The Yankee Air Museum’s Republic F-84F Thunderstreak Restoration
by Barry Levine
The Yankee Air Museum has recently completed the restoration of their Republic F-84F-35-GK Thunderstreak. The 2nd generation jet fighter was built under license at General Motor’s Fisher Body Division in Kansas City, Missouri and the USAF took delivery of her in January, 1955 as serial number 51-9501. Her service history is roughly as follows
- USAF 2849th ABW – Hill AFB, Utah
- USAF 508th SFW – Turner AFB, Georgia
- 1956: USAF 4080th SRW – Turner AFB, Georgia
- 1956-57: USAF 3600th CCTW – Luke AFB, Arizona
- 1958: USAF 1607th Air Transport Wing – Dover AFB, Delaware
- 1958: Pennsylvania ANG 147th FS – Greater Pittsburgh Airport, Pennsylvania
- 1958: Michigan ANG 107th TRS -Detroit-Wayne Major Airport, Michigan
- 1959-61: Ohio ANG 164th FS – Mansfield, Ohio
- 1961-62: Ohio ANG 166th FS – Lockbourne AFB, Ohio
- 1962-64: USAF 366th TFW – Chaumont AB, France
- 1964-70: Indiana ANG 113th FS – Hulman Field, Terra Haute, Indiana
- Michigan ANG 191st FIS – Detroit-Wayne Major Airport, Michigan
As can be seen above, 51-9501 received assignments to a wide range of bases, including a deployment to Étain Air Base, France during November 1961 (as part of Operation Tack Hammer, the US response to the Berlin crisis that year). Following her military service the Thunderstreak became an instructional airframe with Western Michigan University as part of their aviation training program. Interestingly, the university reserved the civil registration N5001 for the Thunderstreak in August, 1970, but cancelled it the following year in November. 51-9501 is therefore one of only a handful of F-84s ever to make it onto the civil registry, although it is unlikely she ever flew in civilian hands. The museum obtained the F-84F in 1985.
Restoration began in 2016, with the end goal of painting the Thunderstreak in a USAF Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team livery. Previously, the fighter-bomber had been in a Vietnam War-era camo scheme. The Thunderbirds only flew F-84Fs during their 1954-1955 display season, so the museum’s restored F-84F would therefore feature in a permanent Thunderbirds exhibit from this time period. Museum volunteer Bob Catalano was the project manager for this effort.
Repainting this aircraft was very involved. It included stripping off the old paint, sanding the metal, and repairing metal panels to ensure the aircraft was in pristine external condition. The restoration team painted the fuselage and the top and bottom of both wings over the course of four months. It was a labor-intensive process, especially due to the extensive masking required to ensure that only the areas needing paint received it. Once the base livery was completed, the next step involved painting the specialized markings on the aircraft – using masks created for the various insignia and USAF decalcomania to ensure as accurate a rendition of the 1954-55 Thunderbirds scheme. Again, the paint team draped the aircraft to avoid any accidental over-spray.
Museum volunteers completed the restoration in 2018, including painting on the ‘star & bar’ insignia, which with its three different colors was a significant ‘small’ project. One of the last steps involved recreating the Thunderbird logo and the extensive set of flag decals, showing the Latin American countries where the Thunderbirds appeared during their 1954-55 international tour. The aircraft was then prepped and polished and moved into final position within the museum’s Thunderbird exhibit, which opened the day before the Thunder Over Michigan Air Show in August, 2018. The Museum actually opened the exhibit while the present-day USAF Thunderbirds team was on-site for the annual Pilot Meet-n-Greet. Many air show visitors enjoyed meeting the Thunderbird pilots, having the opportunity to also obtain autographs and photos of the aircrew at this popular event.
Project Manager Catalano noted: “What made this project special, was that this was the first time that a major restoration was performed entirely in house by museum volunteers. In the past, outside contractors were brought in to paint aircraft. This time, Paul Cook, a retired professional painter and museum volunteer, painted the aircraft along with support from other museum volunteers. We have had other aircraft painted in the past, but this was a completely volunteer driven endeavor with great results.”
Mercifully, the Berlin crisis did not become a shooting war and, to the best of our knowledge, no F-84Fs saw combat while serving in the U.S. Air Force. F-84s were a bridge from first generation jet fighters, such as the P-80 Shooting Star, to the early supersonic jets like the F-100 Super Sabre. The Yankee Air Museum is proud to showcase this aircraft, the type’s link to the Thunderbirds, and the dedicated work of our volunteer team. For further information please contact Dave Callanan, Outreach Services Director, 734-483-4030, ext. #233, Dave.Callanan@yankeeairmuseum.org
Many thanks indeed to Barry Levine for writing this article and to Dave Callanan for providing us with it!