Matchbox 1/72 Northrop F-5A "Freedom Fighter"
KIT #:  PK-12 (1973)
PRICE: $  Currently out of production
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER:  Victor Scheuerman


The ‘Freedom Fighter’ was the outcome of a 1954 decision by Northrop to produce a cheaper lightweight fighter that could challenge the performance of more expensive rivals. The end result, the F-5A (single seat) was initially exported as Mutual Aid Program equipment to Greece, Turkey, Nationalist China, Philippines, Iran and South Korea. 

The F-5 was also widely exported with examples being used by Botswana, Canada, Ethiopia, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Thailand, South Vietnam and Venezuela.  Both the F-5A and F-5B would also be produced under license in both Canada and Spain.  

Northrop’s initial models used two General Electric J85-GE-13 turbojets that would result in a maximum speed of 925 M.P.H. at 36,000 feet. The F-5 was always a lightweight as it could only carry could an external load of 6,200 pounds of ordinance in addition to its two 20 MM cannons. A recce version was also made that had a number of cameras in a new flattened nose. One of the criticisms of this basic jet is its short range and because of this, it almost always carries its signature ‘Coke-bottle’ wing-tip tanks.


Matchbox’s version of this widely exported fighter encompasses a total of 41 parts including a clear one-piece canopy. The external surface is a combination of both raised (petit) and engraved panel lines with the latter not quite their normal ‘trench’ depths. A very basic cockpit is offered with an ejection seat that is actually fairly close to the real one that holds a well sculptured pilot.

External stores include two bombs for the underwing pylons and the option of Sidewinders (poor interpretations) or the fuel tanks (nicely captures their unique shape) for the wing tips. Matchbox did a good job on the landing gear with the main struts having their almost scale retraction arms molded in place and the wheels feature some detail. However, as normal, the gear doors are rather thick and should be replaced with card or sanded thinner.  

The nine assembly steps are well illustrated with detail colour notes offered at the end. There are two decal options and the decals are well printed and still look useable.

First option is a CF-5 of 433 (Porcupine) Squadron of the Canadian Forces in the initial camouflage of dark green and grey over light grey. Marking are limited to the small size high-viz national marking and the bilingual titles in black on the fuselage sides. The second Freedom Fighter is an American in a sprayed aluminum finish and the full national markings in high-viz. Stenciling is limited to the major items on the cockpit area and the red warning stripes on the aft fuselage.  


While the ESCI/Italeri is a much better F-5 in this scale, the Matchbox kit is in second place in my opinion after having built the alternatives over the years. This Matchbox kit is an easy build that looks good when completed and could be the basis to show off the plethora of finishes carried by this widely exported light weight. 

 Victor Scheuerman

December 2008

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