Pilot Killed After US-Origin F-5 Fighter Jet Of South Korean Air Force Crashes Into Mountains

An Air Force pilot died after an F-5E fighter jet crashed in central South Korea on Tuesday, the military said. The aircraft crashed into a mountain in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, at 1:46 p.m., minutes after taking off from an Air Force base in Suwon, south of Seoul, they added.

“An engine fire warning light turned on for the plane’s left and right sides after the takeoff at a Suwon base at 1:44 p.m., and the plane shortly nosedived,” the Air Force said in a statement.

Spectators watch as a Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-5F Tiger II aircraft taxis past at a highway landing site during the joint South Korean/U.S. Exercise Team Spirit '91 - U.S.
Spectators watch as a Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-5F Tiger II aircraft taxis past at a highway landing site during the joint South Korean/U.S. – US National Archives

The pilot with the rank of captain tried to eject but failed, it added. The cause of the accident was not immediately known. South Korea has been operating around 200 F-5s since the 1970s, most of which are out of service or soon to be so after reaching a full life cycle.

The same type of jet had crashed into a mountain in central South Korea in 2013 during flight training due to poor maintenance.

Tuesday’s plane crash is the latest incident involving the Air Force’s jets. Last week, an F-35A fighter made an emergency landing in Seosan, 150 kilometers south of Seoul, during a training session.

F-5E fighter jet

The F-5 is developed by Northrop Grumman as a lightweight supersonic fighter that is cheap to procure and maintain. The F-5’s initial flight took place on July 31, 1963, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. 

The F-5A/B has a Mach 1.4 supersonic speed, a service ceiling of 50,000 feet, and a combat radius of 989 kilometers. It can carry up to 1,996 kg of bombs, rockets, air-to-air missiles, and fuel tanks, and is outfitted with two M39 20mm cannons each with 140 rounds. There are two main variants, the original F-5A/B and the heavily upgraded F-5E/F Tiger II variants.

During air-to-ground and air-to-air missions, the aircraft is designed to provide considerable adaptability and dominance. It was manufactured with only 30% of the gross weight of the F-4 fighter in mind. The fuselage section was lengthened and widened to handle the powerful J85 engine and additional fuel.

Upon passing its initial operational test, the F-5A/B received a few upgrades, including an air-to-air refueling probe and 90kg of the cockpit and engine armor.

In July 1965, under Project Skoshi Tiger (‘Little’ Tiger in Japanese), the modified F-5s were labeled as F-5C/D and dispatched to South Vietnam for combat assessment. Thousands of Close Air Support (CAS) sorties were carried out during the F-5’s combat assessment period. 

The aircraft was exported extensively to many countries including Turkey, Greece, Iran, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Norway, Spain, and Canada. Moreover, It was also manufactured under license in Canada, the Republic of China, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Switzerland. 

Northrop F-5 - Wikipedia
Northrop F-5 – Wikipedia

The Freedom Fighter was developed further into a much-improved version known as the F-5E Tiger II which was produced in the mid-1970s. In comparison to the F-5A/Bs, the F-5E/F had a longer range, carried a slightly heavier payload, and had better air-to-air capabilities.

The RF-5E, a reconnaissance derivative of the Tiger II, was manufactured in small quantities. More than 2,600 F-5s were built before manufacturing ended in 1987. However, many nations are still using this aircraft including South Korea.

Some F-5s have been updated with modern armament systems and are now capable of deploying AIM-120 AMRAAM and/or AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles. The Republic of Korea Air Force procured F-5A/Bs in 1965, and F-5Es in August 1974.

The Korea Air Force opted in August 2010 to install enhanced ejection seats in the cockpits of its F-5 fleet to protect pilots during emergency landings.

The upgraded variant of the aircraft has a single-seat cockpit with a variety of electronic technologies, including automated flight control systems (AFCS), a head-up display (HUD), and other auxiliary gear.  An inertial navigation system (INS), tactical air navigation (TACN) system, a global positioning system (GPS), electronic countermeasures (ECM), and hand on throttle and stick (HOTAS) system are among the avionics installed in the aircraft.

An AN/APQ-153 radar was first installed on the F-5 Tiger II. The Emerson AN/APQ-159 radar was incorporated in all upgraded models made thereafter. An air-to-air fire control radar system and a lead computing gunsight are included in the aircraft.

Two General Electric J85-GE-21B turbojet engines power the aircraft. After the burner, each engine can provide 22.2kN of thrust. The engine is primarily utilized for training and tactical reasons in commercial and military vehicles.