The Republic RF-84F Thunderflash was, in its time, one of the most extensively used photo-reconnaissance aircraft in NATO. With its robust construction, ability to withstand heavy stresses, long range and six exceptional cameras in the nose section it became a popular aircraft type in several countries.
The American Republic factories started to develop the F-84F Thunderstreak at the end of 1949. The third prototype YF-84F had the air intakes placed at the wing root in order to use a new radar system. The result was a loss of thrust, thus causing a lower performance, so the project was cancelled. However, the design made sense for a dedicated reconnaissance platform as the new aircraft permitted a hollowed-out nose section to be fitted to the aircraft to which camera equipment could be carried internally – all the while retaining 4 x 0.50 calibre Browning M2 heavy machines guns for combat purposes.
The resulting aircraft became the “YRF-84F” and this model appeared in February of 1952 – as the Korean War (1950-1953) was in full swing. The new aircraft sported the same all-swept-back wing surfaces as the Thunderstreak production fighters to aid in high-speed flying. The wing main planes exhibited twin boundary layer fences and blended smoothly into the wing root intake shrouds. The retractable tricycle undercarriage of the original was also retained as was the pilot’s placement near the front of the aircraft.
Internally, the camera equipment was assisted through an early-form digital arrangement to take into account the aircraft’s speed and operating altitude as well as current lighting conditions to provide for a more accurate picture.
A large amount of different cameras was available, for several heights and also for day and night.
A maximum of fifteen different types could be used, to know: six forward looking cameras, one ‘TriMetrogen’ camera, eight ‘oblique’ and vertical cameras.
These were of the type Fairchild K-17C, K-22 A, KA-2, T-11, K-38; each could be equipped with lenses varying from 6 to 36 inch. The Fairchild K-37 night camera to be used with flash-flares had a 12 inch lens. New at that time was the computerized Tri-Metrogen system, which modified the camera setting depending of speed, height and brightness.
Innovations included computerized controls which adjusted camera settings for light, speed, and altitude, a periscope to give the pilot better visualization of the target, and a voice recorder to let the pilot narrate his observations.
The nose had several hatches, so vertical and also oblique photos could be made. These hatches could be operated hydraulically; also a recording system for the pilot was available. The pilot had also a periscope to take a vertical look by himself. In the end, some 715 RF-84F Thunderflash aircraft were built with the series entering formal service in March of 1954.
Delivery to the Royal Netherlands Air Force
As part of the Mutual Defence Assistance Program, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (KLu) received twenty-four Republic RF-84F Thunderflash. The largest number where transported by sea between June 1955 and May 1957.
The CVE-58 Corregidor was the first ship to transport Republic RF-84F Thunderflash to the Netherlands it delivered the P-1 to P-4, P-12 to P-17, and P-21 to P-24.
The second ship to bring Republic RF-84F Thunderflash to Rotterdam was the CVU-64 Tripoli. Republic RF-84F Thunderflash brought in by the Tripoli are the: P-5 to the P-11.
The Republic RF-84F Thunderflash P-19 and P-20 where delivered to Rotterdam via commercial shipment. The remaining Republic RF-84F Thunderflash were flown from the United States, via Copenhagen, to the Netherlands via the so-called ‘High-Flight’ route.
The first two Republic RF-84F Thunderflash delivered to the Royal Netherlands Air Force where, the P-7 and the P-8, which were handed over to 306 Squadron on March 2, 1956. The first eighteen Republic RF-84F Thunderflash were silver coloured and got the code TP-1 to TP-18. The remaining aircraft got a P code instead of the TP- code and where camouflaged..
The first RF-84F Thunderflash went to 306 Squadron to the Royal Netherlands Air Force at Royal Air Force Laarbruch Germany to replace the existing fleet F-84E Thunderjet on 4 April 1956.
The squadron was based at Laarbruch as part of the 34 Recce Wing together with 79 and 541 squadron of the Royal Air Force. In their early days they wore a silver livery with the 306 squadron-code (TP-) on the nose this changed to only the P- code when usage of the squadron-codes system stopped .
In preparation of the new system pilots and technician where trained at the American base of Sembach where the USAF was flying the RF-84F Thunderflash. In 1957 306 squadron moved to Deelen Air base , although the accommodations at Deelen where basic the squadron kept working on the new systems. In 1958 the Dutch RF-84F Thunderflash participated for the first time in the ‘Royal Flush’ exercise.
