Monday, December 9, 2013

F - 84

Republic F-84F Thunderstreak

F-84F Thunderstreak with drop tanks

First Flight:                          1950, June 3 (YF-84A)
                                                Wright J65-W-3 turbojet engine
                                                15,917kg / 7220lb thrust
                                             12.7mm / 0.5in machine-guns (6) / Browning M3
                                                             1800 rounds ammunition
                                             2722kg / 6000lb external ordinance
                                                             HVAR 12.7cm / 5in ground attack rockets
                                                             454kg / 1000lb HE bombs / Mk 84
                                             Could carry tactical nuclear weapon (907kg / 2,000lb) / Mk 7
                Wingspan:           10.24m / 33ft 7.25in
                Length:                 13.23m / 43ft 4.75in
                Height:                 4.39m / 14ft 4.75in
                Wing area:          30.19m2 / 325ft2
                     Wing Sweep:        40o
                Empty:                6273kg / 13,830lb
                Normal load:      8457kg / 18,645lb
                Max take-off:    12,701kg / 28,000lb
                Max speed:       
1059kph / 658mph @ 6095m / 20,000ft
1118kph / 695mph @ sea level
                Ceiling:                 14,020m / 46,000ft
                Range:                  1304km / 810 miles w/2 drop tanks
                Climb:                   2257m / 7400ft per minute
Production:                        7,886 of all versions
Chief Designer:                 Alexander Kartveli

Korean War vintage F-84s

Like the F-80 Shooting Star the initial F-84 Thunderjet had a conventional straight wing and tail configuration.  Both planes were initially designed to be fighters but their performance wasn’t competitive with the Soviet MiG 15 and they were relegated to a ground-support role.  Both jets served well in this capacity owing largely to their tough and durable construction, with the F-84 possibly being the more rugged of the two fighter-bombers. 

F-84 firing rocket salvo

The biggest sin committed by these initial American offerings was that lack of pop in acceleration and climb rate that was needed for a front-line fighter.   Just getting a combat-laden F-84 in the air could be a hair-raising experience and it earned the nickname ‘Ground Hog’.  In its role of attacking ground targets the F-84 earned high marks for taking abuse and remain flying as well as providing a stable platform in order to effectively deliver devastating ordinance.  As a tactical bomber the F-84 flew more combat missions than any other jet during the Korean War.  During the early years of the Strategic Air Command the F-84 was used as an escort fighter but NATO forces in Europe saw its value in the role of fighter-bomber.  The US planned on using the F-84F Thunderstreak as a means of delivering tactical nuclear weapons to destroy enemy communications and headquarters.  It meant that the pilot would fly in low to avoid radar detection and rising only to deliver the bomb.  Despite the fact that the bombs descent would be slowed by a parachute there was little hope the pilot and his F-84 would survive the blast.  Such was the desperate thinking of the early Cold War.

Many nations purchased F-84s

The F-84 was relatively simple in design and the compromises required to make it suitable for different roles made it inadequate as a fighter.  Not only was it sluggish but it also lacked the agility to compete with true fighters in a dogfight.  Early versions required wingtip tanks as the extremely efficient nose air intake design left almost no room to store fuel.  Later versions of the F-84 lengthened the fuselage by a foot for fuel storage but the jet still required drop tanks to give it reasonable range.  It’s interesting to note that early versions of the F-84 had a clear canopy while later versions were ribbed.  This was to add strength because the pressurized cabin sometimes blew the canopy free from the jet, creating havoc for the unsuspecting pilot.  When you get in on the ground floor of a technological revolution there are bound to be unpleasant surprises.  You can only hope they don’t turn out to be fatal.

F-84 first fighter built for in-flight refueling

It is easy for us to criticize the shortcomings of these early efforts after the fact.  Experience is a big part of engineering design.  Someone has to be the guinea pig and there are always courageous and competent people ready to volunteer.  Their names never show up on sweatshirts and jerseys like NFL quarterbacks.  They don’t usually make big money from endorsements.  The dream of wealth and luxurious living isn’t what drew them to the cockpit.  They die unknown to most.  Adventure has an allure as does the exhilaration of straddling high performance.  Some pilots probably feel it can’t happen to them when tragedy strikes down a companion.  Does it matter all that much to us what they think?  It’s best we just give them their due.

F-84s turned over to National Guard in late 50s

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