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Republic RF-84K Thunderflash

The RF-84K was a reconnaissance and nuclear strike fighter that was intended to be carried toward a target as a "parasite" underneath the GRB-36 bomber. At the time, jet aircraft possessed relatively short range and aerial refueling was not yet proven, so this provided a method to extend their range.

The U.S. Air Force applied this parasite concept to the FICON (FIghter CONveyer) project, which became the RF-84K. The mission profile called for the recon aircraft or attack fighter to leave the carrier aircraft (a modified strategic bomber) upon reaching hostile territory, make a dash to the target and perform its mission. The aircraft then returned to the waiting carrier, hooked up underneath it and was carried back to a base.

In 1952, as it tested two F-84 FICON prototypes, the USAF ordered 25 RF-84Ks and began modifying 10 B-36s into GRB-36 FICON carriers. The RF-84K design was a modification of the RF-84F, the USAF's most numerous and advanced tactical reconnaissance aircraft at the time. The only major differences were the RF-84K's retractable hook in the upper part of the nose, rods on either side behind the cockpit, and downward angled horizontal stabilizers (to fit inside the GRB-36's bomb bay).

The RF-84K entered service with the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS) in 1955. For the next year, pilots of the 91st SRS successfully flew their RF-84Ks, but they experienced many near disasters while separating or hooking back up to the GRB-36 carrier aircraft.

By 1957, the development of more capable strategic reconnaissance aircraft, along with greater range provided by dependable aerial refueling, made the parasite aircraft concept obsolete. The 91st SRS's RF-84Ks were transferred to other units flying RF-84Fs and thereafter flew conventional missions from runways.

The museum's aircraft is marked as it appeared while serving in the 91st SRS in the mid-1950s.

Four .50-cal. machine guns
Engine: Wright Sapphire J65 of 7,800 lbs. thrust
Maximum speed: 629 mph
Range: 2,000 miles (plus GRB-36's 10,000-mile range)
Ceiling: 39,390 ft.

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Jeff Duford: "Parasite Aircraft"  (00:48:57)