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Imperial Ethiopian Air Force
Ye Ithopia Ayer Hail / Ethiopian AF
Credit: Roundels of the world
Last update 20-07-2020
Ethiopian AF received considerable military assistance from
the Government of the USA during the 1960s, including ageing North
American F-86F fighters. Evaluation
of the Northrop F-5A to supplement/supplant these
aircrcrafts started at the end of 1962, when a team went to Washington.
Approval to supply the Freedom Fighter was only given
during mid-June 1964, following the November 1963 armament aid
agreement between the Republic of Somalia
(which claimed the
Ethiopian part of the Ogaden region as own) and the Soviet Union. The
agreement included the delivery of numerous MiG-15 and MiG-17,
superiority to Somalia.
of 10 Northrop F-5A, 2 Northrop F-5B was promised by the USA under
Military Aid Programm and highly experienced
North American F-86F pilots started
1965 with the 4441st Combat Crew Training
Squadron at Williams AFB in 1965; they received around 15 hours training on Northrop F-5B and 25 hours
single-seater Northrop F-5A in all combat specialities.
Two instuctors were also trained, together with maintenance personnel. An USAF Mobile Training Team was sent to Debre Zeit AB.
Delivery was according one source as follows: handover
of the first 2 single-seaters on the 20-04-66 at Mc Clellan
AFB, followed by 3 on 18-05-66, 2 on 24-07-66 and 1 on 25-07-66, for a
total of 8 F-5As; these were
followed in 1967 and in 1968 each by 2 single-seaters. One
single-seater was lost shortly after delivery, replaced by one handed
over at McConnel AFB on 17-06-68. Two double-seaters were handed over in 1966.
Slightly different is the USAF Historical Office version: 7 single/double seaters were
delivered during Fiscal Year 1966, 3 single during 1967 and the
same during 1968, always during the last quarter of the year.
Imperor Haile Selassiť inspected one Northrop F-A in
1966, delivered to Debre Zeit AB; a patch confirms that the pilot'checked-out on Northrop F-5 at Debre Zeit AB on 15-06-67.
Photo: Archive The Northrop F-5
Second lot Northrop
F-5A 10511 awaiting, together with 10510, 10512, delivery at McClellan AFB
aircrafts were assigned to the Harar-Debre Zeit AB based 5th Fighter
Squadron, formerly operating North American F-86Fs. No Sidewinder
air-to-air missiles were supplied.
Continous requests for additional Freedom Fighters resulted
in the delivery of 3 additional F-5As, handed over at McClellan AFB on
04-10-71. These were ferried on a five day journey from California to Ethiopia in USAF
markings (due to insurance and overflight problems), accompanied by an North American T-39 pathfinder aircraft for
the last part of the journey: between Ramstein AFB (Germany) to Harar
Debre AB via Rimini, Athens,
Incirklik, Teheran, Dhahran, Jeddah, Addis
Ababa. A long way.
In flight delivery of the
last three Northrop F-5A, escorted by an North American T-39
There was no change in the F-5 fleet till a
military revolution overthrow the Emperor Haile Selassiť in
April 1974. US military aid continued almost without interruption,
even after the new government (DERG) officially declared itself Marxist on 20-12-74. Due
to the strategic importance of the country the USA authorised the
transfer of 4 Northrop F-5A from Iran in 1974. Another source mentions
that Iran delivered, under a Military Aid Programm, 1973/1974 at least 7 Northrop F-5A (another source mentions only 5) and 1 Northrop F-5B.
Ethiopian Governament requested the delivery of McConnell F-4 Phantom;
the request was refused by the US Governament and Ethiopia scaled-down
to obtaining Northrop F-5s and Cessna A-37is ts request to Emperor
between the USA and Ethiopia increased in 1976; it culminated in December
signature of an arms supply agreement for over USD 100 millions with
the Soviet Union, which included Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-17 and MiG-21,
termination of military collaboration with the USA in April 1977.
Delivery of spare parts and of additional Tigers was blocked and the
aircrafts were rerouted to Yemen.
