‘Republic submitted the “Thunderchief” name on Jun. 29, 1956, and the air force granted formal approval on Jul. 25,’ Mike Machat, Aviation Artist.
Aviation Artist Mike Machat explains how the F-105 got its name in the book Thunderchief The Complete History of the Republic F-105.
Since World War II, American aircraft manufacturers have adopted themes for naming their aircraft, such as “Star” for Lockheed, “Sky” for Douglas, and the famed Navy “Cats” from Grumman. Republic used “Thunder,” beginning with the P-47 Thunderbolt and evolving to the F-84 Thunderjet, XF-91 Thunderceptor, F-84F Thunderstreak, and RF-84F Thunderflash. Then came the F-105.
In the 1950s, my uncle, George Hildebrand, headed the Republic Human Factors and Escape Systems groups, having designed the cockpit enclosures for the P-47, F-84 series, XF-91, XR-12 Rainbow, and the cabin of the RC-3 Seabee amphibian, as well as high-speed escape systems for Republic’s jet fighters. Of all the aircraft George was involved with, he considered the F-105 to be the pinnacle of his career.
As a young child, I had a fascination with fire engines and wanted to be a firefighter when I grew up. Fostering that interest, Uncle George gave me an honorary call sign inspired by his proud relationship with air force pilots, and from the time I was three years old, I was known as “Little Chief.” In the summer of 1956, at age nine and about to enter fourth grade, Uncle George related with seeming bewilderment, the story of how he had entered Republic’s naming contest for the F-105 with my call sign and actually won. The F-105 was going to be called “Thunderchief.”
Republic submitted the “Thunderchief” name on Jun. 29, 1956, and the air force granted formal approval on Jul. 25. Word of the proposed name becoming official was proudly announced on the front page of the company newspaper, Republic Aviation News, on Friday, Aug. 3, 1956.
A frequent visitor to the Farmingdale plant was then-Maj. Jacksel M. “Jack” Broughton, leader of the famed Thunderbirds aerial demonstration squadron and future F-105 wing commander. The team flew F-84F Thunderstreaks back then, and Broughton was good friends with Republic president Mundy I. Peale. In 1985, Broughton shared with me the conversation in which Peale proudly told him of the F-105’s new name and how the company chose it that early summer of 1956.
The first released photo of the F-105 showed the initial F-105B (54-0100) parked on Rogers Dry Lake at the Air Force Flight Test Center in a heavily retouched black-and-white image with a fair amount of structural detail airbrushed out for security reasons. Captions of that photo printed in public and trade media used the name “Thunderchief” for the first time.
However, when the official “Chief” logo appeared on the tail of F-105B-6-RE (54-0111), the first airplane delivered to the air force in May 1958, the company-designed image was that of a stylized Indian Chief, not a Fire Chief. It was still a thrill, however, to know my childhood call sign had inspired the name of the world’s heaviest, most powerful single-engine, single-seat fighter-bomber.
Thunderchief The Complete History of the Republic F-105 is published by Crecy and is available to order here.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Ebay via Worthpoint