Italeri 1/48 F-5A

KIT #: 802
PRICE: 10 Euros
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Spiros Pendedekas
NOTES: Reboxed Hawk kit


Small and highly aerodynamic, focusing on performance and a low cost of maintenance, smaller and simpler than its contemporaries, it is not surprising that the F-5 is quite a few times referred as “the F-16 f its time”.
Designed for a day air superiority role, the aircraft proved to be a capable ground-attack platform and was furthermore developed into a dedicated reconnaissance version, the RF-5 Tigereye. It also served as a starting point for a series of design studies which resulted in the F/A-18 Hornet.
A huge export success, the F-5 is still serving with many Air Forces (as of 2021), exhibiting a long and very interesting operational history. A total of 2246 have been built.
Hellenic Air Force (HAF), started receiving the F-5A in 1965. In the same year, the 341st Day Interception Squadron (MAH) was declared operational, followed by the 343 MAH. Fifty-five aircraft were initially received, with 17 RF-5As received in 1970. In 1975 ten were purchased from Iran and later another ten from Jordan. With nine more granted by Norway In 1986 and another ten (NF-5A / B) finally in 1991 by the Netherlands, it is no surprise that HAF F-5s sported a variety of camos, ranging from “NMF”, to SEA, Asia Minor, Aegean Blue, “Dutch” gray/blue, “Norwegian” gray and Aegean Ghost!
Offering their services for 36 years, including their later use as “introductory planes” for F-16 and Mirage 2000 pilots, HAF “Freedom fighters” clocked a whopping 364,647 flight hours, while 23 memorable pilots lost their lives flying with them. The type was withdrawn from HAF in 2001.


Introduced by Hawk in 1966, with the molds acquired by Testors in 1973 and regularly reissued till 1998 (by also the “cousin” Italeri), this is your definitive old school, basic kit, meaning acceptable general shape and minimal detailing whatsoever. My copy was the 1998 (and final, so far) Italeri release.

The kit comes in a flimsy side opening box, with an attractive USAF bird boxart. Inside the box there are four light gray sprues of thick, soft plastic that contain all the parts. There is quite a bit of flash evident. Of interest is that the main wing is provided as one piece, to be attached under the fuselage. No cockpit is there, just a flat instrument panel and a toy-ish seat, onto which a lifeless pilot is to be affixed. At least, a nice decal takes care of the instrument panel. No wheel wells are provided whatsoever, with the rest of the parts looking, the most part, simple and toy-ish. Some ordnance is supplied, but, sadly, neither the almost always carried centerline drop tank, nor the so characteristic tip tanks.

Transparencies are thick, but clear and separately packed. Instructions are very well written for what looks to be a simple construction. Three decal options are provided, a USAF, a Norwegian and a Spanish bird, all in aluminum finish. Decals are superbly printed by Zanchetti Buccinasco and contain a bit of “extra” stenciling.


I started by joining the two fuselage halves, with the one piece nose landing gear, the instrument panel and the seat support trapped between them. Some weight at the front had beforehand been secured with modeling clay (instructions call for 20 grams, but, since the NLG seemed strong, I added more, just to be on the safe side…) ., by attaching a flat styrene piece onto the top of the NLG I created a cockpit floor. Then, I attached two leftover side consoles at the sides of the fuselage and similarly leftover control stick and rudder pedals. A rear bulkhead was added from styrene sheet. Basic cockpit color was gull gray, with black consoles and stick grip. The consoles were dry brushed with silver and had some “switches” added by tiny blobs of red, yellow and white paint. A red “fire” knob was also painted onto the stick grip. Finally, the very nice instrument decal was applied onto the gull gray panel.

During the early 70s, F-5s received Martin Baker seats, so I happily tossed away the ungainly looking kit seat. I used a leftover Mirage F-1 Martin Baker seat that looked convincing, painted it black (dry brushed with silver), with green cushions and red headrest. An ejection handle was formed from thin stretched sprue, painted yellow and green and attached in position. The seat was then placed into the cockpit, which also received a leftover clear gunsight that had its surrounding framing painted black. Black was also used for the dashboard top. After all those add-ons the cockpit, though on the fictitious side, looked somehow busy, possibly passable under a closed canopy.

