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F-105 Thunderchief: Thud or Dud

Overview

The Fairchild Republic F-105 Thunderchief was designed as a strategic strike-fighter. Its bomb bay could accommodate a nuclear weapon. It first flew in 1955 and became operational in 1958.[i] Its total production run was 833 aircraft. It could carry a bomb load greater than many World War II era heavy bombers. It had a top speed of 1,390 mph (2,220 Km/h) at 50,000 feet (15,240 m).[ii] It was used exclusively by the United States Air Force (USAF). The Air Force retired the F-105 in 1984.


[i] Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, ©Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman1977. P.126

[ii] U.S. Fighters Army-Air Force 1925 to 1980s, by Lloyd S. Jones, © by Aero Publishers, Inc. P.284.

In Southeast Asia

The first F-105 loss was over Laos on August 14, 1964. The F-105D, serial number 62-4371, returned to base but the battle damage was so severe it was written off. Anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) shot down an F-105D on January 13, 1965. The pilot, Captain Albert Vollmer, was rescued. AAA shot down 3 F-105Ds on March 2 and one on March 22. All 4 pilots were rescued.[i] On April 4, 1965 4 North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF) MiG-17s shot down 2 F-105s.[ii] Both pilots, Major Frank Everett Bennett and Captain, James A. Magnusson, died. AAA shot down another F-105D on the same day and over the same area. Captain Carlyle Smith Harris ejected and was captured.[iii] On April 17 F-105 pilot, Captain Samuel Alexander Woodworth, was killed when he didn’t pull out of a dive.[iv] The first loss to a Surface to Air Missile (SAM) occurred on September 30. The pilot, Lt. Col. Melvin Joseph Killian, was killed. [v] A MiG-17 shot down a F-105D on October 14. The pilot, Captain Robert Harry Schuler, was killed.[vi]

On June 29, 1966 Major Fred Tracy shot down a MiG-17. It was the first F-105 air victory.[vii] The first EF-105F loss was to AAA. The loss was on July 6, 1966 Major Roosevelt Hestle Jr.[viii] and Captain Charles Morgan died in the crash. On July 19 a MiG-17 shot down an F-105D.[ix] The pilot, 1st Lt. Steven Whitman Diamond, was killed. Another F-105D fell to AAA. Its pilot, Captain Richard Edward Steere, was rescued.[x] On December 14 a MiG-17 shot down a F-105D with an Atoll missile. It was the 7th admitted loss of a Thunderchief in air-air combat. It was the first time an F-105 was destroyed with an air-air missile. The pilot, Captain Robert S. Cooley, was rescued.[xi]

On March 10, 1967 a flight of F-105s was on a Wild Weasel mission to attack enemy air defenses protecting a steel works at Thai Ngyuen. AAA shot down the flight leader, Major David Everson. Major Everson and Captain Jose David Luna were captured. [xii] Another F-105 withdrew because of the heavy enemy fire. Captain Merlyn H. Dethlefsen decided to attack alone. He used the heavy groundfire to evade an attacking MiG-21. Captain Dethlefsen’s Thunderchief was severely damaged in the process. Despite the damage he made repeated attacks and destroyed two SAM sites before returning to base. Major Dethlefsen was awarded the Medal of Honor for this mission.[xiii] His Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO), Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, was awarded the Air Force Cross.[xiv] Captain Max C. Brestel, a Thunderchief pilot, shot down two MiG-17s that day.[xv]

On April 19 a MiG-17 shot down a F-105F. The crew members ejected and their lead F-105F, with Major Leo K. Thorsness the pilot and Captain Harold E. Johnson the EWO circled the parachutes. He spotted a MiG-17 and shot it down. Despite being low on fuel he engaged 4 MiG-17s that posed a threat to rescue helicopters. He damaged one of the MiG-17s and drove the MiG flight off. Major Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor. Captain Johnson was awarded the Air Force Cross.[xvi] Three other MiG-17s fell to F-105Ds that day. The victorious pilots were Major Jack J. Hunt, Major Frederick G. Tolman, and Captain William E. Eskew.[xvii]

