You are on page 1of 7

AIRCRAFT PROFILE IRIAF Saeghe (Thunderbolt)

Storm Wa r
Irans

ran converted a handful of


Iranian F-5E and Azarakhsh
(Lightning) fighters to become
Saeghes (Thunderbolts) between
2001 and 2015. They are now
in operational service with the
IRIAF at the 2nd Tactical Fighter
Base (TFB 2) in Tabriz.
While IRIAF and Iranian
defence ministry officials have
always claimed the Saeghe is
the result of entirely indigenous
manufacture, the truth behind
the story is very different.

Background
Main image: Saeghe 3-7368 lifts off from Tactical Air Base (TAB) 2 at Tabriz on April 6. All six aircraft of the 23rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) now wear a modified Asia Minor II camouflage. The aircraft were painted prior to flying a
five-ship formation at Irans Military Day parade on April 18. Bagher Zarif
Above: The fifth production Saeghe, 3-7370, taxies towards the main runway at Shahin Shar Airport during its handover
ceremony. The aircraft delivered to the 23rd TFS is still wearing this blue and yellow paint scheme. Amir Naderi

84 JUNE 2015 #327

In the early 1990s the Owj Industrial


Complex was working on the
Azarakhsh programme and SR.II.
The former referred to F-5Es that
were restored or had their airframes
manufactured by Owj, while the SR.II

www.airforcesmonthly.com

Only ex-Vietnamese and several


battle-damaged F-5Es were
available for the Owj plan

a rning
was a Sino-Iranian design intended
to modernise the F-5E. At the same
time, Owj began studies for an F-5E
aerodynamic upgrade programme.
Meanwhile two of Irans most
accomplished aerospace
engineers, including Yaghoub
Entesari, were working on the
Ya-Hossein project to produce an
advanced jet trainer. The pair then
began research studies for the F-5E
aerodynamic upgrade consisting
of changes to the flying surfaces of
the single-seat version: the most
significant was the introduction
of a twin vertical stabiliser.
Experts and engineers from
the IRIAFs Sattari Air University
helped Owj to design a new
flight control system for the
programme in a scheme later
named Saeghe-80 the research

www.airforcesdaily.com

and development phase for which


had begun by the mid-1990s.
The project made only slow
progress in the 1990s. Based
on original plans, it was expected
that it would be completed
before 2001, but due to poor
management and a lack of basic
equipment, such as a wind tunnel,
it suffered delays. A design
team of eight young engineers
and students were meanwhile
working alongside the two highly
experienced aerospace engineers.
Because of the IRIAFs inability
to procure aerospace alloys
from outside Iran, the Defence
Industries Organisation was
tasked to provide Owj with the
required materials. Additional
components were designed
and manufactured with the

The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force


(IRIAF) is the operator of a unique version
of the Northrop F-5 Tiger II, the Saeghe
(Thunderbolt), externally distinguished by its
twin tailfins. Babak Taghvaee sheds light on
the second life of the F-5 in Iranian service.

help of private contractors.


The IRIAFs Deputy of Operations
granted permission for Owj to use
an operational F-5E Azarakhsh,
serial 3-7301 (later 3-7366), to
assist the design. Beyond the
changes made to the vertical
stabiliser, Owj installed squared
engine air intakes in place of the
original curved type and designed
a new radome which led to
removal of the original pitot tube.
As a consequence of the
aerodynamic changes, it was
necessary to remove the wingtip
missile launchers and to
increase its g-limits, the aircrafts
weight was reduced as much as
possible by removing the AN/
APQ-153 fire control system, the
arrester hook, one of the two M39
cannon, the IFF and TACAN.

