Found a neat piece of history tucked away in Monroeville last weekend. Folks gathered to get a closer view and hear stories told of the veteran aircraft, the F-84F fighter jet.
Over the summer, members of the Monroeville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #10205, USAF Museum, 122nd Fighter Wing's Junior Enlisted Council, Monroeville Volunteer Fire Department, Community Park Board, Town of Monroeville and CenTec Casting refurbished and repainted the Thunderstreak, as it was nicknamed, and on this day, Saturday, September 29, 2012 it was rededicated.
Through efforts by local veterans the jet was first relocated from the 122nd Fighter Wing Base to the Monroeville Community Park. But at the park it was hidden in a far away corner. Initiative was taken to move the aircraft to the perfect spot. Tony Johnston, retired MSgt with the 122nd Fighter Wing recalled, "There was a slab sitting right out front, near the entrance to the park, with nothing on it. We repaired it and with the assistance of the 122nd and the fire department the aircraft found a new home where it could be admired." Eugene Busche, Commander Post #10205 reported, "...it was sanded on a Wednesday, a pumper from the Monroeville Volunteer Fire Department washed it down in 3 minutes time, and then on Saturday we repainted."
Colonel Robert Franke and MSgt Kenneth Fritz, both veterans of the Berlin Crisis of 1961, were honored during the rededication.
"Originally the planes we flew were silver," said Franke. "It was later that Wright Patterson AFB decided to paint them camo."
Franke, 37 ½ years with the Air Force, an Officer and a Fighter Pilot, told his story...
"I was tired of shoveling you know what! I grew up on a farm and wanted to see the world," the Colonel said. So, on his 18th birthday, "I joined up," enlisted in the Air National Guard in 1959 and was called to Active Duty with the 122nd Tactical Fighter Wing October of 1961 and deployed to Chambley (France) in November. He said it felt like he worked 24 hours a day. He recalled, "I remember we ate a lot of chicken noodle soup and donuts. I still don't like donuts!"
When they arrived in Chambley they were assigned to load up bombs. They had an 850-mile combat radius. They would fly from France to a destination then toss the bombs all at once out the plane. Returning, hoping they had enough fuel to get back. "If the winds were too strong...sometimes it would flame out...but most made it," he said.
Colonel Franke, an enlisted member during the Berlin Crisis, said he flew 1100 hours in the F-84F, and accumulated over 6,000 hours of total flying time.
"Best plane ever!"
"Speed" was the word for this fighter aircraft back then. Top speed 695mph with a cruising speed of 535mph.
The swept-wing, single-engine, single-seat Republic F-84F "Thunderstreak" was a United States Air Force jet fighter with a height of 14'5" and a wingspan of 33'7". It was armed with six 50-caliber M-3 aircraft machine guns, 24 5-inch rockets and 6,000 pounds of bombs. It could attack ground targets.
But the F-84F had some control and stability issues. At combat speeds it was hard to maneuver but when hydraulics were introduced the high-speed control problems were somewhat corrected.
"The engine had problems especially when flying through heavy snow or rainstorms it would freeze up. But, we would just wait for awhile...cruise along in the air, and pretty soon we could start the engine again."
"Can't say enough about the mechanics crew," Franke added. "They made it work!" Appreciating the guys in the unit, Franke said, "Owe those guys a bunch of gratitude!"
A big part of that maintenance crew was Master Sergeant Kenneth "Kenny" Fritz, who enlisted at the age of 17. He had 43 years of Active Duty, being the longest serving member of the Indiana Air National Guard, retiring in 1997. He was Crew Chief and Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of the pneudraulics section at the 122nd Fighter Wing. Fritz also deployed to Chambley, France during the Berlin Crisis. While deployed he also worked alongside the German Air Force. Through his career he worked on F-80, F-86, F-100, F-4C and F-4E, finishing his career on the F-16. He also worked on the following support aircraft C-47, C-54, C-131, C-26 and the T-33.
Kenny told the crowd of admirers, "France was flying the same aircraft as we did. Only difference...their planes were newer than ours."
Wearing a Forget-Me-Not pin given to him by a German Mason, Frtiz reported that he has had 3 good lives, farming, working on airplanes and now construction work. Kenny is currently employed by Lawrence Building Corporation, enjoying construction and building Marathon stations across the country.
The fighter jet was built in 1951 by General Motors and Republic Aviation. Flown by the USAF 366th TFW at England AFB in Louisiana, it was transferred to the 4520th TFW as Nellis AFB Nevada, and finally was assigned to the 122nd Tactical Fighter Wing at Baer Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Aircraft 51-1631 was retired in 1971, reads the plaque on display.
Brought back to serve, but this time in a different capacity, the F-84F at the Monroeville Community Park stands proud on a static stage for all passerbyers to admire. Monroevelle Community Park is a short drive from Fort Wayne just south on Hwy 27, Hoagland Road to IN-101, at the edge of Monroeville.