In 1959, Northrop toured NATO and SEATO countries in Europe and Asia to determine their future aircraft needs. Their findings formed the basis for the N-156F -- a simple, economical, versatile, and easy to maintain light fighter. In 1962, the aircraft was selected for use with the Mutual Assistance Pact (MAP) countries and designated the F-5A. The F-5 has been sold or produced in over 30 allied countries and also found favor in the U.S. Air Force and Navy.
The Museum's plane is Northrop's prototype "Freedom Fighter." It was unveiled on May 30, 1959 in front of visitors from 40 foreign countries. Two months later, test pilot Lew Nelson flew the prototype, powered by two General Electric J85-5 turbojet engines, supersonic during its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base.
F-5Es became the "bad guys" for the Air Force's Red Flag and the Navy's Top Gun exercises. The shrinking victory to loss ratio of American pilots during Vietnam had both services looking to boost their pilot's air-to-air combat skills. The F-5, small and maneuverable, was quite similar to the Soviet MiG-21 encountered over Vietnam. Aggressor Squadrons flying the F-5 and other Soviet-like aircraft in training helped American pilots post a 40 to 0 victory ratio over the Soviet-trained Iraqi pilots in 1991.