On April 28, 1967 the first Thunderchief fell to a MiG-21. The pilot, Captain Franklin Angel Caras was killed.[xviii] F-105D pilots Lt. Col. Arthur F. Dennis and Major Harry E. Higgins each shot down a MiG-17 on that day.[xix] Two days later MiG-21s shot down 3 F-105s, all with Atoll missile. The North Vietnamese captured all 4 crew members.[xx] Those captured included Major Leo Keith Thorsness and Captain Eugene Johnson. Captain Thomas C. Lesan, an F-105D pilot, shot down a MiG-17.[xxi]

The most successful day for F-105s against MiG-17s was May 13. F-105s shot down 5 MiG-17s. F-4 Phantom IIs shot down an additional 2 MiG-17s.[xxii]

The next MiG-21 victory over a Thunderchief was on October 7. The F-105F crew, Captains Joseph D. Howard and George L Shamblee, were rescued. A MiG-21 scored another kill against a Thunderchief on October 9. The F-105D pilot, Major James Arlen Clements, was taken prisoner. [xxiii]

On October 25, 1967 Major Aquilla Friend Britt while returning from his 100th mission was diverted to Ton Son Nhut Air Base. His strike force had destroyed a “highly significant military target”. Major Britt had 5 days left on his tour. There was poor visibility because of the stormy weather. He landed safely then collided with a C-123 that was mistakenly directed to the same runway. Major Britt was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his final mission.[xxiv]

The North Vietnamese shot down 4 F-105s on November 18, 1967. SAMs shot down 2 F-105Ds and MiG-21s shot down a F-105D and a F-105F. Lt. Col. William N. Reed was rescued, 3 other Thunderchief crew members died. Colonel Burke Burdett was captured but died in a POW camp. [xxv] A MiG-21 shot down a Thunderchief on November 20. Captain William Wallace Butler was taken prisoner.[xxvi] On December 17 a MiG-21 shot down a Thunderchief piloted by 1st Lt. Jeffrey Thomas Ellis. Lt. Ellis was captured.[xxvii] The last Thunderchief air victories occurred on December 19. An F-105F piloted by Captain Philip M. Drew with Major William H. Wheeler as the EWO shot down a MiG-17. Another F-105F, with Major William M. Dalton piloting and EWO Major James M. Graham EWO, shared a MiG-17 kill with a F-4D.[xxviii]

On January 3 1968 a MiG-21 shot down an F-105D piloted by Colonel James Ellis Bean. Colonel Bean was captured. On January 5, 1968 AAA shot down one Thunderchief and a MiG-17 shot down another. The 3 crew members in the F-105s died.[xxix] A MiG-21 shot down another Thunderchief on January 14. The F-105 pilot, Major Stanley Henry Horne, was killed. [xxx] On February 4 a MiG-21 shot down another Thunderchief. The F-105 pilot, Captain Carl William Lasiter, was taken prisoner. [xxxi]

The last F-105D loss was on September 23, 1970. The pilot, Captain J.W. Newhouse was rescued. [xxxii]

On May 11, 1972, a MiG-21 shot down a F-105G. The Thunderchief crew, Majors William Hansen Talley and James Phillip Padgett, were captured.[xxxiii] On this day several F-4Ds shot down a MiG-21.[xxxiv] On July 7, 1972 a Thunderchief shot itself down when one of its sidewinder missiles exploded at launch. The crew, Majors Thoms J. Coady and H.F. Murphy were rescued. [xxxv] The last F-105 loss was to a SAM on November 16, 1972. The crew, Captain Kennth Thaete and Major Norman Maier, were rescued. [xxxvi]

F-105s flew over 20,000 combat missions during the war.[xxxvii] A USAF study found that few badly damaged F-105s returned to base.[xxxviii] Enemy defenses shot down over 350 F-105s. Total Thunderchief losses were 382.[xxxix] Most of the combat losses were to AAA. F-105s shot down 27.5 MiG-17s for the loss of 8 F-105s. The MiG-21 had a perfect 15-0 record against the Thunderchief. The F-105 was the only USAF aircraft, besides the F-4, to get confirmed air-air victories in the Vietnam Conflict.

With 46% of the fleet destroyed in Vietnam and another 27% lost in peacetime operations the USAF ruled the Thunderchief no longer combat effective for frontline service. Some were used to train aircraft mechanics how to repair combat damage in wartime. The surviving aircraft were sent to the Air Force Reserve. USAF Reserve retired the last Thunderchief on February 25, 1984.[xl]


[i] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[ii] Air Aces by Christopher Shores © Bison Books Corp. 1983, P.276.

