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Republic F-84 Thunderjet fighter-bomber

Written by Sakhal

The Republic F-84 Thunderjet, which would provide to many air forces of the NATO their initial experience with turbojet aircraft, started its life in the summer 1944, when the project team from the Republic Aviation studied the possibility of adapting the fuselage of the piston-engine fighter P-47 Thunderbolt to have installed a turbojet engine. It was seen that this was not viable and, in November 1944, it was started the design of a completely new fuselage for housing the axial-flow turbojet engine General Electric Allison J35. In December 1945 it was completed the first of the three prototypes XP-84, which performed its first flight the 28th February 1946. After the three prototypes came 15 aircraft YP-84 for the USAAF; delivered in the spring 1947, they became later the standard aircraft F-84B. This one was the first series model, characterized by an ejection seat, six 12.7-millimeter machine guns and pylons for carrying rockets under the wings. In the summer 1947 started the delivery of the F-84B to the 14th Fighter Group, being built 226 aircraft.

The F-84C, of which 191 exemplars were built, was externally similar to the F-84B, but incorporated improved electrical system and bomb launching mechanisms. The following version, which appeared in November 1948, was the F-84D, which had reinforced wings and modified fuel system. In May 1949 appeared the F-84E which could carry two 1000 pounds (453.5 kilograms) bombs, two 298 millimeters rockets or 32 127-millimeter rockets. From 1st February 1950, the 27th Fighter Group based in Bergstrom was denominated 27th Fighter Escort Wing and, shortly after, it started to be equipped with the F-84E. The 16th July the SAC (Strategic Air Command) assumed also the command of the 31st Fighter Escort Wing - composed of the 307th, 308th and 309th squadrons - based in Turner, Georgia, equipping it with aircraft F-84B and F-84C. The third unit of Thunderjet aircraft that was assigned to the SAC was the 12th Fighter Escort Wing, activated in the airbase at Turner the 1st November 1950, later transferring their F-84E to Bergstrom the 5th December. In September and October 1950, the 27th Fighter Escort Wing carried a large-scale reinforcement operation named Fox Able Three, in which 180 Thunderjet were transported from United States to Germany.

That large operation eclipsed a shorter but very important transatlantic flight realized the 22nd September 1950. Two Thunderjets from the 31st Fighter Escort Wing, named EF-84E, specially modified with a flight refueling equipment, reached the RAF base at Manston, Kent; later they departed in an attempt of transatlantic flight without stopovers, refueling thrice from tanker aircraft KB-29. The first aircraft, manned by Colonel David Schilling, landed in Limestone, Maine, after a ten hours and ten minutes flight, while the second aircraft, manned by Lieutenant Colonel William Ritchie, had to land in Terranova due to an engine failure. Later the 31st Fighter Escort Wing would be the pioneer of the serial nonstop flights over the Atlantic and the Pacific, refueling during flight. In the late 1950 the three fighter wings of the SAC were equipped with the F-84E, with 167 aircraft in the inventory; but in 1952 this model started to be replaced by the F-84G, the first version of the Thunderjet fitted with flight refueling equipment as standard equipment. The Tunderjet was as well the first fighter in the USAAF in having nuclear tactical capability; the development of nuclear armament had evolved much in United States after 1950 and the nuclear weapon Mk 7 carried by the F84-G, despite being still voluminous, weighed less than 2000 pounds (907 kilograms). The 1st July 1952 it was activated in the base at Turner a fourth fighter escort wing, the 508th Fighter Escort Wing - composed of the 466th, 467th and 468th squadrons -; at the end of the year, the SAC had under its command about 230 Thunderjet.

The Thunderjet in the Korean War

The 23rd October 1951, known as the "Black Tuesday", the expert pilots of the MiG-15 from the 324th and 303rd Air Divisions, were close to give an end to the American efforts of strategic bombing over North Korea. At 9 AM, eight B-29 bombers from the 307th Bomber Wing together with 55 Thunderjet from the 49th and 136th wings departed towards the airfield at Namsi. Ahead and above, cover was given by 34 interceptors F-86 Sabre from the 4th Fighter Wing. Suddenly, at 9:15, a large formation of MiG-15 - allegedly about a hundred - attacked the American formation. The F-86, numerically inferior, were fighting for survival, in a combat in which two MiG-15 were shot down. But at the same time, about 50 MiG-15 approached the B-29 bombers and the Thunderjet, surrounding them in an attempt to lure the F-86. But these refused to fall into the trap and, after a while, the MiG-15, coming from all directions, started to attack. Benefiting from their superior agility, the MiG-15 passed within the escorting F-84, attacking the B-29 in several passades. Two B-29 fell quickly after launching their bombs; a third one, set ablaze, performed a vacillating flight towards the coast, where the crew parachuted, with the exception of the pilot, Captain Thomas L. Shield, who sacrificed his life to keep the damaged bomber in flight until the rest of the crew could be safe. Also one of the Thunderjet was lost in this mission. It was claimed the downing of four MiG-15, three by the machine guns of the B-29 and one by a Thunderjet. Of the surviving bombers, all but one suffered damages, having to perform emergency landings in Korea and Japan, with dead and wounded aboard. That had been the darkest day of the Bomber Command since the beginning of the war. Albeit the report about the mission praised the efforts of the F-84, it was stated that onwards the bombers could not be protected with less than 150 F-86. Projected in origin as an escort fighter, a role in which it could not compete against the MiG-15, the F-84 however demonstrated in Korea to be an excellent ground attack aircraft.

