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The U.S. Air Force deployed nearly 400 F-105s to Indochina, which flew more than 20,000 missions, accounting for more than 75 percent of all U.S. bombing sorties in the war between July 1965 and November 1972. The vanguard of what would become the largest U.S. aerial attack force in Southeast Asia, eight F-105Ds of the 36th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed from Japan to Thailand’s Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base on August 9, 1964, and conducted their first mission over North Vietnam on February 8, 1965. Those early raids evolved into Operation Rolling Thunder. Its bombload and range soon made the F-105 the Air Force’s primary fighter-bomber in Vietnam.

Republic’s F-105 Thunderchief was developed as a supersonic close-air-support aircraft with a nuclear weapon delivery capability. The F-105D that entered production in 1959 was the first all-weather-capable model, incorporating radars for navigation and  target tracking, the AN/ASG-19 Thunderstick bombing/navigation system and a computerized navigation assistance system.

The F-105D was the first aircraft to employ fully integrated avionics. The new systems resulted in a lengthened fuselage and added about 1,000 pounds in weight, making the F-105D, with its Pratt and Whitney J-75-P19W engine, the heaviest single engine aircraft the Air Force would ever fly. Its long takeoff run and heavy wing loading reportedly led to its nickname, “Thud.”

Battle damage proved that the primary and secondary hydraulic systems were too close together, so the secondary system was moved deeper into the fuselage. A rearward-looking combat camera was installed to facilitate post-mission battle damage assessment. The more accurate and reliable Thunderstick II bombing system was introduced in 1968. Some F-105s were modified for night strike missions, and the final model to see service, the F-105G, was modified to conduct air defense suppression (ADS), or “Wild Weasel” missions, against North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries. Thuds began to be phased out in 1968 with the transition to McDonnell F-4s. The last F-105Ds departed the theater in December 1970, leaving the 6010th Wild Weasel Squadron (WWS), redesignated the17th WWS in late 1971, as Indochina’s last remaining F-105 unit.

Thud pilots flew over some of the world’s most heavily defended air space. Policy limited their targets and dictated their routes and timing of strikes, and the planes suffered accordingly. More than 315 F-105s were lost in combat and 61 to accidents. Of those, 280 were downed by anti-aircraft artillery, while SAMs accounted for 24 and MiGs shot down 17. Employed in a fashion for which it was never intended and under combat conditions that inhibited pilot initiative and freedom of action, the F-105 suffered the highest loss rate of any airplane that flew over North Vietnam. 

F-105D Thunderchief

Length: 64 ft. 5.3 in.

Wingspan: 34 ft. 11 in.

Height: 19 ft. 8 in.

Max. weight:  52,838 lbs.

Max. speed: Mach 1.5

Combat range: 948 nautical miles

Max. bombload: 16,500 lbs.

Service ceiling:  48,500 ft.

Read more about the “Thud” here.

This feature originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Vietnam Magazine. Subscribe here!