I’m sure you all know by now that I have an enduring enthusiasm for and interest in aviation, military aircraft in particular. Planes captivated me way back when I was a kid, and that love has stayed with me. Even after working at the airport in the air freight biz for more than 22 years, I have never yet tired of seeing the things take off and land, and to this day will watch them doing it every single chance I get.
As much I’ve studied them over the years, there remains plenty I don’t know about the wondrous machines, and I ran across one example of that shortfall here: a 50s-era jet built by Republic, the F84F Thunderstreak and its variants. I’d never heard of the danged thing at all, which is actually not too much of a shock since for some reason my interest in roughly Korean-War-era jets pretty much begins and ends with one of my all-time favorites: the beautiful and formidable F86 Saber, one of the most wildly successful fighters ever built by anybody.
So I see this Thunderstreak mentioned peripherally in the above-linked ONT post and naturally Googled it right away, my curiosity piqued. As it happens, my prior lack of any awareness of this thing’s existence can be attributed to more than just my general lack of knowledge of aircraft from that era; the thing was a turkey, a near-complete failure, and was abandoned in relatively short order as these things go. It was a disaster right from the git-go. To wit:
Production quickly ran into problems. Although tooling commonality with the Thunderjet was supposed to be 55 percent, in reality only fifteen percent of tools could be reused. To make matters worse, the F-84F utilized press-forged wing spars and ribs. At the time, only three presses in the United States could manufacture these, and priority was given to the Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber over the F-84. The YJ65-W-1 engine was considered obsolete and the improved J65-W-3 did not become available until 1954. When the first production F-84F finally flew on 22 November 1952, it differed from the service test aircraft. It had a different canopy which opened up and back instead of sliding to the rear, as well as airbrakes on the sides of the fuselage instead of the bottom of the aircraft. The aircraft was considered not ready for operational deployment due to control and stability problems. The first 275 aircraft, equipped with conventional stabilizer-elevator tailplanes, suffered from accelerated stall pitch-up and poor turning ability at combat speeds.
Um. Well, okay, so there were some early bugs; these things happen in the military aviation field, certainly. But they usually get ’em worked out, right? Design flaws, production problems—these things can be and are addressed and corrected fairly promptly as and when they crop up, right? Resulting eventually in an at least serviceable and useful platform, sometimes even going on to excel in a role quite different from the one envisioned in the original concept. Right?
The Thunderstreak suffered from the same poor takeoff performance as the straight-wing Thunderjet despite having a more powerful engine. In reality, almost 700 pounds-force (3.11 kN) or ten percent of total thrust was lost because the J65 was installed at an angle and its exhaust had a prominent kink. On a hot day, 7,500 feet (2,285 m) of runway were required for takeoff roll. A typical takeoff speed was 160 knots (185 mph, 300 km/h). Like the Thunderjet, the Thunderstreak excelled at cruise and had predictable handling characteristics within its performance envelope. Like its predecessor, it also suffered from accelerated stall pitch-up and potential resulting separation of wings from the airplane. In addition, spins in the F-84F were practically unrecoverable and ejection was the only recourse below 10,000 feet (3,000 m).
Aw, dammit. But still, the thing couldn’t have been a total botch, could it? A wholly irredeemable comedy of errors, a curse, justly loathed by all those unfortunate to be tainted by even passing association with the whole mess? Especially not coming from as experienced and competent a manufacturer as Republic, the creators of some truly outstanding planes over many years, the P47 Thunderbolt and the venerable, remarkable, and much-loved A10 Thunderbolt II among ’em. In fact, Republic is still around today, kinda sorta. Not as an independent company anymore, having been bought by Fairchild in 1965, who retained Republic’s naming convention with the A10. There’s also a museum on Republic’s old Long Island factory site, including a still-airworthy P47, bless their hearts.
But back to the F84F. Was it in truth a complete and total failure, an unpolishable turd of an airplane? Does its pitiable legacy consist entirely of being absolutely no use to anyone for anything besides killing pilots, auguring into the ground, vanishing into a blinding fireball, or unexpectedly flying apart on the rare occasions it was actually capable of flight under its own power?
Project Run In completed operational tests in November 1954 and found the aircraft to be to USAF satisfaction and considerably better than the F-84G. However, ongoing engine failures resulted in the entire fleet being grounded in early 1955. Also, the J65 engine continued to suffer from flameouts when flying through heavy rain or snow. As the result of the problems, the active duty phaseout began almost as soon as the F-84F entered service in 1954, and was completed by 1958. Increased tensions in Germany associated with construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 resulted in reactivation of the F-84F fleet. In 1962, the fleet was grounded due to the corrosion of control rods. A total of 1,800 man hours were expended to bring each aircraft to full operational capacity. Stress corrosion eventually forced the retirement of ANG F-84Fs in 1971.
Well, that’s depressing. But wait!
On 9 March 1955, Lt. Col. Robert R. Scott, in a F-84F Thunderstreak, set a three-hour, 44-minute and 53-second record for the 2,446 mile flight from Los Angeles to New York.
Alright then, that’s cool.
With the appearance of the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, which also used wing-root mounted air intakes, the Thunderstreak became known as the Thud’s Mother. The earlier F-84A had been nicknamed the “Hog” and the F-84F “Super Hog,” the F-105 becoming the “Ultra Hog”.
The F105, of course, was a highly capable and successful aircraft, used pretty extensively in Vietnam and other places in various roles.
In what is probably one of the very few air-to-air engagements involving the F-84F, two Turkish Air Force F-84F Thunderstreaks shot down two Iraqi Il-28 Beagle bombers that crossed the Turkish border by mistake during a bombing operation against Iraqi Kurdish insurgents. This engagement took place on 16 August 1962.
Hm. Well, it ain’t a hell of a lot, but I’ll take it, I guess. It does ease the miasma of depression enveloping this stinking pile’s history somewhat.
The F-84F was retired from active service in 1964, and replaced by the North American F-100 Super Sabre.
NOW you’re talking. The Super Sabre, as it happens, is another of my all-time faves (despite serious problems of its own, resulting in a pretty short operational lifespan), which lends the sad saga of the hapless Thunderchump a little luster by association, at least. Rest in peace, poor thing. Or pieces, more like.