First flight

After more than 18 months of


modifications, the Saeghe was
prepared for ground tests. It
was painted light blue overall
and an Iranian flag was applied
on the nose section. A slogan
appeared on the aft section, based
on Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Khameneis slogan We Can.
With ground tests complete,
the test pilot prepared for a
maiden flight after performing
at least ten fast taxies on runway
29L of Mehrabad International
Airport. Finally, once the
flight control systems had
been properly calibrated, the
first flight was made at TFB 1
Mehrabad on February 7, 2004.
A chase plane (Azarakhsh
serial 3-7302) accompanied the

#327 JUNE 2015 85

AIRCRAFT PROFILE IRIAF Saeghe (Thunderbolt)


Saeghe during its 20-minute first
flight. Several months later it had
logged around six hours of flight
and left Tehran for the first time
during a navigation training sortie.
The Saeghe was flown to TFB 3
Noujeh (Shahrokhi) where it was
unveiled for Supreme Leader
Khamenei. After a test flight at
TFB 3 the jet was revealed by state
news media in June 2004. By now
it had the serial number S 110-001
(Seyyed Ali-001, a reference to the
name of the Supreme Leader).

An inefficient upgrade

After several months, operational


testing revealed that the changes
to S 110-001s nose and air
intakes actually had adverse effects
on the manoeuvrability, flight
characteristics and performance.
Similar to the SR.II project, in
2004, Owj was tasked to prepare
the second and third Saeghes. Two
F-5Es, serials 3-7302 and 3-7060
(c/n U1048), were allocated to the
programme. Unlike the first, these
two jets aerodynamic surfaces
were not altered. They received
the new serials S 110-002 and
S 110-003, and both took their
maiden flights in June 2007.
After several months of test
flights they were unveiled to
public two days before the
Holy Defence Week parade on
September 20, 2007. Two-seat
F-5F, serial 3-7174, of the 21st
Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS)
served as chase plane during
their test flights that summer.
Following the poor results of the
aerodynamic modifications made
to S 110-001, the second and
third Saeghes only received the
two vertical stabilisers. All three
aircraft were eventually painted in
colours inspired by the US Navys

Above: Brigadier General Barkhor (right), Brigadier Hatami, acting secretary


of the defence ministry (centre), and the designer of the Saeghe II unveil the
aircraft to the public at Mehrabad International Airport on February 9.
Below: The only Saeghe II produced so far, 3-7182 wears the markings of Tactical Air Base (TAB) 2 at Tabriz-Shaheed Fakouri on its fin. The trainer serves
alongside the single-seat Saeghe I of the 23rd TFS at Tabriz.

Without a twin-seat version of the


Saeghe, the training of future pilots
will be costly and difficult

86 JUNE 2015 #327

Blue Angels flight demonstration


squadron before their official
unveiling and participation in
the Holy Defence Week parade
on September 22, 2007.
The IRIAF had conducted an
exercise named Zarbat-e-Zulfiqar
(Strike of the Zulfiqar, after the
sword of Ali, first Imam of the
Shiites) in September 2006
during which four F-5Es and two
F-5Fs of the 21st TFS performed
dozens of rocket and bombing
missions using live and inert
weapons. The first Saeghe, S
110-001, flew four gunnery
training sorties in the exercise
and also attacked dummy targets
on the Shabestar gunnery range
using 76 2.75-inch (70mm)
rockets and four Mk 82 bombs.
One of three Saeghes detached to
IMAI airfield at Shahin Shahr in early
2009, 3-7368 was brought up to full
mission capability while conducting
training flights from the base.
All images Babak Taghvaee unless
stated

www.airforcesmonthly.com

Left: Waiting for an F-5F to depart Mehrabads main taxiway, Saeghe 3-7370
illustrates the clean wing design, devoid
of the usual wing-tip missile rails.
Mounted on the centreline is a drop
tank borrowed from the 21st TFS.
Right: With the handover of the fifth
Saeghe at Shahin Shahr Airport on
October 10, 2009 the four earlier
examples completed a flypast to
celebrate the occasion. Amir Naderi
Below: Seconds from touching down at
Mehrabad International Airport, Saeghe
3-7371, illustrates the dual angel-of-attack sensors; twin UHF/IFF and TACAN
antennas on the upper fuselage.