[iii] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[iv] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[v] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[vi] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[vii] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications.

[viii] Funeral Announcement For Pilot Killed During Vietnam War (Hestle, R.) > Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency > News Releases (dpaa.mil), last accessed 11/30/2020. Roosevelt Hestle Jr. was promoted to colonel while is was officially missing in action (MIA).

[ix] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[x] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xi] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xii] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20. Those captured were 1st Lt. Robert Archie Abbott, Captain Joseph S. Abbott, Major Leo Keith Thorsness, and Captain Harold Eugene Johnson.

[xiii] Air Force History and Museums, Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, Published November 13, 2014, Maj Merlyn H Dethlefsen > Air Force History and Museums > Fact Sheets (af.mil), last accessed 12/3/20.

[xiv] Legacy.com, Mercury News, Colonel Kevin A. “Mike” Gilroy, obituary, Colonel Gilroy Obituary (2013) - Mercury News (legacy.com), last accessed 12/3/20.

[xv] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications.

[xvi] Air Force web site, https://www.af.mil/Medal-of-Honor/Thorsness/, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xvii] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications.

[xviii] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20. Those captured were 1st Lt. Robert Archie Abbott, Captain Joseph S. Abbott, Major Leo Keith Thorsness, and Captain Harold Eugene Johnson.

[xix] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications.

[xx] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20. Those captured were 1st Lt. Robert Archie Abbott, Captain Joseph S. Abbott, Major Leo Keith Thorsness, and Captain Harold Eugene Johnson.

[xxi] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications.

[xxii] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications.

[xxiii] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20. Those captured were 1st Lt. Robert Archie Abbott, Captain Joseph S. Abbott, Major Leo Keith Thorsness, and Captain Harold Eugene Johnson.

[xxiv] Findagrave.com, Maj Aquilla Friend Britt (1934-1967) - Find A Grave Memorial, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xxv] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20. The other fatalities were Major Leslie John Hauer, Major Oscar Moise Dardeau, and Captain Edward William Lenhoff.

[xxvi] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xxvii] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xxviii] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications. The F-4D crew was Major Joseph D. Moore, the aircraft commander, and pilot 1st Lt. George H, McKinney Jr.

[xxix] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20. Captain William Eugene Jones, Major James Cuthbert Hartney, and Captain Samuel Fantle III.

[xxx] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xxxi] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xxxii] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xxxiii] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xxxiv] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications.

[xxxv] …And Kill MiGs by Lou Drendel, © 1974 by Squadron/Signal Publications.

[xxxvi] Burrusspta.org, www.burrusspta.org/395_Combat.pdf, last accessed 12/3/20.

[xxxvii] National Air & Space Museum, Republic F-105D Thunderchief | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 12/4/20.

[xxxviii] History.net, Why Pilots Loved the F-105 ‘Thud’ Despite its Vulnerability, https://www.historynet.com/why-pilots-loved-the-f-105-thud-despite-its-vulnerability.htm, last accessed 12/5/20.

[xxxix] Thoughtco.com, Vietnam War: Republic F-105 Thunderchief, https://www.thoughtco.com/vietnam-war-republic-f-105-thunderchief-2361076, last accessed 12/5/20.

[xl] Thoughtco.com, Vietnam War: Republic F-105 Thunderchief, https://www.thoughtco.com/vietnam-war-republic-f-105-thunderchief-2361076, last accessed 12/5/20.

Notable Incidents

In 1964 the USAF Thunderbirds transitioned from F-100s to F-105s. During the 7th show a Thunderchief killed Captain Eugene J. Devlin when it broke apart while pitching up for a landing.[i] The Thunderbirds switched back to the F-100 Super Sabre after the incident.

