Northrop F-20 Tigershark
1/144 LS kit ( 1053)

LS F-20 box art


The Northrop F-20 evolved from the F-5G design study, which in turn evolved from the F-5E.
Northrop proposed the F-5G as modernized F-5E fitted with a more powerful single engine and larger horizontal tail fins.
The F-20 design went much further than the initial F-5G, including state-of-the-art avionics, digital fly-by-wire and a digital multi mode AN/APG-67 radar set. It also incorporated some unique aerodynamic features that were applied before to the YF-17 design.
Another change to the initial F-5G design was moving the tail fin assembly further back by about 9in, all of the actual F-20 airframes had the tail fin in this location.

As part of the FX program the F-20 was proposed as a lower-cost export alternative to the F-16A and Northrop made sure to prove that it could match or better the F-16A.
The F-20 development program ran from 1982 until November 1986, when a political decision to allow F-16A to be exported to non-NATO countries ruined any chances of F-20 sales.

Three F-20 airframes were completed:

RegistrationFirst Flight
GG100182-0062N4416TAugust 30, 1982
GI100182-0063N3986BAugust 26, 1983
GI1002-N44671May 12, 1984

The first airframe bears a closer resemblance to the original F-5G design by using F-5E nose and cockpit sections, the second and third airframes were built to full F-20 specs and were fitted with a 'panoramic' canopy.

Over time three different paint schemes were applied:

Between 1983 and 1986 one or two F-20s would be present at about every major Air Show, including shows in Europe and Asia, showing off with a spectacular flying display.
In 1984 Nrs.1 and 2 went on a tour around the world (including the Farnborough Air Show) whilst Nr.3 was used for weapons testing.

span widthwing (incl.rails)8.1356.5.
overall length
#2 and 314.41100.1.
#3 Big Nose14.42100.1--
radome length#11.218.4.
#2 and 31.147.9.
#3 Big Nose1.5310.6--
tail planes- 4.0°
LEX incidence
relative to wing
- 3.6°


Wing tip missile launch rails were always fitted, with each rail loaded with either an AIM-9L missile or a 'Smokewinder' smoke-generating pod for display flights.
For long flights up to three 275gal aux fuel tanks could be fitted to the centerline and inside wing pylons, these were the same tanks that were also used on F-5E/F.
Dimensions of the 275gal tank: diam 24.00in (1/144: 4.23mm); len 209.60in (excl fins) (1/144: 37,0mm).
There were plans for a fuel tank of 330gal capacity but this was never fitted to any F-20.
The 330gal tank was to be a larger version of the 275gal tank with the center section stretched by 28in to arrive at 237.60in len (excl fins, 1/144: 41.9mm) and fitted with larger horizontal fins.

The kit(s)

In 1984 LS released a 1/144 scale kit of the F-20.
After LS went bankrupt the F-20 patterns were bought by ARII who still does occasional re-releases of the kit.
As far as I know the LS kit was copied twice: once by CC Lee and once by Trumpeter.
The CC Lee kit is a decent clone of the LS kit.
In 1989 Airfix added a 1/144 F-20 kit to its line-up, this kit came with decals for the 3rd aircraft in gloss metallic gray scheme so I bought one, but the kit itself turned out to be a rather poor Chinese copy of the LS kit. The main sprue is marked 'F-1324', which matches the catalog number of the Trumpeter 1/144 F-20 kit.

The LS kit captures most of the design characteristics of the F-20 well.
A few things that can be improved are:


LS F-20 tail fin positions compared


Back in 1985 I completed an LS F-20 kit and finished it as the second aircraft in two-tone gray camo scheme using the kits decals.
I also had started building a second kit and later I acquired an incomplete third kit, which I started converting into an F-5E (only to abandon it later when Dragon announced an 1/144 F-5E kit).
Apart from that I received a CC Lee F-20 kit.

Recently I looked into completing the kit I had already started and also made plans to turn my abandoned third kit into the nr.1 aircraft using bits from the Airfix kit.
As I need the fuselage halves of the complete LS kit as a reference for turning the abandoned kit back into an F-20, first thing to do is restoring the rear fuselage of the abandoned kit.
Once that fuselage is restored, its nose needs to be replaced by one cut from a Revell F-5E kit (either 04018 or 04003), again using the LS kits fuselage halves as a reference for getting the length of the nose right (base of windshield to rear edge of fuselage).
The nr.3 aircraft can be completed once the fuselage of the nr.1 aircraft is converted.

After reading the 2023 'Northrop F-20 Tigershark' book by Paul Metz and inspecting my CC Lee F-20 kit, I changed my plans and decided to turn the CC Lee kit into the nr.1 aircraft and turn the abandoned third LS kit into another nr.3 aircraft in its final 'Big Nose' guise.