Throughout its sorties, the Saeghe


was chased by F-5F 3-7167 of
the 21st TFS. It also helped the
Saeghe locate Tabriz air base and
the Shabestar gunnery range,
since its AN/ARN-84(V) TACAN
has still not been installed.

A new manufacturer

Under the order of the Supreme


Leader, Iran Aircraft Manufacturing
Industrial (IAMI) Company (HESA)
continued both the Azarakhsh
and Saeghe projects, and all
the engineers and experts from
the Saeghe design bureau were
assigned to IAMI in spring 2006.
At the time, the IRIAFs test pilot
school was still cooperating with
Owj, and S 110-002 and S 110-003
were still under construction.

www.airforcesdaily.com

In 2003, Owj began work on the


third Azarakhsh, the previous two
having been delivered in 1998 and
2001. This was former Vietnam
Peoples Air Force F-5E 73-00873
(c/n R.1054). Owj began the
process of reproducing several
structural parts for the aircraft and
after several months and still
incomplete it was handed over to
IAMI (HESA) on August 10, 2006.
The aircraft was then completed
with the assistance of engineers
from Owj. It took its maiden
flight in June 2007 and was
unveiled to the public on August
6. The new serial number of the
third Azarakhsh was 3-7364.
Aeronautical engineer Hassan
Parvaneh, a supervisor on the
Azarakhsh and then the Saeghe

project at IAMI, produced a fake


image of 3-7364 using Adobe
Photoshop software on his own
computer. In the rendering, the
wings and intakes were modified,
making it appear similar to the
F/A-18 Hornet. The doctored
photo was then provided to
the Fars News agency and
appeared on the internet, where
it was described as depicting an
Azarakhsh. Parvanehs intentions
are not known, but his excuse
was that he hoped to deceive
Western intelligence services.
In September 2007, IAMI sent
3-7364 to Tehran for the Holy
Defence Week parade, together
with two SR.IIs, two F-5Fs and three
Saeghes. Project Saeghe was
handed over to IAMI in its entirety

in late 2007, in accordance with


Khameneis order and in line
with an agreement between the
defence ministry and the IRIAF.
Construction of a fourth Saeghe
began in August 2008 and was
completed in February 2009.
Aircraft 3-7364 served as the
basis for this jet before receiving
the new serial 3-7369. In April
2008 the serial numbers of
three previous Saeghes were
changed to 3-7366, 3-7367
and 3-7368 respectively.
The fifth and sixth Saeghes
were manufactured in 2009
and 2010 using stripped-down
cannibalised F-5E fuselages
supplied by Owj. The fifth, serial
3-7370, was delivered to the
IRIAF at a ceremony at Shahin

#327 JUNE 2015 87

AIRCRAFT PROFILE IRIAF Saeghe (Thunderbolt)

Shahr Airport on October 10, 2009.


Delivery of the sixth was delayed,
however, due to US sanctions that
reduced the availability of J85GE-21 engines and spare parts.
Finally, after three years,
the sixth Saeghe, serial
3-7371, was delivered to the
IRIAF in October 2012.

In service with
the 23rd TFS

Between January and March


2009, Owj detached the first three
Saeghes to the IAMI airfield at
Shahin Shahr, where two 3-7367
and 3-7368 were brought up
to fully mission capable (FMC)
condition and performed training
flights at the base. Meanwhile,
the fourth Saeghe, 3-7369,
conducted its test flights there too.
In April 2009 all four Saeghes
were sent to Tehran to participate
in Irans Military Day parade
on April 18 but, after the
event was cancelled due to bad

weather, they were detached


two days later to TFB 2 and put
in service by the 21st TFS.
Several weeks later the
IRIAFs deputy of operations
re-established the 23rd TFS as
the Saeghe operator, the fifth and
sixth aircraft joining the squadron
in 2009 and 2012 respectively.
With the exception of the first
Saeghe, 3-7366, the fighters were
now combat-ready and began
participating in the IRIAFs annual
air exercises and gunnery training.

