Hobby Master HA2550 USAF Republic F-105G Thunderchief Wild Weasel Aircraft - 561st Tactical Fighter Squadron "Wild Weasel", Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1972 (1:72 Scale)
"First in, last out."
- The de facto job description of the Wild Weasel pilots
The Republic F-105 Thunderchief was a supersonic fighter-bomber used by the United States Air Force. The Mach 2 capable F-105 bore the brunt of strike bombing over North Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War. Originally designed and deployed as a single seat aircraft, a two-seat Wild Weasel version was later developed for use in the specialized Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role against surface-to-air missile sites. It was commonly known as the Thud by its crews.
As a follow-on to the Mach 1 capable F-100, the F-105 was also armed with missiles and a cannon; however, its design was tailored to high-speed low-altitude penetration carrying a single nuclear bomb internally. First flown in 1955, the Thunderchief entered service in 1958. As the largest single-engined fighter ever employed by the USAF, the single-seat F-105 would be adapted to deliver a greater iron bomb load than the four-engined, 10-man strategic bombers of World War II like the B-17, B-24 and B-29. The F-105 would be best remembered as the primary strike bomber over North Vietnam in the early stages of the Vietnam War. Over 20,000 Thunderchief sorties were flown, with 382 aircraft lost (nearly half of the 833 produced) including 62 operational casualties. Although it lacked the agility of the smaller MiG fighters, USAF F-105s demonstrated the effectiveness of guns, and were credited with downing 27.5 enemy aircraft.
During the war, the two-seat F-105F and F-105G Wild Weasel variants became the first dedicated Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) platforms, fighting against the Soviet-built S-75 Dvina / (SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missiles. Two Wild Weasel pilots were awarded the Medal of Honor for attacking North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile sites, with one shooting down two MiG-17s the same day. The dangerous missions often required them to be the "first in, last out," suppressing enemy air defenses and keeping them suppressed while strike aircraft accomplished their missions and then left the area.
Although the F-105 weighed 50,000 pounds (22,680 kg), the aircraft could exceed the speed of sound at sea level and Mach 2 at high altitude. It could carry up to 14,000 pounds (6,700 kg) of bombs and missiles. The Thunderchief was later replaced as a strike aircraft over North Vietnam by both the F-4 Phantom II and the swing-wing F-111. However, the "Wild Weasel" variants remained in service until 1984, when they were replaced by a specialized F-4G "Wild Weasel V". The USAF F-4G was subsequently replaced by the USAF F-16CJ Fighting Falcon aircraft, currently employed in the SEAD role.
Pictured here is a 1:72 scale rendition of a F-105G Thunderchief Wild Weasel aircraft that was attached to the 561st Tactical Fighter Squadron "Wild Weasel" then deployed to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, during 1972.
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Historical Account: "Wild Weasels" - Wild Weasel operations became the 561st Tactical Fighter Squadron's primary mission in mid-1970, when the squadron exchanged its single seat F-105s for two seat F-105G Thunderchiefs. In April 1972, the squadron established Detachment 1 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand and flew combat Wild Weasel missions. The detachment was discontinued in September, but crews and planes of the squadron continued to fly missions until late January 1973. The squadron was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with "V" Device and the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm for this period. A plane from the 561st was the last F-105 shot down in the Vietnam War. It was hit by a surface-to-air-missile on November 16th, 1972; the crew was rescued. One of the surviving aircraft from the squadron is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force with the 561st Squadron's markings.
On July 1st, 1973, the 561st moved to George Air Force Base and joined the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing. At George, the squadron mission was primarily the training of Wild Weasel crews. The squadron continued to fly the F-105G until 1980, when it began transitioning into the McDonnell F-4G Phantom II advanced Wild Weasel, completing the transition the following year. In August 1990, the Wild Weasels deployed to Sheikh Isa Air Base, Bahrain and during Operation Desert Storm flew over 2,400 sorties logging more than 8,000 combat hours. After the war, the squadron was inactivated on June 30th, 1992.
The squadron was activated at Nellis Air Force Base as part of the 57th Operations Group on 1 February 1993. the 561st soon deployed to Incirlik Air Base in support of Operation Provide Comfort and returned to Southwest Asia at Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia, supporting Operation Southern Watch and Operation Vigilant Warrior. The 561st was also employed as an "Aggressor" squadron during RED FLAG exercises. In 1994, the 561st became the largest fighter squadron in the United States Air Force. It maintained a continuous deployment to the Middle East until inactivating in October 1996.