This page is split into four build reports:


Aircraft Nr.1

For this model I decided to use the CC Lee kit.
The CC Lee kit is a decent clone of the LS kit: sprues differ, recessed panel lines are a bit softer and some small details are missing, but otherwise the kit matches the LS kit so well that parts of one kit will fit the other one perfectly.
Over the years CC Lee kits came with either self-adhesive stickers, decals with a wrong font type for 'F-20' and 'F-20 Tigershark' texts or improved decals with correct fonts. You may also find a combination of either decal or sticker sets in one kit.
For the red/white scheme I won't be needing any of the kit decals anyway.


Some general changes need to be made:


The fuselage of the Nr.1 airframe differs from the others in a number of ways:

For a 1/144 F-5E forward fuselage section there is a choice of two kits: a Dragon F-5E or a Revell (G) F-5E.
The Dragon kit comes with a separate forward fuselage to allow for an F-5F dual, however the cross-sections of the Dragon nose and the LS F-20 fuselage are a poor match.
The Revell F-5E kit matches the cross section of the F-20 better but there the nose needs to be cut off of the fuselage.
I picked a Revell F-5E 'Patrouille Suisse' kit (cat nr.04003) for a donor.


For first F-20 the spectacular red/white roll-out scheme is an obvious choice.
Fortunately I managed to find a nice set of 1/144 scale F-20 decals made by TripleNuts ("F-20/F-5E/F Vol.1", which includes a set of stripes for the red/white color scheme of the nr.1 aircraft.

The red used for this scheme appears to be Insignia Red, I could not find any details on the exact paint color used.

Paints (to be) used
fuselage, overallWhiteTamiya Acrylic XF-2 Flat White
RedPactra Acrylic A-7 Insignia Red
cockpit interior and seat frameFS.26321Pactra Acrylic A38 Dark Gull Gray
seat cushionsRedHumbrol H-60 Matt Scarlet

Aircraft Nr.2


LS F-20 nr.2 Construction of this kit was straightforward, no additional changes need to be made, aside from:

I fitted just the Sidewinder missiles from the kit to the wing tip rails, no pylons nor stores.


The recesses in the fuselage sides for the wing center section had to be trimmed to make it fit flush with the lower side.
The joins between the intakes and the fuselage and between the wing center section and the lower fuselage needed some filler.


Aircraft Nr.2 initially flew in the camouflage gray scheme. For the 1984 World Tour it was repainted in the gloss Ascot Gray scheme.
The kit decals are accurate for Nr.2 in camouflage gray. This scheme uses the same colors as the early F/A-18 color scheme, with registration and anti-glare panel painted in FS.35237.
I decided to paint the anti-glare panel on the nose by hand instead of using the kit decal and mixed some Polly S paint to match the decals.

Paints used
fuselage, upperFS.36375Tamiya mix XF-19 Matt Sky Gray w XF-2 Matt White
fuselage, lowerFS.36495Tamiya mix XF-19 Matt Sky Gray w XF-2 Matt White
radomeFS.36320Tamiya mix XF-19 Matt Sky Gray w XF-2 Matt White
anti-glare panelFS.35237Polly S paint mixed to match decals
cockpit interiorFS.26321Pactra Acrylic A38 Dark Gull Gray
seat cushionsRedHumbrol H-60 Matt Scarlet

Aircraft Nr.3


LS F-20 in progress Construction of this kit is straightforward, no additional changes need to be made, aside from those listed above and:

I am considering fitting two auxiliary 275gal fuel tanks to the inboard wing pylons to represent the aircraft as it traveled to and from air shows.
The F-20 kits only contain a single 275gal fuel tank each but fortunately I have stores of multiple kits.
'Plan B' would be to fit a pair of scratch-built 'Smokewinders' to the wing tip rails instead.


Aircraft Nr.3 only ever flew in the gloss metallic gray scheme.
The gloss metallic gray paint used was an automotive lacquer but sources disagree on the exact color used: some mention "1983 Mercedes Benz Anthrazitgrau Metallic 172" , but the Paul Metz book and others (including the painting guide in the 1/48 Monogram F-20 kit) mention BMW Ascot Gray ("1981 BMW Ascotgrau Metallic 151") , a true gray gun-metal shade.
For the gloss metallic gray scheme the civilian registration numbers and tail fin tip appear to have been painted in FS.36270, the radome was either FS.36270 or gloss black and a flat black glare patch was painted on the nose.
At the time of the 1985 Paris Salon air show the aircraft had just received a fresh coat of paint, the radome was also painted Ascot Gray and no black glare patch was applied.