A reconfigured 3-7366

With the inefficiency of the


aerodynamic modifications of the
first Saeghe soon realised, they were
not repeated during production
of the subsequent examples. In
2011 the IRIAF headquarters
tasked Owj to modify the first one,
3-7366, by returning it to its original
configuration and installing a new
boat tail with the latest standard
of twin vertical stabilisers. TFB 2

sent the aircraft to the Owj facility


for its intake and nose section to be
converted to their original shape.
The work was completed
in August 2013, and the
ARN-84 TACAN system finally
reinstalled, enabling pilots to fly
unaccompanied. In common
with the other five Saeghes, a
further TACAN and UHF/IFF
antennas were installed above the
fuselage just behind the canopy.
Installation of the new vertical
stabilisers and subsequently
the control system required
dozens of test flights prior to
handover to the squadron. With
no calibration system at Owj,
the test pilot was responsible for
checking the rudders functionality.
During test flights, 3-7154, an
F-5F from the 41st TFS, served
as chase plane, observing the
functionality of the rudders and
elevators. Finally, after seven test
flights at Mehrabad International
Airport in the space of two weeks,

the fighter was redelivered to the


23rd TFS on August 30, 2013.

Project 90

When studies for the Saeghe-80


project began in the late 1990s,
only ex-Vietnamese and several
battle-damaged F-5Es were
available for the Owj plan. Since
it was impossible to procure
additional F-5E/Fs from outside
Iran, the IRIAFs Deputy of
Operations refused to allow Owj to
use airworthy F-5s for its projects,
so the venture focused exclusively
on converting stripped-down
F-5Es to Saeghe standard.
The first, second and third
Saeghes-80s were produced by
Owj, and their test flights were
performed by five of its seven
test pilots, who had been trained
in the Owj test pilot school.
In December 2006, on the
orders of Ayatollah Khamenei,
research and development for all
Owj industrial projects, including

Above: Saeghes (left-to-right) 3-7369, 3-7367, 3-7368 and 3-7366 line up at Tehrans Mehrabad International Airport on April 20, 2009 for the flight to their new
home at TAB 2 at Tabriz-Shaheed Fakouri.

88 JUNE 2015 #327

www.airforcesmonthly.com

Instead of meeting the needs of the IRIAF, the Saeghe project is


propagandistic and does not represent a significant improvement in
the performance and combat capabilities of the air forces F-5E/Fs

Above: Armed with a dummy AIM-9J Sidewinder, a rocket pod and an Mk 82 bomb, 3-7369 was a former Vietnamese F-5E
that was repaired by Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, only to be modified further into Saeghe 3-7369.
Left: Still in their zinc chromate finish, the twin tails of 3-7366 are shown off to good effect as the Saeghe is towed
towards the paint shop of the 11th TFS in August 2013.

Thunderbolts on exercise
The IRIAF conducted an exercise
called Modafeane Harime Velayat
(Defenders of Velayats Territory)
at TFB 2 between October 17 and
22, 2008. Three Saeghes from
TFB 1 were among the participants,
their pilots practising rocketry and
bombing at the Shabestar gunnery
range. For the first time all three
Saeghes flew from Tehran and
Tabriz, using the ARN-84 TACAN
system installed in the lead aircraft.
The following year saw exercise Milade Noore Velayat (Birth of the Light
of Velayat) between June 23 and 26,
when once again three Saeghes (37366, 3-7367 and 3-7368) took part.
They were forward-deployed to TFB
10 at Konarak for the event.
In the first phase of the exercise,
the pilots practised using dummy
Mk 83 bombs and Zuni training rockets against the target. In
the second phase they practised
low-level bombing with Mk 82SE
retarded bombs. Owing to the

