F-5B fighter jet at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson. Photo from Aeroprints.com | Wikimedia Commons
The plane that U.S. Sen. Martha McSally climbs into in a recent campaign ad is a former Norwegian Air Force jet that is now privately owned and is a model that hasn’t been used by the United States Air Force since the 1980s.
The ad, named “Your Fighter,” was released in late September and features McSally, the first woman in U.S. history to fly a fighter jet in combat, in a flight suit while speaking about her history becoming a fighter pilot as she gets into the cockpit of a fighter jet that has the words “United States Air Force” on it.
A press release about the ad says that the jet is privately owned and that the use of the images does not imply an endorsement by the Department of the Air Force or the Department of Defense. It also recognizes that the aircraft in question is not an A-10 Warthog, the aircraft McSally flew. No taxpayer money was used for the ad either, the release states.
The United States military can’t provide military equipment to politicians for their campaigns as it would be a violation of the Hatch Act, which restricts political activities by federal employees.
A spokeswoman for McSally said they did not have anything to add other than what was in the release about the ad.
The aircraft in question appears to be an F-5B, according to the Federal Aviation Administration registration which appears on the tail of the aircraft. The Air Force hasn’t used the F-5B since the 1980s. The aircraft also bears a striking similarity to the T-38, which was also used by the United States Air Force. There are still some in the boneyard, a preserve for unused aircraft in Tucson.
The aircraft is registered to Texas-based Aerospace Quality Research and Development, an aerospace and engineering firm that has fighter jet programs and also owns two Beechcraft Starships, of which there are only four that are airworthy in existence.
The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
The aircraft had a long journey before it reached Aerospace Quality Research and Development. The F-5 class of fighter jets were part of a project started in the 1950s by the Northrop Corporation to create small, compact fighter jets that were low-cost, low-maintenance and easy to produce so the U.S. could provide them to allied nations as the Cold War heated up.
The aircraft in McSally’s ad once belonged to Norway, a founding member of NATO. In the early 2000s a process began to start selling off some of the country’s F-5s, including the one in the ad.
Two eventually made their way to Texas and found their way into the hands of Texas billionaire Ross Perot Jr., the son of businessman and two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot, according to an internal audit report by the Norwegian Department of Defense.
Both the aircraft in question in the report appear to now be owned by Aerospace Quality Research and Development and not by Perot’s company, Northern General Leasing, which was used to buy the jets from Norway.
The purchases stirred controversy in Norway as the audit said that it was unclear if American fighter pilots would eventually use the jets, which was supposed to be a stipulation of the sale.
When auditors looked into Perot’s Northern General Leasing, they were unable to determine how it would benefit American fighter pilots.
“There is no information that the company is involved in research and development within defense related topics, as it is claimed in the application for sale,” the report says.
Perot himself has given large amounts of money to Republican causes, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has been running campaign ads on McSally’s behalf.
The Air Force stopped using the F-5B in the late 1980s and doesn’t have any in its inventory, spokeswoman Lt. Col. Malinda Singleton told the Arizona Mirror. Currently, the only U.S. military operator of F-5Bs is the Navy, which uses them primarily for training. The Chinese, South Korean and Iranian air forces still use the aircraft militarily.
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