Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Northrop Grumman has agreed to support a small US firm's plan to remanufacture surplus F-5E fighters into two-seat advanced trainers. The company, Tiger Century Aircraft (TCA), now plans to raise the $20 million required to build a prototype of its TF-5 lead-in fighter trainer.

Torrance, California-based TCA will be prime contractor for the TF-5 programme, with the F-5's original manufacturer acting as principal subcontractor. Northrop Grumman will assemble the dual-seat forward fuselages and develop a structural integrity programme to "zero time" the airframes, says TCA president Andrew Skow.

The company plans to fly an aerodynamic prototype of its TF-5 "this year", says Skow. The design features several improvements over the two-seat F-5F: a raised instructor's seat under a reshaped canopy; a shorter nose for lower weight; reduced take-off and landing speeds; automatic manoeuvring flaps; and improved high angle-of-attack behaviour. Speed will reduce from Mach 1.6 to 1.4.

TCA plans to team with one or more companies to provide avionics for the TF-5 in different markets. The company is prepared to ship the aircraft "green" to its chosen partners for in-country completion, Skow says.

The price for an "all-up, zero-time" TF-5 will be under $10 million, and the first aircraft could be delivered within two years of contract signature. TCA has an agreement with Taiwan's AIDC to remarket over 100 ex-Taiwan air force F-5Es, which will provide a ready source of airframes for conversion, Skow says.

The TF-5 is aimed at a projected near-term market for more than 500 lead-in fighter trainers in Europe and elsewhere, he says. In parallel, TCA is pursuing a nearer-term market to convert aircraft to standard F-5F configuration to top up existing F-5 operators' dwindling fleets of two-seaters.

Only 241 Fs were built, Skow says, and the company sees a market for 125-175 E to F conversions. TCA is working with potential customers for an initial batch of around 20 conversions, which will cost under $3 million apiece. As the TF-5 and F-5F are 95% common, he says, launching the E to F conversion programme will underwrite development of the lead-in fighter trainer.

Source: Flight International