I proceeded with construction by adding the main wing, the pair of 2-piece air intakes, the horizontal stabilizers and the two air scoops bilaterally of the fin base. The latter were carefully hollowed with my micro drills, in order to look more realistic. Intake innards were painted silver, with matt black end plates, to enhance the illusion of depth.

Due to the lack of any detail whatsoever, I took the decision of attaching all three auxiliary gear doors and the air brake in “closed” position. Though it’s true that a resting F-5 usually has its slats, all doors and air brake hanging down or extended, my chosen posture might have some faint chances of actual existence, possibly at the first couple of minutes after engine shutdown, before the airbrake falls by gravity and the technicians open the gear doors. Anyways, general fit was not bad, needing some attention around the intakes and wing-to-fuselage joint, with the soft plastic making sanding an easy task.

I attached the tip sidewinder rails, but, intending to depict an otherwise clean bird, as if it had just finished its test flight, following its Periodic Depot Maintenance, I did not attach the wing mounted pylons . I thus filled the corresponding underwing cuts with styrene rod and putty. The toy-ish MLG legs and struts were attached in position, as well as all gear doors, having been beforehand sanded down to a more scale thinness. The exposed MLG bay lifeless-looking flat area received some “ribbing” with stretched sprue pieces, looking consequently more alive. Upon sanding the whole model with 1000 and then 2000 grit, I blocked the cockpit opening with masking tape and headed to the paint shop!


After a coat of Hu103 Cream to the fin top and a coat of matt black to the front anti glare area, I masked them off and went on to joyfully apply Hu11 Silver everywhere else! The wheel rims, as well as the canopy framing, received the same silver. With the result deemed “acceptable”, I removed the masks and proceeded to decaling.

I wanted to depict the s/n 38409 bird in the early 70s. For the HAF insignia I used a generic “Afterburner by Kalfakis” sheet (Cartograf printed, excellent allover, sadly no longer available…). For the stenciling and warning/walk lines, I used the kit decals, which also behaved excellently. Codes were from leftover decals. A coat of Future sealed everything.


The double exhausts were drilled out and had two pieces of right width straws attached to their innards, in order to look deep and realistic. They were painted Testors Burned Metal, had their outsides buffed and were attached in position. The rear wheels were also attached, as well as a "cream" painted top shoulder fillet antenna.

The bland top nose gun recessions were drilled out. I used needle pieces, painted burned metal, in order to represent the two nose guns, which were secured in their holes with cyanoacrylate glue. A needle piece was also used to represent the front pitot. Per reference pics it had its red stripes carefully painted with a 10/0 brush. Since the plane had just finished its Depot Maintenance, meaning fresh “aluminum” paint, no weathering was performed whatsoever. A satin towards gloss finish gave the plane its final shine.

I affixed the canopy in place, fairing the gaps with white glue, then represented the navigation lights with tiny blobs of red and green clear paint and called this elegant bird done!


If you want a “modern”, mainstream, kit of the F-5A, look no further than the Kinetic kit. It is not a toss together kit (Scotts excellent build and review here), but the end result is an accurate, impressive F-5A. Classic Airframes did an equally excellent (and, possibly, more accurate) multimedia (a lot of resin!) F-5A back in 2006, but they went out of business and those kits are almost impossible to find today (as of 2022).

The ancient Hawk/Testors F-5A, even with the latest (1998) nice Italeri decals, is nothing more than a toy-ish representation of the real plane. Key areas like cockpit, landing gear and exhausts are overly simplified with almost nonexistent detailing. It is not a difficult build, though, and the general shape looks like an F-5A. Even a novice modeler can put it together and practice “natural metal” painting, with the final result adequate enough to be displayed on a shelf.

The addition of leftover/scratch built stuff, as was my case, breathed some interest to this otherwise toy-like model and I have seen masterpieces out of this kit (check Roger Jackson’s fantastic 
F-5C). As of 2021, this kit is out of production for a good 20 years (I doubt it will ever be reissued) and equally difficult to find. 

Since modeling not only is the pleasure of building the "latest and greatest", but also the equal satisfaction of putting together old and less than perfect kits, if you have one of these old F-5s, it might not be a bad idea to give it a go, possibly improving a couple of areas. It is definitely buildable and, I can assure you, you will experience modeling joy, also by the fact that the finished model will be sitting proudly on your shelf, instead of residing in your Shelf of Doom forever.

Happy modeling!

Spiros Pendedekas

10 January 2022

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