Paints (to be) used
fuselage, overallBMW Ascotgrau 151Tamiya mix LP-19/LP-20 Gloss (Light) Gun Metal (Motip 70-0230)
tail fin tip and radomeFS.36270
cockpit interior and seatFS.26321Pactra Acrylic A38 Dark Gull Gray
seat cushionsRedHumbrol H-60 Matt Scarlet

Aircraft Nr.3, Big Nose

Finding out about this version was one of the many surprising facts I found when reading the 'Northrop F-20 Tigershark' book by Paul Metz.
If you look closely at the Nr.3 aircraft as it is displayed at the California Science Center you may notice that the nose contours look a bit odd and the gun bay access doors extend further down (plus the engine nozzle is missing).
Right before the F-20 program got canceled, Nr.3 received a 'nose job': it was found that the AN/APG-67 radar set would perform much better with a larger antenna, to fit this larger antenna the nose had to be made slightly deeper and wider.
Aircraft Nr.3 was fitted with the new larger nose section for aerodynamic testing, aircraft Nr.4 was to receive the complete enhanced radar set as well but was never completed.


LS F-20 cut up for F-5 conversion Long ago I had started to convert the fuselage to an F-5 by cutting down the rear.
Now that I want to turn it back into an F-20 I need to undo the changes by grafting parts of the rear fuselage of the Airfix/Trumpeter kit onto the LS fuselage halves.
Apart from that some general and specific changes need to be made:


The bigger nose section was made both deeper and wider by reducing the taper of the nose, an entirely new radome was fitted.

Before reshaping the nose section the rear fuselage needs to be restored.
When I attempted to turn the F-20 kit into an F-5, I started by cutting down the rear fuselage and cutting back the wingroot leading edge extensions before abandoning the conversion.
It would be easier to use the rear fuselage of the Trumpeter kit than to restore the modified LS fuselage, however the Trumpeter plastic is thin and the shape of the rear fuselage is off, so that won't work.
LS F-20 repairing fuselage with wedge out of sprue Instead I cut some wedges out of sprue and inserted one in each of the fuselage sides. I left a 'T'-shaped ridge at the inside of each wedge to fit against the insides of the fuselage.
Before gluing the wedges in place I sanded the yellowed traces of glue off of the mating surfaces as these were not responding to glue, I also chipped off any old filler as that had turned brittle.

LS F-20 wedges fitted After fitting the wedges I heat-stretched some sprue and used that to fill any gaps.
LS F-20 restoring rear fuselage First step in restoring the rear fuselage is adding a missing piece to the gap in the top.
I used half of a Hasegawa 1/24 F-104G ( wing fuel tank (part nr.B19) as its center section has the exact same diameter as the rear F-20 fuselage.
I trimmed both the cutout in the F-20 fuselage and the replacement part until an exact fit was achieved. I left a small section of the tank protruding behind the fuselage to help with alignment.
The forward section of this fuel tank has about the right amount of taper to be used for replacing the F-20 spine, I already cut out the section that matches the shape of the spine best.

The shape of the nose section of the Airfix kit is off for a regular F-20 but it might work for the big nose, however the plastic is not thick enough to sand the nose down.


Identical to the Nr.3 aircrafts usual gloss metallic gray scheme, apart from having no more 'F-20 Tigershark' text on the revised nose and the civilian registration now painted in flat black.
For the gloss metallic gray scheme the tail fin tip appears to have been painted in FS.36270, the radome was FS.36320 and a flat black glare patch was painted on the nose.

Paints (to be) used
fuselage, overallBMW Ascotgrau 151Tamiya mix LP-19/LP-20 Gloss (Light) Gun Metal (Motip 70-0230)
tail fin tipFS.36270
cockpit interior and seatFS.26321Pactra Acrylic A38 Dark Gull Gray
seat cushionsRedHumbrol H-60 Matt Scarlet

Trumpeter and LS F-20 kits compared

Some pictures of the main parts of both kits compared show why I consider the Airfix/Trumpeter kit to be a poor LS copy.
The sprue layout and the way the Trumpeter model is split into separate parts is almost identical to the LS kit, too close to be an original design IMHO.
The white model in the pictures is the Trumpeter kit, the gray one is the original LS kit. I did not bother adding the intakes to the Trumpeter kit as those only make it look worse.
LS and Trumpeter F-20 compared, side view
LS and Trumpeter F-20 compared, lower side
LS and Trumpeter F-20 compared, top view
The most obvious faults of the Trumpeter kit summarized:

LS and Trumpeter F-20 canopies compared The Trumpeter kits canopy (at top and left in the picture) deserves a special mention as it is too large in all dimensions and the rake of the windshield is too steep, making it look more like a WW2 fighter canopy.

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