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Kitbashing a 1/48 scale
Canadair CF-116 “CF-5”

by David Askett


Canadair CF-116


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The CF-116

Ignoring technical advice, the Canadian government announced in July of 1965 that the Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter would be Canada’s new tactical fighter.

This decision, driven largely by the low cost of the F-5A weapons system, stunned many members of the RCAF. The fighter would be built in Canada, but the programme would provide little technical value to a country that had designed and built the CF-100 Canuck and CF-105 Arrow, and had license produced the CF-104 Starfighter. The F-5’s range was woefully inadequate to defend a country the size of Canada, and its small warload would make it an inefficient close support aircraft. Nevertheless, the government stuck to its decision. Despite the unsuitability and ineffectiveness of the type, 89 CF-5As and 26 two-seat CF-5Ds would ultimately be produced for the Canadian Armed Forces, who largely regarded them as “toy” fighters.


Perhaps the CF-5s greatest contribution to the Canadian Forces came not from its abilities as an operational fighter-bomber, but later on in its life when it was pressed into service as an “aggressor” type to hone the skills of Canadian fighter pilots. There is no denying the fact that it performed this job very, very well.

The Model

This model is based on a mid-1980’s Italeri release of the old Testors / Hawk kit of the F-5A Freedom Fighter. While this kit is excellent from a shape and scale point of view, the absence of detail in the cockpit and wheel wells belies its age. Still, it makes an excellent basis for a model of this important type, and can often be picked up at swap-meets for just a few dollars.

For my model, I combined this kit with detail parts from a Monogram F-5E, plus a few aftermarket goodies.





The Cockpit

With a little bit of grinding, Black Box’s resin cockpit set intended for Monogram’s F-5E can be made to fit Italeri’s F-5A. Thoughtfully, BB provide the early-style of head box for the ejection seat, as appropriate for the CF-5. The F-5E’s radar scope will need to be removed from the center of the instrument panel, but otherwise this excellent cockpit set represents the CF-5s ‘pit very well.


After assembly, the cockpit components were painted Dark Gull Gray, given a wash of a darker gray, and then dry-brushed with a very light grey to bring out the detail before details were painted various colours to match reference photos.


With the cockpit painted and installed, the nosewheel bay from Monogram’s F-5E kit was grafted onto one fuselage half of the Italeri kit. The fuselage halves were then joined, using liquid glue. After this, assembly went quickly. The interiors of the engine air intakes were painted grey and black, then assembled and attached to the model.

The wings were added next. First, though, a little surgery. CF-5s on the ground seem to always have their leading and trailing edge flaps dropped slightly. To represent this, these were cut from the wings, sanded along with the rest of the wing to give realistic leading and trailing edge thicknesses, and reattached in the appropriate attitudes.

The tailplanes were also sanded down to reduce their thickness, and sharpen their trailing edges. I was careful not to remove the double row of rivets on their upper surfaces, though, as these are there on the real aircraft. Because of the fragile nature of their mounting pins, the tailplanes were set aside to be attached after painting and finishing.

The tiptanks, so characteristic of the CF-5, are resin copies of a master I made several years ago. Note the angle at which they are mounted, relative to the fuselage. This feature is sometimes missed in models of this aircraft.

The cannon ports on top of the nose were represented by plastic tube of the appropriate diameter, super glued into holes ground through the top of the fuselage parts. This sounds like a daunting job, but if care is taken with alignment it’s not too tricky. What’s more, if the results are less than satisfactory new holes can be opened up and the process repeated as necessary! After the model was finished, the cannon barrels themselves were represented by lengths of steel tube.

While I had out my bag of tube and the super glue, I replaced the pitot tube on the tip of the nose with telescoping sections of two different diameters of hypodermic needle tubing.


At this point, all the raised panel detail was removed from the model with 600-grit sandpaper and replaced with new, scribed panel lines. For this job, I used the back of an Xacto No.11 blade, a sharp needle chucked in an Xacto knife handle, and a Mastercraft “art knife blade”. I found these art knife blades at Canadian Tire, priced at about $2.00 for a set of ten (product #57-5079-0), but I’m sure there will be equivalent products available in other countries. The blade on the left side of the package (see photo above) works at least as well as an Olfa P-Cutter, but is less expensive and handier due to its smaller size.

Other Bits & Pieces

Landing gear – The nose wheel and leg for the nose gear came from a Mongram F-5E, with the torque link reversed, and a new yoke for the nose wheel built from scratch. Unfortunately, the F-5A’s main gear legs and wheels were totally different than the F-5E’s, so I was unable to use these goodies from Monogram’s kit. Thankfully, Italeri’s main wheels are accurately sized and shaped, and surprisingly well detailed. These were used together with improved main gear legs that were also based on the Italeri parts. All landing gear doors are from Monogram’s F-5E, as is the emergency arresting hook that was transplanted under the rear fuselage of my model.

Canopy – The windscreen and canopy hood are copies of the kit parts, vacuformed over the kit parts using ten-thou clear butyrate and a homemade vacuformer. Black Box’s resin detail fit perfectly into the inside of the new canopy hood, something that would have been impossible with the thick kit parts.

Refuelling probe – This was scratchbuilt to match photos, from plastic sheet and tube, and the tip of a refuelling probe from a Monogram F-104.



Painting, Markings and Finishing

After giving the model a thorough cleaning, the parts that were not to be painted were masked off with Tamiya tape and a coat of Mr. Surfacer 1000 was airbrushed over the model. This revealed the inevitable host of flaws that always seem to appear from nowhere when this primer is applied! Eventually, after repeated fill/sand/prime cycles, painting could begin. I decided to finish the model in an early version of the “Ghost” aggressor scheme and so custom-mixed Gunze acrylics to match samples I have of the necessary colours. These are FS595b 35237 Blue, 36251 Gray and 36307 Gray.


These colours were airbrushed free-hand over the model, working from lightest to darkest, with an Iwata HP-SB airbrush. When the paint had dried, a thin coat of Future was sprayed over the model. The decals are from Mike Grant’s CF-5 sheet, produced with an Alps printer, and I have to say I was impressed by them. They went on well, snuggled down nicely and, after another thin coat of Future over top, looked almost painted on.

Surface detail was brought out with a wash of dark grey watercolour before the model was sealed with Model Master clear matt acrylic. I generally don’t care for this clear flat, as I find it is very white and tends to lighten the colours on a model, but in this case it was exactly this effect that I wanted to produce, to give the model a slightly faded appearance.





This project would probably have been a lot simpler if I’d started with Classic Airframes’ F-5A kit. What can I say, I like fixing up old model kits! This one had been in my collection for years, and there’s nothing basically wrong with the kit. In fact, in some areas I prefer it to CA’s offering; the exhaust pipes, for example. All in all, this was a fun and satisfying model to build, and I’m reasonably happy with the results.



Main References


McIntyre, Bob: Canadian Profile #4 – Canadair CF-5. SMS Publishing, 1985.

Shaw, Robbie: Superbase 18: Cold Lake. Osprey Aerospace, 1990.



Additional Images


Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Model, Images and Text Copyright © 2005 by David Askett
Page Created 13 June, 2005
Last Updated 13 June, 2005

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