The scientific tourist #248 — F-84F Thunderstreak

On display at the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita, Kansas — a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak:

Republic F-84F Thunderstreak

The Thunderstreak was a Cold War era fighter-bomber that did nothing better than demonstrate how not to build a plane.

Its story begins in 1944 with a U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) proposal for a “day fighter.” What came of this was a straight-wing turbojet fighter, the F-84 Thunderjet. It started flying in 1947, but had so many structural and engine problems that a 1948 USAF review deemed it unfit for its mission. The Thunderjet didn’t reach operational status until 1949 with its 4th model, the F-84D.

Meanwhile, the plane’s maker (Republic) thought they could improve on its performance with a new engine, and swept wings and tail. The idea was to make this a low-cost variant of the Thunderjet, to be called the F-84F Thunderstreak, with 55% of its tooling borrowed from the Thunderjet. But the F-84F’s “improved” engine was substantially larger than its predecessor, resulting in substantial airframe changes — in the end, only 15% of the tooling could be reused. Meanwhile, the F-84F wing parts were hard to make, and could only be manufactured at one of three plants in the U.S. (all of which were already fully tasked with building B-47 bomber parts). Even then, the engines picked for the F-84F never worked well.

So the bottom line was that the F-84F entered active service in 1954, and began being phased out within months. It was out of service by 1958, reactivated in 1961 when the Cold War heated up, grounded in 1962, and finally retired from active service in 1964. By 1972, overseas allies and national guard units had retired the last of the still flying F-84Fs.

The bright side (if there is one) of this checkered record is that plenty of F-84F airframes are on display around the world, and they all have low mileage! This particular F-84F (s/n 52-9089) was built in 1954 at the Fairfax General Motors Plant in Kansas City, Kansas.

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