Photo: collection Northrop F-5 enthusiast
Embargoed Northrop F-5E 428 seen at
McClellan AFB on 25-09-77
WAR OPERATIONS - AREAS
activities had started in the Eritrean region in 1961 but evolved to a
full war only around 1970, when Northrop F-5As were transferred to
with F-86Fs, armed T-28As and English Electric
Canberra B.Mk.52, to operate agains the Eritrean People's Liberation
Fighters had intervened in
Eritrea during 1976 against the local
Liberation Army. By 1977 Ethiopian AF aircrafts, mainly of US
origin, was below 30% due lack of spares, political purges and
defection of Eritrean personnel and aircrews. Two pilots defected to
Kassala (Sudan) on 21-06-77 with their Northrop F-5As, the aircrafts being returned later to
Northern region Eritrea was at in a state of guerrilla war by 1978, again
necessitating basing of Freedom Fighters at Asmara and their
intervention till they were
definitely withdrawn from use due to lack
of spare around 1980. One of these aircrafts was claimed to have been
shot down near Barentu (Western Eritrea) on
1974 Somalia signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the
Soviet Union which started to deliver MiG-21s shortly afterwards,
completely changing the
armament balance. Intensive Somali guerrilla
operations began contemporaneously in the Ogaden region.
DERG requested McDonnell F-4s to counter the new threat, later scaled
down to 16 Northrop F-5E and 8 Cessna A-37s plus AN/TPS43 radars, but the US govern-
initially not inclined to fully accept the request, suggesting to
transfer in 1975 a mix of 8 Northrop F-5A (former Vietnamese
aircrafts) and 4 new F-5Es plus
8 A-37s. The Ethiopians expressed their
unsatisfaction and a second offer was submitted beginning 1975 for the
sale, under an USD 25.00m Foreign Military Sales
credit, of 16 new
Northrop F-5E (formerly foreseen for Egypt) plus AIM-9B Sidewinder
missiles, delivery scheduled to start in November 1975. This offer was
and the first 8 Tigers were hurriedly transferred to Ethiopia end 1975 (one source states the arrival at Addis Ababa on 14-04-76 which seems exact).
first two Northrop F-5E pilots started conversion end of 1975 at
Williams AFB for
a 48 hours combat course and completed their conversion in 1976.
Conversion air combat manovering was included in the training
48 hours, while
the first two pilots in-house were formed at
Debre Zeit AFB in 1976; later enough pilots converted to the aircraft
form the 9th Fighter Interceptor Sqn at the same basis.
A substantial US aid for arms transfer (in
form of credit and cash) was granted early July 1976 to the country. It
included the transfer of two Squadrons of Northrop F-5Es, an early warning radar, Lockheed C-130s and
tanks. Most probably not exact!
Enough spares had been delivered to keep all these fighters operational
for six months. The Ethiopians had learned how to keep them
longer operational as also to deploy them in combat and how to obtain additional
spares on the black market. Most Tigers (and Northrop F-5A) were transferred to Dire Dawa
at the beginning of the Ogaden War. One of thia first aircrafts, was damaged beyond repair in early 1977 during an Somali
attack on the
mentioned base after which all were withdrawn to Debre Zeit AB (Addis Ababa), shuttling between
the two bases every morning and returning home in the evening.
By July 1977 the 5th Squadron had 2 Northrop F-5B, 15 Northrop F-5A
plus one modified to carry camers and 15 pilots. The Freedom Fighters
were flown during the war only as fighter-bombers while the Tigers were
flown for air supremancy.
felt at this point it had good chances to occupy the Ogaden region and
started on 13-07-77 an, initially, victorious offensive. On
following day three Northrop F-5As attacked the invading troops and one
down by an SA-7 shoulder launched missile. Following this
episode attack profiles were modified into medium altitude attacks,
last minute dives and low attacks with an regress towards the sun in
order to prevent the
SA-7 missiles from getting a lock, while Northrop
F-5E were used as fighters. Both fighters, now
based at Dire Dawa, played a critical role in slowing Somalian
offensive; local pilots fought victoriously against Somali
MiG-21s. First confirmed air-to-air confirmed Northrop F-5E against a Somalian MiG-21 was on 24-07-77.
