced a sheet for the Nellis-based F-5E’s: 48-062 “Red Flag Tigers”.  23 jets in numerous colour schemes can be built. There are spare “bort numbers” in red with yellow border and blue with yellow border (five of each digit) so that one can build even more aggressor aircraft. There are stencils for at least two aircraft, but considering that there are low visibility and high visibility variations of the stencils, more can be made. There are four pairs of  the yellow/black chequered tailband of the 57th FWW and these are not included on the kit decal sheet although they can be seen on the box-art.

The colour schemes for which there are instructions are: New Blue, Old Blue, Flogger, Modified Flogger, New Lizard, Old Lizard, New Ghost, Old Ghost, Grape, Frog, VNAF, Silver, Gray, Sand, Snake and Pumpkin. The instructions give the FS numbers of the colours. I found this conversion table quite useful to see which of the paint jars available to me was close to the required FS number.

 The one in the “Pumpkin” scheme represents the aircraft as it was in 1982 and has markings typical of that era: no WA tailcode, coloured stencils and national insignia. The underside is a uniform light colour and not a continuation of the topside camouflage. The radome is still black with a “Do not paint” stencil.

 The one in “New Blue” represents the aircraft as it was in 1987 and is typical of  the last type of markings: WA tailcode is present, stencils and national insignia are low-viz. The camouflage is of the wrap-around type and covers the radome as well. One cool option that I might do next is F-5E 74-1564 in the Flogger scheme in 1985. The pilot’s name on that one is “Major John Manclark”. He became the last squadron commander of the Red Hats squadron that flew Migs out of Groom Lake. There is a declassified photograph of a USAF Mig-21 with his name on it.


When I completed the first F-5E, I realised that I hadn’t had that much fun building a model in years. If I can find some more F-5E’s with the standard nose, I’ll build more Red Flag Tigers.

Stefan Buysee

November 2011

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