Apocalypse Now is one of the classic war movies. And the war in the movie wasn’t WW II, but that crazy foreign conflict known as the Vietnam War. One of the best scenes in the movie is when the crazy Colonel Kilgore (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning”) from the 1st Air Calvary division calls in an airstrike to silence Vietcong mortars.
The U.S. jets come screaming in over the jungle and drop canisters of napalm that explode into a giant fireball that creates an absolutely stunning visual. The aircraft that make the bombing run are Northrop F-5 Tigers. But the F-5′s in the movie are the wrong colour. The director of the movie, Francis Ford Coppola filmed the bombing run in the Philipines. When the film was made in 1979 the U.S. air force operated a huge base at Clark Airbase in the Philipines. The F-5 Tigers at Clark were painted white. During the Vietnam war the F-5 Skoshi Tigers the U.S. air force operated in Vietnam were painted in camouflage schemes.
The F-5′s from the movie
The F-5C was the designation given to the modified F-5A’s that were sent to Southeast Asia during the mid-60′s for the Skoshi Tiger program, a combat evaluation of the F-5 in Vietnam. The name is a corruption of “Sukoshi Tiger” (Japanese for “Little Tiger”). The Skoshi Tiger Program was originally known as the Sparrow Hawk Program. Project Sparrow Hawk at Eglin AFB, Florida had proven that the F-5 was a capable fighter-bomber. The primary modification from the F-5A was the addition of an in-flight refueling [IFR] probe to the F-5C.
After six months of combat the Air Force brass determined that the F-5 was very capable and requested that they remain in Vietnam as part of the build-up in 1966. The 4503rd TFS(P) was disbanded and re-organized as the 10th Fighter Commando Squadron. The F-5′s had done so well in combat that the Air Force delayed conversion of the F-5 into theSouth Vietnamese Air Force. In combat, the F-5 delivered thousands of tons of ordnance and rockets plus fired over 1.5 million rounds of 20mm ammunition. When compared to it’s closest rival, the F-100, the F-5 was found to be just as capable.
F-5 Skoshi Tigers in South Vietnam