If you've seen Top Gun, then you probably remember the enemy MiG-28s that enter the fray at the beginning and the end of the film. If you know your aircraft, however, you quickly figured out that the on-screen "MiGs" were actually Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighters from the Navy's aggressor squadrons.
The F-5E/F has done a lot more than play a body-double for Russian aircraft, though.
The Northrop F-5E/F Tiger first saw action in 1972 in Vietnam. The early versions of this plane flew several missions and it was quickly understood that, while fully operational, the plane needed some upgrades. The result was called the "Tiger," and it was intended to match the Soviet MiG-21 "Fishbed."
Three F-5E Tiger II aggressors in formation.
The F-5E had a top speed of 1,077 miles per hour, a maximum range of 1,543 miles, and was armed with two 20mm cannon, AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and could carry a number of bombs, rockets, and missiles for ground attack. The Navy and Air Force bought some as aggressors, but the real market for this jet was overseas.
Taiwan bought a lot of F-5Es to counter Communist China's large force of J-5 and J-6 fighters, South Korea used the specs to build a number of airframes locally, and the Swiss bought a significant force of F-5E to make their presence known in Europe. Countries from Morocco to Thailand got in on the Tiger action.
F-5E Tiger IIs and F-14 Tomcats prior to filming for 'Top Gun.'
The Air Force retired its Tigers in 1990, allowing the F-16 to take over the aggressor role. The Navy and Marines still use the Tiger as an aggressor – and is even putting on a global search for a few good replacements to bolster the ranks.
Learn more about this long-lasting fighter that spent some time as a Hollywood villain in the video below.