Republic F-84 Thunderjet, Thunderstreak and Thunderflash

The Republic F-84 was a first-generation U.S. Air Force jet fighter that first flew February 26, 1946, and which saw progressive development, remaining in USAF service until 1971.  F-84s were purchased by several NATO countries, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal.  Outside of NATO, they were also flown by Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Yugoslavia.  Some of these foreign services used them until the early 1990s.

Notwithstanding its wide usage, the F-84 was never a popular or very well-regarded aircraft.  It was overbuilt, underpowered, not very clean aerodynamically, difficult to maintain and difficult to fly.  Early models experienced in-flight engine fires which cost the lives of some pilots.  In combat during the Korean War, it proved incapable of matching the MiG-15 in the air-to-air role and was assigned to ground attack duties, where at least the toughness coming from its overbuilt nature came in handy.

The F-84 was named the Thunderjet to capitalize on the reputation of Republic’s successful P-47 Thunderbolt, and inaugurated a tradition of giving Republic fighters names beginning with “thunder.”  The original F-84 and the F-84 A, B, C, E and G versions had an unswept wing which limited performance.  The F-84F was a redesign with a swept wing and a new name, Thunderstreak.  It was further developed into a photo-reconnaissance version, the RF-84F Thunderflash, with cameras in the nose and the jet air intakes relocated to the wing roots.  The swept-wing F-84s were too late to see combat in Korea and the aircraft saw very little combat in any service.

During the 1950s the U.S. Air Force became interested in the “parasite fighter” concept, in which some strategic bombers would be modified to carry escort fighters to protect the bomber formation, rather than a load of bombs.  One specific fighter, the F-85, was purpose-built to this concept, but the USAF also experimented with a special variant of the Thunderstreak, called the RF-84K.  These aircraft differed from standard F-84s in having a retractable hook built into the fuselage for docking with the modified B-36 carrier plane (which was termed FICON, or fighter conveyor).  They also had downward-slanted horizontal stabilizers to fit better in the bomber’s bomb bay.

Several national display teams used either straight or swept wing F-84s including the USAF Skyblazers and Thunderbirds.

Swept-wing F-84s are preserved at many U.S. museums, but straight-wing ones are more rare.  During the 1970s, one straight-wing F-84 was made airworthy and exhibited briefly, but given the many problems with operating these aircraft, there is little prospect of an F-84 flying again.

F-84B 45-59556

Shown some years ago at Chino before restoration, the Planes of Fame‘s rare early-model F-84 has since been spruced up for display and is at their Grand Canyon facility in Arizona. 

F-84E 49-2155

The Yanks Air Museum F-84 served in Europe with the 36th Fighter-Bomber Wing in Germany and later at various U.S. bases.  It was retired in 1958.

F-84F 51-1659

The Combat Air Museum has done a fine job of restoring this F-84F in the colorful markings used by the USAF in the 1950s.

F-84F 51-1714

The SAC & Aerospace Museum‘s F-84F, 51-1714, is shown here in 1993 when it was painted in tactical camouflage.  Today it is displayed indoors, painted silver and wearing the bright unit markings of the 1950s Strategic Air Command. 

F-84F 51-9501

Yankee Air Museum‘s F-84F is restored in Vietnam-era camouflage, which was introduced in 1966.  The type was retired from active service before the U.S. became involved in that conflict, but Air National Guard F-84Fs within the U.S. were active until 1971. 

F-84F 52-6475

This 1954 F-84F served with a variety of fighter and fighter-bomber units around the United States until 1970.  Its most significant deployment was to France in 1961, as part of an arms build-up to counter the Soviet isolation of East Germany.  Recovered in 1997 from a weapons range where it had been used as a missile target, the plane was restored by the Pacific Coast Air Museum where it is on display.

RF-84K 52-7266

The Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum has one of the RF-84K parasite fighter prototypes, which as of 2016, it was in the process of restoring.

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