inferior work of the TFB 2 weapon


officers, the retarded bombs fins
failed to activate, causing the weapons to explode under the aircraft.
This led to the crash of an F-5F and
damaged the skin of a Saeghe flying
as wingman.
In September 2011 the IRIAFs
conducted another exercise at TFB
2 Modafeane Harime Velayat-3.
Seven tactical fighter bases
detached aircraft to participate.
Four Saeghes of the 23rd TFS were
among the 45 fighters involved in
the exercise, which ran from the
11th to the 15th of the month.
Exercise Modafeane Harime
Velayat-4 began at TFB 9 Bandar
Abbas on December 18, 2013,
with maritime attack training as its
primary objective. During the exercise TFB 2 deployed three Saeghes
(3-7366, 3-7369 and 3-7370), two
F-5Fs (3-7167 and 3-7169) and
an F-5E (3-7334) to TFB 9, which
lasted until December 21.

Azarakhsh, SR.II and Saeghe 80,


became the responsibility of IAMI
(HESA). Subsequently, the Owj test
pilot school was disbanded and
its single remaining Beechcraft
Bonanza was handed over the
IRIAFs Primary Flight Training
School at Kushk-Nosrat.
Between 2007 and 2009, two
of the five Saeghe test pilots were
promoted to higher ranks and
became officers of the IRIAFs HQ,
leaving just three. In 2008, two
F-5E test pilots from TFB 2 qualified
to fly the Saeghe in Tehran and
then at Shahin-Shahr increasing
the number to five once more.
Without a twin-seat version of
the Saeghe, the training of future
pilots will be costly and difficult.
When the first Saeghe squadron
was formed in 2009, the IRIAF HQ
became aware of the necessity of
a training version of the aircraft.
The flying characteristics of the
Saeghe-80 are similar to its
predecessor, the F-5E, but several

elements demand much greater


pilot attention. In particular, they
must be aware of the effects
of the control surfaces on the
aircrafts movement around
its longitudinal axis (roll axis),
especially banking at low speed.
In late 2009, the IRIAFs Owj
Complex defined a project named
Saeghe-90, later named Saeghe
II, which involved the installation
of the Saeghes twin vertical
stabilisers on the two-seat F-5F.

Saeghe II is born

IAMI/HESAs Saeghe design


bureau, which now consisted of
former engineers from Owj as
well as new staff, completed the
design of the Saeghe-90 project in
2011. Now they needed an F-5F
airframe to develop the idea.
While the IRIAFs HQ had
scheduled mass conversion of the
IRIAFs F-5Es to Saeghe standard
to begin in 2016, there were no
F-5Fs available except for an

Above: Twin-seat Saeghe 3-7182 pictured during the unveiling ceremony in the
northwest corner of Mehrabads International Airport, Tehran. The aircraft wore
a 23rd TFS camouflage scheme for the occasion. Reza Alavi
Left: A pair of Saeghes release Mk 82 Snake Eye retarded bombs over Shabestar gunnery range as part of Exercise Modafean Harim-E Velayat in 2011.

www.airforcesdaily.com

#327 JUNE 2015 89

AIRCRAFT PROFILE IRIAF Saeghe (Thunderbolt)


airframe in storage with Owj.
The jet, 3-7180 (c/n Z1027),
formerly of TFB 4 at Vahdati, had
suffered an accident on October
21, 2000 when, during an engine
run-up, one of the technicians
mistakenly jettisoned the cockpit
canopies. The aircrafts boat
tail and vertical and horizontal
stabilisers were damaged by the
falling canopies. The F-5F was
then withdrawn from service
and cannibalised for spares:
after three years no valuable
parts were left on the airframe.
In 2005, it was handed over
to Owj for restoration and the
airframe structure and skin
were repaired. But the lack of
some vital parts, including the
ejection seats which had been
destroyed in the accident, meant
the F-5F was left in storage.
IAMI experts spent two years
working on the main airframe.
Several hundred metres of
wiring were replaced and new
parts smuggled into Iran,
including avionic components,
installed. Meanwhile the new
V-shape tail section with its
twin vertical stabilisers was
designed and installed.
Several new NAVAIDS such as
ILS and TACAN were installed
alongside the old ARN-84 TACAN
system. Two Russian-made
K-36LT ejection seats were
installed similar to those used
in the F-5B Simorgh (Phoenix), a
conversion of the F-5A and RF-5A
to F-5B standard at IAMI/HESA
along with a new secure UHF radio
assembled by Iranian Electronic
Industries. Apart from these
new features, no changes were
made to the aircrafts systems.

