Matchbox 1/72 F-5A Freedom Fighter


PK 12


$ cheap


Two options


Scott Wirz




The F-5 series began life as a privately funded lightweight fighter development of the T-38 Talon.  Because Northrop was paying for the project out of its own pockets, they designed the new fighter with the idea of using as many T-38 components as possible.  The Department of Defense supported the idea enough to supply $50 million for engineering development and the new fighter flew for the first time in July of 1959.  Despite the promise of the new aircraft, it was not until 1962 that the Kennedy Administration stepped in to order the F-5A for export to friendly countries.  F-5As would be flown by a number of nations, including Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, and Iran.  Later models would be flown by an even greater number of nations and continue to remain in service today.


 Copyrighted 1973, the Matchbox F-5A has been around for a long time. Most modelers looking to build an F-5 will rightfully go for the Esci/Italeri F-5 family-the best of the 1/72 scale lot.  I purchased this kit several years ago as part of a lot and kept it as a kit I could try new techniques on.  In this case, I experimented with Gunze's Mister Surfacer and Alclad's aluminum lacquer. 

The kit is "quality engineered" (their phrase) in white and blue plastic with decals for a bare metal USAF prototype and a neatly camouflaged 433 Squadron Canadian bird.  Most of the panel lines are raised, but those that aren't consist of deep trenches.  Your only option is to add Sidewinders or fuel tanks to the wingtips. 


  Construction is very straight-forward.  You don't get much for a cockpit, just a seat and pilot, and the wings and horizontal stabilizers are simple, one-piece units.  Fit is generally o.k., but I used filler on most of the seams.  Since I was trying Mr. Surfacer for the first time, that was a good thing.  In certain instances, such as the wing join on the fuselage bottom, I used a LOT of filler.  During this time, the overscale nose pitot departed the airframe.  I thought about replacing it, but have since decided to bag it. 

Since I was wanting to try the Alclad paint range, I elected to build the USAF version.  I primed the model with Gunze Gloss Black, waited a few days, then gave Alclad Aluminum a shot.  I like the Alclad very much, but the next time I try the aluminum color, I'll prime the model with a light to medium grey.  Because of the primer coat, the finish turned out darker that I care


 This version of the kit supplied the full color markings guide on the bottom of the box.  I suspected the decals might fall apart, so I picked one of the stars and bars for a test.  The decal held together in the water and didn't complain when I mashed it over the rivets of an old wing section.  Test passed!  Since I now had three national insignias and needed four, I replaced the lot with Superscale markings.

I applied the remaining kit decals as directed with one variation.  I didn't want to cut the USAF decal on the bottom wing (it's supplied as one piece in the kit), so I just moved it over.  It's not at all accurate, but I wasn't out to build the world's best Freedom Fighter, so I can live with fudging things a little bit.

After the decals had set for a day or so, I gently washed them using a Q-Tip and water, then overcoated with Gunze gloss clear.  I next masked off the anti-glare panel with Tamiya masking tape, painted it olive drab, added the remaining bits and called it done.  I was very impressed that the Tamiya tape created a nice, sharp edge and did not lift the Alclad.  (I've heard great things about Alclad and, having used it, am sold on it!)


 This model is not nearly perfect, but it didn't have to be.  The natural metal finish highlights surface imperfections and the Mr. Surfacer filler shrinkage and that's o.k., too.  I've learned a great deal about the benefits and limitations of both and have a reasonable looking model to boot.  When I one day get around to building my Esci F-5A, I'll hang this one in my son's room.  He won't care about the imperfections one bit.  

If you're looking to try out natural metal finishes, new fillers or techniques, this is a great kit.  If you're looking to build the definitive model of an F-5A, buy the Esci/Italeri kit.  'Nuf said.


  Despite being a beautiful and widely used aircraft, I've found only a few books specifically dedicated to the F-5.  Because I wasn't overly concerned with accuracy, I was happy to follow the kit's instructions for the painting scheme.  For the more dedicated, here are a few of the references available:

F-5 in Action, Aircraft Number 38, Lou Drendel, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1980

F-5:  Warplane for the World, Robbie Shaw, Motorbooks International, 1990

F-5 Tigers Over Vietnam, Anthony J. Tambini, Branden Publishing Co., 2000

Vietnam Air War Debrief, Robert F. Dorr, Airtime Publishers, 1996  (While not specifically devoted to the F-5, Dorr's book puts its use in context and is a good introduction to the air war over Vietnam.)

Scott Wirz

March 2004

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