unofficial aid, never confirmed, although never confirmed, actually
seems doubtfuld; it is reported to include a dozen Israeli technicians
the F-5s, pilots (arrived in July 1977) that took part in the
air combats (doubtful) and training of 38 pilots (doubtful); Israeli assistance seems ended suddenly in February 1978.
information state also that Vietnam supplied Northrop F-5As
(improbable) and spare parts (probable) seized upon the fall of Saigon
A reversal of the war situation happend when the Soviet
Union abandoned its Somali allied in favour of Ethiopia and started an
air-bridge on 25-11-77, bringing the agreed Soviet aircrafts (and much more war material)
into the country. One Squadron each of former Cuban MiG-17 and MiG-21, plus one more of former Soviet Union MiG-21s, started to arrive in December 1977, all supported by Cuban personnell.
Photo: Robert Szombati collection
Picture taken after the end of the war Nortrhop F-5E Tiger 426, possibly repaired after nose damage.
ended in April 1978. Losses inflicted were largely exagerated by both
countries, Somalia claiming to have shot down at least 8 F-5A, 1 F-5B
and 3 F-5E; Ethiopia claimed that its F-5s had shot 13 MiG-21
(eight confirmed), 1 MiG-17 (confirmed) against the loss of only 2
F-5s. Somalian claims could be contradicted by the later offer for sale
of Northrop fighters. Better training of Ethiopian aircrews, who seemed
prefer the agile F-5 to the heavier MiGs, had shown its benefits.
Nothrop F-5A pilots had before trained to simulate the MIG-17, and
Northrop F-5E to simulate MiG-21. The firt type of aircraft was
flaged and used
only for ground attack, while the second one were used to fight for air
upremacy. The site ejection-history.org.uk has listed the loss of
2 Northrop F-5A and 3 Northrop F-5E during the fighting, figure
ossibly accurate regarding the MiG-21s.
More detailed information about the war can be found on the side on http://urrib2000.narod.ru/Etiopia-e.html (in Spanish).
RETIREMENT / RESALE
1979 both the 5th and 9th Squadrons were re-equipped with
Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-23 BN and Northrop fighter retired.
from use F-5s were kept in dumps; early 1984 12 F-5As, 2 F-5Bs and
4 F-5Es were put up for sale. Interest was shown by Thailand which
sent a team to asses if possible to make them flyable, but it repor-
this was out of question due their poor condistions.
Asmara dump in March 1994 showing 1 F-5A, 3 T-33A, 3
F-86F, 1 C-199K and several
Northrop F-5A serial "661" shown on 09-06-20 as a monument (together with a MiG-21,
The Northorp F-5 was still there on 02-06-04.
Ville Vuorela possibly at Debre Zeit AB)
in a white colour.
Photo : unknown
war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980's brought renewed interest in
the remaining Ethiopian airframes. The USA tried to buy back and scrap them for USD 7.00m
in order to avoid falling these in Iranian hands but
succeed in its efforts to purchase 11 (F-5A, F-5B, F-5E) in June
1985 at an unrealistic price of USD 68.00m. The aircrafts had flown very
few hours but had been poorly maintained and kept for years in the open
air. They were in such poor conditions that the Iranian AF initially
refused acceptance, later agreed at half price: USD 34.00m.
number/type of aircrafts sold to Iran is unknown. Some sources state
that these were F-5As and that the Iranian aircraft industry was
able to make at least one flyable around the year 2000, another source
that Iran received 8 Northrop F-5A and 2 F-5B plus 4 F-5E;
another one states it received only 10 F-5s, unknown mix.
Ahmaric name for Imperial Ethiopian Air Force
Corresponding Ethiopian/US serial for Northrop F-5As
and Northrop F-5Bs.
Any earlier or later sighting.
Any additional information/correction.