Maiden flight

After a years delay caused by


difficulties in providing the required
spare parts in the face of sanctions,
the Saeghe II was finally prepared

Above: Surprisingly the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force based the Saeghes
early blue and yellow colour scheme on that of the US Navys Blue Angels
display team. Zare Zadeh

Saeghe In Service
Version

Serial No. Code

Delivery

Note

Saeghe

3-7366

S.110-001 n/a

C/N

Jun 2014

Former Azarakhsh
3-7301

Saeghe

3-7367

S.110-002 n/a

20 Sep 2007 Former Azarakhsh


3-7302

Saeghe

3-7368

S.110-003 U.1048 20 Sep 2007 Formerly the


3-7060

Saeghe

3-7369

n/a

Feb 2009

Saeghe

3-7370

n/a

10 Oct 2010

Saeghe

3-7371

n/a

Oct 2012

Saeghe-II 3-7182

Z.1027 9 Feb 2015

for ground tests at the IAMI facility


in Shahin-Shahr in December
2014. Following test flights in
January and February 2015 the
aircraft was prepared for delivery.
It was finally flown to Mehrabad
for an unveiling ceremony on
February 5, 2015. Painted in the
full Asian Minor II colour scheme
and wearing the serial 3-7182,
the Saeghe II was presented
to the public at a ceremony at
Mehrabad four days later. During
the event Brigadier Hatami, Acting
Secretary of the Iranian Ministry of

Former
Vietnamese F-5E

Formerly the
3-7180

Defence, Brigadier General Alireza


Barkhor, the deputy commander
of the IRIAF, and Brigadier
Manuchehr Manteghi, CEO of
the Iranian Aviation Industries
Organisation, spoke to the media
about their achievement.

A positive future?

After the IRIAF realised the twin


vertical stabilisers of the Saeghe
did not significantly improve the
aircrafts flight characteristics, it
decided to limit the concept to one
squadron consisting of 12 F-5E

Saeghes, now complemented


by the single F-5F Saeghe II.
In 2007 the defence ministry
and its IAMI/HESA company
were contracted to develop a
new avionics upgrade package
for the IRIAFs F-5E/F fleet.
However, only three more of the
original avionics packages were
acquired, and the programme
ground to a halt. Instead, IAMI
began work on the Sino-Iranian
SR.II project, which was
subsequently cancelled by the
IRIAF HQ in 2006 or 2007.
Instead of meeting the needs
of the IRIAF, the Saeghe project
is propagandistic and does
not represent a significant
improvement in the performance
and combat capabilities of the
air forces F-5E/Fs. As such,
the IRIAF has no intention to
deliver additional airworthy
and operational F-5E/Fs to
IAMI for modification.
Now, just 13 F-5Fs from a
total of 28 delivered under
the Peace Rush III Foreign
Military Sale programme are
still operational with the IRIAF.
It is not clear whether it will risk
modifying them under
afm
the Saeghe II venture.

The first Saeghe built, S.110-001, was fitted with an inverted F-5B nose cone, in order to test airframe aerodynamics. The prototype takes off from runway 29L
during the programmes unveiling ceremony on September 20, 2007. Amir Naderi

90 JUNE 2015 #327

www.airforcesmonthly.com