June 11, 1964: Last F-84 departs Luke
The F-84 program ended at Luke Air Force Base 50 years ago this week after producing 6,930 graduates.
The Republic F-84G Thunderjet brought Luke into the jet age on Feb. 1, 1951.
Luke flew two versions of the F-84 over the years. One was the straight-winged Thunderjet mentioned above, and the other was the swept-wing F-84F Thunderstreak.
Two years later, the 3600th Combat Crew Training Wing formed a demonstration team using the straight winged Thunderjet. The unofficial name for the new team was the Thunderbirds, and in 1955, they switched to the new swept-wing Thunderstreak.
Another notable fact is that in 1954, Capt. Edward Kenny, a Luke instructor pilot, won the Bendix cross country air race in an F-84.
Unfortunately, the F-84 was designed early in the jet age. Aeronautical engineers were still learning about jet aviation design. The first flight of the straight-wing version was on Feb. 28, 1946. Four years later, the swept wing F-84F took its first flight. The F-84’s design limited it to three Gs and a speed well short of Mach. It also had a nasty tendency of the wings coming off if the pilot exceeded those perimeters.
Besides design flaws, the Air Force had other issues in the early 1950s that made the F-84 dangerous to fly. With the rapid expansion due to the Korean War, the lack of master mechanics led to a low experience level in the maintenance community.
Additionally, many things that are standard operating procedures today were in their infancy. An example is the early stages of detailed preflight and post-flight pilot briefings. They were innovations in 1954.
In fact, that year Luke’s flight safety office was pleased with the base’s progress. The base had it best flying safety year since reactivation with only 63 major aircraft accidents and six fatalities, down from 101 major accidents and 11 fatalities the previous year. By 1963, the F-84s last full year at Luke, the base had 11 major accidents with four fatalities for which the F-84 accounted for two and one respectively.