35 Years Ago in Aviation Week: First Flight of the Northrop F-5G Tigershark


The first flight of the Northrop F-5G Tigershark – soon rebranded as the F-20 – was featured on our cover in September, 1982, attaining a speed of Mach 1.04 during a 40 min. flight from Edwards AFB, California. The light fighter program was unique in that its development was entirely funded by Northrop and its suppliers, with the company writing off costs on a quarterly basis. 

According to a case study by the Rand Corp.’s Tom Martin and Rachel Schmidt, the Tigershark was intended to demonstrate Northrop’s advances in production technology, including the use of composite airframe components.  While the program was considered a success from a technical point of view, Northrop was unable to convince the U.S. Navy or Air Force to order F-20s in place of F-16s or find an export customer. The Tigershark program was terminated at the end of 1986 after an investment of more than $1.2 billion over 10 years.



Read the Sept. 13, 1982 edition in Aviation Week & Space Technology’s archive​.

Discuss this Blog Entry 9

on Sep 13, 2017

Hi everyone,

Looking back, and comparing with the present aircraft projects that are ongoing, does this F20 has a chance in the present market. It may not be good enough for the USAF/USN/USM/NATO, but it may of interest to nations of lower economic capacity.

And with the advancement in materials production and manufacturing techniques, the whole aircraft may be cheaper to build now compared to 1982.

Any one from Locheed Martin in this forum? Do comment.

Wan Zaidi

on Sep 13, 2017

I recall Gen. Chuck Yeager once referred to this aircraft as "The best fighter ever built that nobody bought."

on Sep 13, 2017

Was there any F20s ever built and sold to foreign Air Forces? if so are they still flying them?

on Sep 13, 2017

I was an engineer working at GE Aerospace (AESD) and we were the prime on the multimode radar system for the aircraft. It was reliable (200+ hours MTBF) and incorporated many advance (for that time) technologies that have made their way into current aircraft radar designs. I can't speak for the economics, but we designed and built a working (and flyable) prototype in less than 18 months. Too bad the DoD exhibited a 'not invented here' attitude towards the aircraft as I think it would have been a cost effective alternative to the F16s of the day.

on Sep 13, 2017

The F-20 will never be resurrected, that much is sure. Factually no one wanted it for the same reason that hobbled the original series - significant lack of range. The USAF was smart to stay with the F-16 series - much much more growth potential as is seen with the latest F-16 variants. This would never have been possible on the F-5 series airframe.

It was an amazing dogfighter to be sure, but that is about all it would have been good at. Today, in the current age of HMS and super-agile short range a/a, NO ONE wants to be there at the merge, your odds are no better than 50% of surviving no matter what SH aircraft you are flying. If you are having to turn at the merge to try and gun your opponent, you are as good as dead these days.

on Sep 13, 2017

Too bad that "aerospace economics" that have nothing to do with the opln capability aspects of the problem are in charge. A state-of-the-art F-20 could be brought to the table at a fraction of the costs, especially in the "life cycle" context, of any alternative approach.

The main initial players could be the highly technically competent smaller "Free World" type nations, some have been flying F-5s & similar T-38s for years. A direct bird-for-bird trade off paid for by the US would provide a great ROI in terms of strategic security & stability in the fjuture. A "way out just saying" by someone who's "been there & done that" to a significant degree. Ciao, Mel Bowling

PS: Av Week, thanks for the 100 yr archive & what a treasure. This day & time, when all seem to be looking for initiatives that make sense... & it would be interesting to clearly identify & scrub the better ones then research back to see how many years some of them had been talked about & what a great idea they were... the better use of AOA to prevent accidents, for example. Even after Airbus' great examples, Buffalo, etc., we still don't get it! Ask the Navy, or try the blunt end of a carrier in night rain with even a moderate pitching deck & you will, or perhaps with a half load of hung bombs. Excuse the sarcasm & thanks again for a great semi-tech pub, Aviation Week, that stands along as the very best of its kind anywhere... And, with some great people, most trying their level best to make it better week-by-week. MGBowling@aol.com

on Sep 13, 2017

Or maybe under "New Managment"!/? Northrop F-20A Tigershark (82-0064 S/N GI. 1002) cancelled 18 November 1986 and Saab JAS.39 Gripen like the "Phoenix" resurrected from the Ashes 13 February 1986. Virtually Identical in Appearance, Performance, Size and Capabilities...

on Sep 21, 2017

F-5G/F-20 was never supposed to go to USAF or US Navy; it was designed for export, like F-5A and F-5E were. But nobody overseas wanted a cut rate lower performance fighter. They wanted full up F-16s like USAF, NATO and Israelis were getting. And they got them. Tigershark's performance was superb but it could not beat an F-16's. Yes, Chuck Yeager sang its praises; after-all, he was on Northrop's payroll.

on Jan 10, 2018

Beautiful machine

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