Two of the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History’s iconic fighter-bombers, the F-105D Thunderchief and the A-7 Corsair II, will be the focus of the museum’s special initiative within “Operation Preservation” – a multi-year campaign to repaint and refurbish the airplanes in the museum’s nine-acre outdoor exhibit area known as Heritage Park.
Restoration will begin this spring on the museum’s F-105D Thunderchief, serial number 61-0107, a supersonic fighter-bomber that was produced in 1962 and was sent to the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) in Germany to provide NATO nuclear retaliation capability during the depths of the Cold War. After its use for pilot training in McConnell AFB, Kansas, it was transferred multiple times around the nation, landing for the final time at Kirtland AFB in 1981.
Kirtland AFB was only supposed to be a location for the aircraft to refuel on its way to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, or “Boneyard,” in Tucson, AZ, but complications prevented it from leaving Albuquerque. On its takeoff from Kirtland, it lost power and the pilot dropped an emergency hook from the back of the plane to catch the one-inch steel cable that stretched across the runway at the Albuquerque International Airport. The pilot was not injured, and after the aircraft was repaired, it was offered to the then National Atomic Museum for permanent display. It has now been a part of the museum’s collection for 35 years.
When the Thunderchief entered service, it was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history, and it could exceed the speed of sound at sea level and reach Mach 2 at high altitude. Built by Republic Aviation – with a length of 64 feet and 4.75 inches and a wingspan of 34 feet and 11.25 inches – the F-105 conducted the majority of strike bombing missions during the early years of the Vietnam War.
The second aircraft to receive restoration attention this spring and summer will be the museum’s A-7 Corsair II, Bureau Number 154-407, the only aircraft in the museum’s collection to have ever flown in combat missions. This Navy carrier fighter-bomber was built in 1968, and in its first eight years in service, the aircraft saw numerous cruises including several Vietnam deployments. Within this timeframe, it had 3,338 flight hours and 731 carrier launches and landings.
This aircraft was modified and upgraded over the next few years, stationed at two different Naval Air Stations where it was continually involved in flight test work until its aircraft lifetime expired. During its service, it was instrumental in training pilots in nuclear weapons delivery tactics and in developing and testing weapons for weapon delivery. Its last flight was to Albuquerque where it was used for parts and training, having accumulated 5,796.6 flight hours. It joined the museum’s collection in 1992.
The A-7 was, from 1967 until 1992, one of the most cost effective and capable attack aircraft in the Navy’s inventory. The museum’s A-7 Corsair II is a TA-7C model; converted from a single-seat A-7E to a two seat TA-7C in 1976. Built by Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) Aerospace Corporation – with a length of 46 feet and 2 inches and a wingspan of 38 feet and 9 inches – a total of 1,569 A-7 aircraft were produced, fighting in both Vietnam and Iraq. Although they were not the fastest aircraft, they had a solid reputation with pilots as a reliable aircraft that could deliver weapons with great accuracy. It also holds the distinction of being the only single seat jet fighter-bomber that was designed, built and deployed into combat, all during the Vietnam War.
Restoration of both aircraft will begin in April of 2017 under the supervision of General Jay Bledsoe, Project Manager, with the help of museum staff and volunteers and will be funded by donations received from supporters and entities with personal ties to the museum and the historic aircraft. The F-105D will be the first aircraft to be repainted, receiving trim and insignia to look as it did when it was active in the 49th TFW in Germany as part of NATO. After its completion, the focus will then move toward the A-7, repainting the surface to revive the paint colors of orange and gray that it currently displays. The total restoration cost for both the F-105D Thunderchief and A-7 Corsair II is estimated to be $45,000.
Completion of these outdoor exhibits for visitor viewing will take place in August of 2017. A Dedication Ceremony for the restored airplanes will be held at the museum in the fall of 2017.
Contributions to the F-105D and A-7 restorations can be made online at nuclearmuseum.org under “Support the Museum.” Please designate the donation with the notation of either “F-105D” or “A-7.”
The museum has successfully restored three other aircraft in Heritage Park, including the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the B-29 Superfortress, and the B-52 Stratofortress. More information about new restoration initiatives and completed projects can be found online at National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.