Nimble, Sleek, But Almost Useless? – The Story of the Canadian CF-5

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The Canadian CF-5 Freedom Fighter is Canada’s first multi-role fighter. It was also the last of the long line of military aircraft to be built in Canada. 


A removable refueling probe was added to the right side of the plane’s cockpit, allowing it to extend its range using tanker aircraft. A two-position nose gear was also added to address the need for battlefield mobility. 

It was also fitted with retractable air intake screens, additional armor, and a strengthened windshield for added protection against bird strikes. 

Development History

The first CF-5 was rolled out on February 6, 1968. Meanwhile, the first flight was on May 6, 1968. The new fighter’s official designation was the CF-116 Freedom Fighter, but it almost went by its popular name, the CF-5.

Initial Role

Initially, the role of the CF-5 was to act as a rapid deployment force supporting Norway in case of a Soviet invasion. 

The first European deployment with the aid of air-to-air refueling happened in 1973. The CF-5s involved in this role were routinely carrying CRV7 rockets, British BL755 cluster bombs, and American Mk 20 Rockeye bombs in the ground attack role. 

Upgraded Versions

The first upgraded CF-5 took its maiden flight on June 14, 1991. However fearing more cuts and waiting to maintain new fighters, the Canadian Armed Forces halted the upgrade program and retire all remaining airframes from service. 


In June 1995, 419 Squadron was disbanded. All the remaining CF-5 airframes were then put in storage awaiting sales to foreign customers or used for maintenance training. Over the years, Canada tried to sell much of their CF-5 fleet to other countries like Venezuela, and Botswana.