F-5E Aggressors by Malcolm Hopper

This first instalment of In Focus features the many varied schemes of Fighter Squadron Composite (VFC-13) Saints F-5Es.  VFC-13 is a United States Navy fighter squadron that provides adversarial training at Navy Air Station (NAS) Fallon in Western Nevada and famously uses the callsign 'Bogey'. 

VFC-13 moved from NAS Miramar in April 1996, which became a Marine Corps base.  On moving to Fallon, the Saints gave up their A-4Fs and F/A-18As and re-equipped with the F-5E/F, mainly taking on those left by the disestablishment of VFA-127. The primary mission of the Saints is to allow Carrier Air Wings to work up against realistic adversarial threats prior to a cruise.

The F-5Es operated by VFC-13 are a mixture of ex-USAF aircraft, mainly operated in the adversary role at Nellis AFB, RAF Alconbury and Clark AFB and a (very) few aircraft originally bought directly for the Navy. All were all built in the 70’s. 

The Saints’s F-5E’s have worn a huge number of colourful schemes over the years and in visits in 1998 and 2000 we were lucky enough to record some of them.  This is just a snapshot of those schemes worn by the F-5E through it’s long career.

It is hoped further installments on this topic will follow.

F-5E 160794/AF/22, October 1998. Photo © M P Hopper
An interesting 4 colour camouflage scheme with hard edges. which seems fairly worn and possibly inherited from VFA-127

F-5E 730879/AF/01, October 1998. Photo © M P Hopper
Another, hard-edged scheme but much simpler. Note the drop tank.

F-5E 741558/AF/13, October 1998. Photo © M P Hopper
Very attractive and very worn brown and sand camouflage. This scheme appears, at least in part, to have softer edges and numerous touch ups as it is quite patchy.

F-5E 741544/AF/06, October 1998. Photo © M P Hopper
An absolutely stunning 'hard edge' stripe scheme. A close look at the starboard slat and the tail leading edge reveals some peeling suggesting either a vinyl type paint or possibly even vinyl stripes have been used. The blue bodied Sidewinder on the wingtip has no warhead or rocket motor but provides a 'lock on' indication for Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT).

F-5E 160795/AF/23, October 1998. Photo © M P Hopper
A variation on the hard edge brown and sand camouflage scheme affording a good view of the nose area. VFC-13 operated aircraft with both the “standard” nose as here and the later “shark nose”, this example being one of the “rare” original USN aircraft.

F-5E 741530/AF/03, October 2000. Photo © M P Hopper
A couple of years later and this scheme is showing signs of overpainting of the same scheme and some touch up areas leading to a patchy, worn look.

F-5E 160792/AF/21, October 2000. Photo © M P Hopper
This F-5E was still being painted during our 1998 visit and had some masking on the tail suggesting that, at least in part, the demarcations were hard edged. There is already evidence of touch up work in some areas. This is another of the few original Navy F-5E airframes still around at the time.

F-5E730879/AF/02, October 2000. Photo © M P Hopper
A stunning brown/sand stripe scheme; a close look will reveal that the the edges of the stripes have been outlined and then filled in - much as we would do on a model - to give tight but soft edges!

F-5E 741536/AF/04, October 2000. Photo © M P Hopper
Looking most 'model like' in the late afternoon sunshine, 04 has a variation on the stripe scheme, again hand painted with soft edges. The sleek red pod on the wingtip is the ACMI (Airborne Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation) which records a number of flight data parameters for playback later e.g. during debrief