The Palm Springs Air Museum landed a Republic F-105D Thunderchief to add to its growing collection of Vietnam-era aircraft.Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio gave the museum until August to raise the money needed to take the surplus supersonic fighter-bomber off its hands — saving it from becoming scrap metal by way of a crusher.Thanks to an outpouring from the desert community, the museum raised not only the $21,000 needed to tear down, transport and restore the F-105, but an additional $19,000 to maintain the plane.
“We’ve been moving into Vietnam and trying to interpret the Vietnam experience as it relates to aviation,” said Fred Bell, the museum’s managing director.He calls the acquisition of the F-105 an “emergency aircraft rescue.”The F-105 conducted most of the Air Force’s strike bombing missions early in the Vietnam War, before it became the only U.S. aircraft removed from combat due to high loss rates — 382 of the 833 built lost in Southeast Asia.The F-105 was designed to lob a single nuclear bomb, but the military realized the F-105 could carry a heavier payload than dated, World War II bombers.So they started sending it on high-speed, low-altitude bombing runs. The decision left the weighed-down bombers susceptible to smaller, more agile enemy MiG fighters. F-105 crews knew the bomber as the “Thud.It made a pretty big noise when it hit the ground,” Bell said.
The Air Force keeps better tabs than the Navy on its aircraft, Bell said, and between their background and an Amazon book purchase of “Roll Call: THUD” the museum has compiled a detailed history of its F-105.The museum’s Thud was built in 1961 and served as a combat airplane with the nose art “Kombat Kathy.”
“Our role as a historical institution is to explain how people interacted with the airplane,” Bell said. “When I started on this, I had no idea that so many people were attached to this airplane, and I believe it has something to do with the high fleet loss rate.”Gordon Jenkins of Indio piloted Kombat Kathy while stationed in Thailand, according to flight logs the museum obtained. He returned from his first combat tour one of the most decorated Air Force first lieutenants, with two Silver Stars, three Distinguished Flying Crosses and 15 Air Medals.He visited the plane at the museum recently, but The Desert Sun could not reach him for comment.Along with donations to purchase the F-105, Bell received letters from people praising the Thud pilots and even praying for the Thud itself.
Peter Hogenson told the story of how his future wife, Jill, taught the children of F-105 pilots at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. By the end of her two-year stint, four fathers had been killed in action.“As a Vietnam vet, I say save the F-105,” wrote Don Schmidt. “It saved me many a time! Hopefully at least 100 like me.”
Kombat Kathy’s cockpit isn’t in good shape. Serving with the 562nd Tactical Fighter Wing at McConnell Air Force Base, the bomber was retired from active duty in 1970 and became one of five used for ground instruction at Lackland — sitting outside for many years.On top of that, the military does not want surplus supersonic fighters they sell airworthy, so they cut out chunks of metal irreparably in a process called demilling. But museum staff can patch the wounds to where the layman won’t notice the damage.
Two 18-wheelers were needed to cart the disassembled Thud — the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history at 50,000 pounds.“It looks more like a submarine right now,” said Greg Kenny, in charge of museum education, of the wingless fuselage.Museum staff is checking to ensure the military didn’t leave anything in the plane that shouldn’t be there. Next, the wings and gear will be reattached, then the Thud will receive a historically-accurate paint job.
All told, the F-105 will be ready for its Nov. 11 Veterans Day dedication, with pilots that have flown the Thud in attendance.