This exercise, in which thirteen NATO countries competed over their photo reconnaissance skills. In the following year, 306 Squadron was already divided first, along with the English Canberras of the 2nd ATAF.
During 1963 the transition to the RF-104G Starfighter started , during this period the last operational RF-84F Thunderflash where moved to Volkel Air Base as the rest of the squadron moved to Twenthe Air base for the transition to the RF-104G Starfighter.
As the RF-84F Thunderflash of the Royal Netherlands Air Force where delivered via the Mutual Defence Assistance Program , the United States Air Force to decided that the remaining aircraft would be delivered to Turkey and Greece. The first aircraft where transferred to Turkey on October 17, 1963.
Squadrons equipped with the Republic F-84F Thunderflash
306 Squadron Royal Netherlands Air Force Videre vincere est (zien is overwinnen)
Throughout moost of its existence, 306 Squadron has been the only photo-reconnaissance unit in the Royal Netherlands Air Force, having formed at Volkel in September 1953. Its initial equipment consisted of a dozen aircraft from the first batch of Republic F-84E/G Thunderjet, with the first F-84G Thunderjet delivered in September 1953. After test in November 1953 were taken with a K.17 camera in the left tip tank of an F-84E Thunderjet and proven to be successful. The decision was made to replace most of the F-84G Thunderjet in 1954 with the modified F-84E Thunderjet. The first pictures where made with this system May sixth 1954, the K.17 camera would be replaced with the K.20 model for better results. The different aircraft where coded TP-1 to TP30, TP- being the code for 306 squadron in the then used unit code system.
In September 1954 the squadron transferred to Laarbruch Airbase Germany after a seven-week period at Buckeburg Airbase Germany, at that time it had also become clear that the F-84E Thunderjet became obsolete and had to be replaced. The replacement came in the form of twenty-four new Republic RF-84F Thunderflash aircraft coded TP-1 to TP-18 (later P1 to P24) delivered in the period 1956 to 1958. To prepare for this new aircraft the squadron received two Lockheed RT-33A Shooting Star photo reconnaissance aircraft TP-19 and TP-20 (later M-101 and M-102) in August 1955. The RT-33A Shooting Star had four cameras in the nose, three K18 and a K22 camera, which was a big improvement over the single K20 camera of the F-84E Thunderjet.
The squadron was stationed at Laarbruch Airbase from 8 Nov 1954 till 13 Dec 1957 building up its strength on the RF-84F Thunderflash. In their early days the RF-84F Thunderflash wore a silver livery with the 306 squadron-code (TP-) on the nose this changed as the Royal Netherlands Air Force adopted an American style of squadron build-up instead of the English style.
After two years the squadron was fully switched to the RF-84F Thunderflash and the RT-33A Shooting Stars became redundant. The RF-84F Thunderflash were mainly used for operational photographs and the RT-33A Shooting Star mainly for external photo tasks, for example, pictures of ice or the delta works.
At the end of 1957, when 306 squadron was transferred to Deelen Airbase in the Netherlands, it was also decided that the squadron would perform only operational photography. It was at the end of 1958 when a separate photo section was raised for executing other photography tasks, the Base Photo Flight Deelen that the RT-33A Shooting Star where transferred to that unit.
As the squadron moved to Twenthe Airbase to convert to the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter they were gradually withdrawn during the year. As 306 Squadron was chosen to be the first KLu Lockheed F-104G Starfighter unit, it found on its arrival at Twenthe that two F-104G Starfighter aircraft had already been delivered, on 19 December 1962. At the same time its remaining nine RF-84F Thunderflash moved to Volkel Airbase to fulfil the reconnaissance tasks until there transfer to other NATO partners.
End off the line
The Netherlands replaced the RF-84F Thunderflash with the RF-104G Starfighter and the RF-84F Thunderflash were handed over to Greece and Turkey, leaving not a single RF-84F Thunderflash in the Netherlands.
As the last Greek Thunderflash where being withdrawn from use at the end of the eighties. Efforts where made to get one example back to the Netherlands. With the involvement of America the plan succeeded and one example landed at Volkel air base on Friday July 28, 1988.
This RF-84F Thunderflash the 51-11253 flying with 348 MTA (Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) was one of the former Dutch Air Force examples delivered to the Greek air force in 1963 ,the P-5.
The aircraft is now on display at the Militaire Luchtvaartmuseum at Soesterberg.