The F-5 is a lightweight, easy-to-fly, simple-to-maintain, and (relatively) cheap supersonic fighter. In configuration the F-5 is a low-wing monoplane equipped with an all-moving horizontal tall mounted in the low position, the fuselage is carefully contoured in accordance with the transonic area rule. Small side-mounted inlets supply air for the two General Electric J85 afterburning turbojet engines. The 4.8-percent-thick wing has 24 sweepback at the quarter chord line. The wing trailing edge is nearly straight, giving a trapezoidal shape to the planform. Lateral control is provided by small ailerons located near midsemispan, single-slotted high-lift flaps extend from the inboard end of the ailerons to the sides of the fuselage. Leading-edge flaps are used to improve maneuvering performance. (These flaps are not incorporated in the wings of the T-38.) Speed brakes are mounted on the bottom of the fuselage. Turning performance is enhanced by an aileron-rudder interconnect system, and handling characteristics are improved by artificial damping about the pitch and yaw axes. The F-5 is reported to have good handling characteristics and, in contrast with the F-4, does not have a propensity for entering unintentional spins.
It was utilized by the USAF during the Vietnam War in a strike fighter role. It soon became very popular with other nations and still flies with many foriegn air arms.