May 31, 1968 was the beginning of the Air Force Academy’s graduation-week festivities. Part of the festivities was a dedication ceremony for a decommissioned Thunderchief to be put on permanent display at the Academy. A flight of 4 F-105s, led by combat veteran Lt. Col. James Matthews, made a flyby. The formation pass went by normally. Then the F-105’s turned for individual passes. Lt. Col. Matthews unintentionally broke the sound barrier. This shattered over 300 windows and injured 15 people.[ii] A flyby at the Academy is 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level. Lt. Col. Matthews didn’t compensate for the lower speed of sound.[iii]


[i] Find a Grave, Captain Eugene Joseph Devlin, Capt Eugene Joseph Devlin (1933-1964) - Find A Grave Memorial, last accessed 12/6/20.

[ii] USAFA68.org, F-105 Flyby – June Week 1968, Broken Windows (usafa68.org), last accessed 12/6/20.

[iii] History.net, “Why Pilots Love the F-105 ‘Thud’ Despite its Vulnerability” by Stephan Wilkinson, Why Pilots Loved the F-105 'Thud' Despite its Vulnerability (historynet.com), last accessed 12/6/20.

F-105

Sources: Modern Fighter and Attack Aircraft by Bill Gunston (c) 1980 Salamander Books.
Arsenal of Democracy by Tom Gervasi, ©Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman1977.

 F-105MiG-17MiG-21

Max Weight

54,000 lbs

14,770 lbs.

21,605 lbs. (9,800 kg)

Max Speed

1,485 mph (Mach 2.25)

711 mph (1,145 km/h)

1,285 mph (Mach 2.1)

Combat Radius

920 miles

365 miles

273 miles

Armament

1x20mm Vulcan Cannon w/1029 rounds

1x37mm & 2X20mm

2x30mm and 2xAAMx

Ordinance Capacity

13,000 lbs.

1,102 lbs. (500kg)

3,300 lbs

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 13, 2020:

You're welcome. Stay safe.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 10, 2020:

Thank you, Robert. You're welcode.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 09, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

FlourishAnyway - Yes, is was scheduled to be Major Britt's last mission. Yes, normally it would be big trouble for a foul up like breaking the sound barrier during a flyby. Lt. Col. Matthews was cleared of blame. It could have been a glitch with his instruments. It could have been they needed pilots and didn't want to make waves. I read both theories but nothing conclusive.

Miebakagh Fiberesima - Good to hear from you as well. I wish they would clear up the problems with comments on Maven. It would make communications easier.

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 09, 2020:

That's really sad about Major Britt dying 5 days before home and after achieving 100 missions. And the pilot who accidentally broke the sound barrier doing the flyby and broke 300 windows ... do they get in trouble for something like this?

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 09, 2020:

Robert, glad to hear from you again. You're always welcome.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 08, 2020:

Thank you both for reading and commenting.

Miekbakagh Fiberesima, yes that's why I often include the names of the crew involved.

Peggy Woods, Major Britt is a real heartbreaker story.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 07, 2020:

Robert, thanks for the response. But it's sad due to loss of lives and aircrafts.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 07, 2020:

Sad as it is when any pilot is killed, reading about Major Britt 5 days before his discharge made it even more sad.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 07, 2020:

gyanendra mocktan - Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you found the article interesting.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 07, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. In Vietnam the North Vietnamese flew MiGs so any plane the USAF or USN flew over North VIetnam could face a MiG.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on December 07, 2020:

Robert, this seem odd. Why does the USAAF pitch the F105 against the MiG? Thanks for the interesting read.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on December 06, 2020:

Robert Sacchi, Thank you very much. I can learn how to describe about historic events of the war. Thank you again

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 06, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. The airborne warning wasn't anywhere near what is was a decade later. The OPSEC was poor. The North Vietnamese had the advantage in radar coverage. The supersonic aircraft were usually flying subsonic. In many cases the F-105s would be bomb laden. The simple method would be to bounce the F-105s and score a kill before they could take evasive action. In a standard turning fight the MiG-17 was far more maneuverable. Maneuverabiliy doesn't always win the day against a skilled pilot. I remember a former F-105 pilot telling me how he turned tables on an attacking MiG-17 and shot it down.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on December 06, 2020:

Very interesting facts and figures. As a pilot I am wondering how a MIG 17 could shoot down a F105.

Robert Sacchi (author) on December 06, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, it is on permanent display in a number of places. When I was at Bolling AFB in '92 there was one as a "gate guard" airplane.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 06, 2020:

This is a very informative article, and the Thunderchief has sure seen a lot of action. It is really great that it is on permanent display, Robert.