F-20 Tigershark

Northrop/BAe F-20 Tigershark

In the mid-1980s the RAF finally made the decision which aircraft would replace its remaining ageing Lightnings after the F-17 Cobra purchase was derailed by McDonnell's legal action against Northrop. Due to budgetary concerns the wholly UK development of a  new aircraft was ruled out, once again allowing foreign manufacturers to propose aircraft to meet the requirement. Whilst the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle were considered they were deemed too expensive, whilst the F-16 lacked the range to address the medium range requirement, leaving the F-18 as the perceived leading contender against the Mirage 2000.

However in an interesting move the RAF selected a mix of types - the XL  experimental variant of the F-16 as the basis for the medium range platform ( designated F-16E & F in RAF service ), with the Northrop F-20A & B Tigershark fulfilling the short range element ( and also finally resolving the issue of the aborted F-17 contract with Northrop, McDonnell's role in which was rumoured to have counted against the F-18  ). An additional factor was the American manufacturers willingness to once again negotiate favourable licence production contracts in an attempt to recoup their development costs in the absence of a large domestic order, as had been the case with the F-17. Concerns were raised about overwater operation of these single engined fighters, but their engines demonstrated reliability in US and European service sufficiently mitigated against these fears to allow them to be selected.

During its service life the Tigershark appeared in a number of variants, some of which are shown below:


Tigershark F.1 and F.2 ( F-20A and F-20C )

This aircraft was used to replace the Lightning in the short range air-defence role. Whilst capable of carrying Skyflash missiles, the weight and drag penalty of these missiles on the relatively small Tigershark were considerable ( the effect of the 30kg heavier Sparrow was even worse ), so the normal load consisted solely of Sidewinders. Fortunately the lighter AIM-120 became available in the late 80s, and was successfully deployed on the Tigershark F.2 ( F-20C ) along with the AIM-132 ASRAAM. The F.2 is externally identical to the F.1, but had numerous internal revisions, including enhanced avionics, and all F.1s have now been upgraded to F.2 specification.

Following their introduction into RAF service, BAe were successful in selling the Tigershark to a number of other customers, some of whom had previously operated the F-5.

Both built pretty much OOB from the Hasegawa kit



Tigershark RF.1 ( RF-20A )

Single seat version carrying a photorecon package developed from the earlier RF-5. Armed with a pair of Sidewinders for self defence, the RF.1 also normally carries an external ECM pod, and has even been seen carrying the AGM-122A SideArm anti-radar missile as a survivability aid when penetrating enemy airspace.

Hasegawa kit, with the camera nose from an Airfix RF-5A


Tigershark T.1 ( F-20B )

Two seat advanced trainer version which retains most of the combat capability of the single seat version, but lacks the internal guns in the nose and has slightly reduced performance and range.

Hasegawa kit, cockpit and nose from Revell F-5B

Tigershark T.1A ( F-20B )

When the Red Arrows began flying the Tigershark, the nose of the aircraft used by the team were modified to include a spotlight. This modification was made purely in the interests of showmanship to allow the 'lights-on' displays developed during their Hawk years to continue.

Hasegawa kit, cockpit and nose from Matchbox F-5B


Tigershark T.2 ( F-20D )

After 48 T.1s had been delivered, production switched to the more capable T.2 . This has a longer nose than the T.1, allowing the internal guns to be re-instated. The enhanced combat capability of this version led to its use in a number of other roles, including advanced weapons training and the Shrike equipped SEAD version shown here ( the RAF purchased a large number of the obsolete Shrike missiles from the USAF and updated them with a new programmable seeker developed by BAe Systems based on that designed for ALARM ).

Hasegawa kit, cockpit and nose from Italeri F-5D