The United States Air Force primarily used three jets to fight the Korean War. The F-80 Shooting Star from Lockheed held the line in the early stages of the conflict, handling a wide array of missions. The North American F-86 Sabre then took control of the skies and dominated over "MiG Alley." But there was a third jet — one that proved to also be very valuable not only in Korea, but for NATO in general.
The jet was the Republic F-84 Thunderjet. In a way, it makes sense that Lockheed, Republic, and North American all developed an impactful airframe. After all, each of these manufacturers was responsible for a classic, WWII-era plane (the P-38, the P-47, and the P-51, respectively) that arguably filled the same roles as these more-advanced jets did in Korea. The P-38 and F-80 held the line early in their respective wars, while the F-84 and F-86 split the ground-attack and air-superiority duties the way the P-47 and P-51 did before them.
The F-84, however, gets a lot less attention than its contemporaries in discussions about the Korean War.
Why is that? As a ground-attack plane, it played a crucial role on the battlefield. The simple fact is, however, that dogfights sells newspapers. While air-superiority planes were making headlines, ground-attack planes were doing the real heavy lifting — and the F-84 did a lot of lifting in Korea.
A F-84 releases rockets at the enemy during the Korean War. It could carry up to two dozen five-inch rockets.
It was well-suited for the role. The F-84 could carry up to 6,000 pounds of external ordnance, which was comprised of either two bombs or tanks of napalm or up to 24 five-inch rockets. The F-84 also packed six .50-caliber machine guns, which claimed nine MiG-15s over Korea.
A F-84 Thunderjet takes off for a ground-support mission. This plane, in particular, did not survive the war. It was shot down by flak in August, 1952.
The straight-wing F-84 Thunderjet was retired by the end of the 1950s. Swept-wing versions, including the F-84F Thunderstreak and the RF-84F Thunderflash, served through the 1960s in the Air National Guard.
They may have never generated headlines like the F-86, but they still served effectively. Learn more about this forgotten jet in the video below!