Republic F-84 Thunderjet fighter-bomber

Republic F-84E Thunderjet (number 49-2424) from the 9th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 49th Fighter-Bomber Wing/Group, taking off for a mission in Korea. This aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery on 29 August 1952.

The total number of units built of the Thunderjet exceeded 7500, being United States the main operator, having in the ranks of the USAAF 226 F-84B, 191 F-84C, 154 F-84D, 743 F-84E and 789 F-84G. Obviously, the Thunderjet served as well in many foreign countries: Belgium (213 F-84G and 21 R/F-84E), Denmark (238 F-84G and 6 F-84E), France (270 R/F-84G and 46 F-84E), Greece (234 R/F-84G), Iran (31 F-84G), Italy (254 F-84G), Netherlands (166 F-84G and 21 R/F-84E), Norway (206 F-84G, 6 F-84E and 35 RF-84F), Portugal (125 F-84G), Taiwan (246 F-84G), Thailand (31 F-84G) and Yugoslavia (231 R/F-84G). The versions starting by R denote aircraft fitted for reconnaissance, R/F meaning either RF or F.

Republic F-84 Thunderjet fighter-bomber

Republic F-84G Thunderjet (FAP-5128) from the 93rd Squadron of the Portuguese Air Force, serving in Luanda, Angola, in the early 1960s, during the Portuguese Colonial War.

Specifications for F-84G

Type: Fighter-bomber

Propulsion plant: One Allison J35-A-29 with 2542 kilograms of thrust

Maximum speed: 973 kilometers/hour

Initial climbing rate: 1150 meters/minute

Service ceiling: 12350 meters

Operational range: 1600 kilometers

Weight (empty): 5200 kilograms

Weight (full load): 10590 kilograms

Wingspan: 11.05 meters

Lenght: 11.70 meters

Height: 3.90 meters

Wing area: 24 square meters

Armament: Six Browning M3 12.7-millimeter machine guns; an external load of bombs of up to 1814 kilograms

The Thunderstreak

One of the biggest successes emerged from the Korean War was indeed the F-84 Thunderjet which, albeit not being a true enemy in combat for the MiG-15, resulted an excellent ground-strike aircraft. The Thunderjet constituted the bulk of the ground-strike aircraft of the NATO during that tense period; after it, it entered service an equally effective model: the F-84F Thunderstreak, swept- winged variant of the F-84 Thunderjet. The 3rd June 1950 and only 167 days after being ordered its production, it flew for the first time the prototype XF-84F, which reused about a 60 percent of the components of the original F-84. Propelled by a turbojet engine Allison J35-A-25, in the trials it was seen that the aircraft was short in propulsion power. This was an engine of American manufacture but derived from the British model Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. But the American version suffered no little, and a good amount of time had to pass before the Thunderstreak could enter service. During the flight test of the first series model at Edwards Airbase, technicians and pilots were unanimous in their unfavorable impressions about the engine - which was given a general revision every 25 hours, if not less - and the aircraft - which was named with "beautiful" adjectives such as "Pig" or "Lead plate".

Had it not been for the outbreak of the Korean War, which caused the urgent financing of projects for combat aircraft, most probably the F-84F would have been abandoned. But the project was modified to equip a more powerful engine, the Wright J65, which was a licensed version of the Bristol Siddeley Sapphire. With this configuration, the F-84F flew for the first time the 22nd November 1951. The first series aircraft flew the 22nd november 1952 and the USAF accepted them the following month. The first unit in the USAF equipped with this model, in 1954, was the 407th Tactical Fighter Wing. In the end the problems had been overcome, and the F-84F gave good proof of itself in the tactical aviation of United States and many other countries, being produced 2713 exemplars. The reconnaissance version RF-84F, of which 715 units were built, had an elongated nose and air intakes in the attachment of the wings. The Thunderstreak replaced the Thunderjet in several air forces of the NATO, providing to many European pilots their first experiences with modern swept-winged aircraft. In the French Air Force the F-84F entered action during the Anglo-French operation to seize the Suez Canal, that had been closed by order of Egyptian president Nasser. The 3rd November 1956, in a spectacular mission, 20 aircraft from the 1st Squadron that operated from Lod, in Israel, attacked the airbase at Luxor, deeply in Egypt, neutralizing 18 turbojet bombers Ilyushin Il-28 with their cannons. These aircraft had been evacuated from another airfields in the north of Egypt, which were suffering strong attacks from British and French fighter-bombers.

Republic F-84 Thunderjet fighter-bomber

Republic F-84F Thunderstreak 559470 FS-470 from the US Air Force.

Specifications for F-84F

Type: Fighter-bomber

Propulsion plant: One Wright J65-W-3 with 3275 kilograms of thrust

Maximum speed at sea level: 1118 kilometers/hour

Maximum speed at an altitude of 6100 meters: 1059 kilometers/hour

Initial climbing rate: 2500 meters/minute

Service ceiling: 14000 meters

Operational range: 1300 kilometers (with external tanks)

Weight (empty): 6270 kilograms

Weight (full load): 12700 kilograms

Wingspan: 10.24 meters

Lenght: 13.23 meters

Height: 4.38 meters

Wing area: 30.19 square meters

Armament: Six Browning M3 12.7-millimeter machine guns; an external load of bombs of up to 2722 kilograms

Article updated: 2015-07-17

Categories: Aircraft - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-11-18

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