Thuds, the Ridge, and 100 Missions North
How the Republic F-105 got good at a mission it was not designed to fly.
- By Carl Posey
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE US AIR FORCE
(Page 2 of 8)
According to Thunderchief pilot Michael Brazelton, the heavy fighter could make “860 knots on the deck, well above the speed of sound. Trouble with going so fast so low is that the canopy starts to melt. We had a double canopy, with coolant between the layers.”
Raw performance aside, the Thunderchief was “a pretty amazing airplane,” says Ed Rasimus, who went through a later class at Nellis. “We used to do a nuclear profile [training flight]. There was a radar mode you could fly at 500 feet. Gear and flaps up, you’d engage the autopilot, set up terrain avoidance, fly 400 miles, deliver a [mock] nuclear weapon on a target, and take the stick back at 200 feet on final.”
The Nellis grads were sent off to the frontlines separating East and West. Some went to bases at Bitburg and Spangdahlem, West Germany, others were assigned to Yokota Air Base in Japan. From the bases in Germany and at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and Osan, South Korea, the pilots began standing alerts, nuclear weapons tucked into their airplanes’ bomb bays or hanging from wing pylons, waiting for the terrible moment to arrive.
The moment never came. Fate had something else in store for the Thunderchiefs and the men who flew them.
on the nights of August 2 and 4, 1964, two U.S. destroyers, Maddox and Turner Joy, reported an attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. Exactly what occurred has been debated for a generation, but, whether real or contrived, this became the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and a call to war.
“We went down the next day or two,” says Cooper, whose F-105 squadron was based in Japan. The pilots flew into the Royal Thai Air Force Base at Korat, Thailand. “Wasn’t much there when we got there,” he says. “Camp Friendship was the U.S. Army’s. Thais had a little flying school on the other side of the field.” Cooper chuckles, remembering those early days. “We come in, a fighter squadron and all its munitions. C-130s coming in every 15 minutes dropping something out.”
Those were uncertain times. No one knew if U.S. involvement in Vietnam would trigger Chinese or Soviet intervention. “We were doing all sorts of lines [nuclear missions] on all sorts of maps for all sorts of targets,” says Cooper.
Korat soon became a comfortable little Air Force city. For a time, the -105s—the nukes in the bomb bays replaced with fuel tanks—provided muscle for the CIA’s campaign against Pathet Lao insurgents. Until 1966, the Thai and U.S. governments denied that the aircraft were operating out of Thailand, but it was an open secret. Thunderchiefs were hard to miss.