Here's some back-channel correspondence from Medal of Honor recipient Leo Thorsness, MiG-killer, Wild Weasel and former POW.
Hello Gents: 5-17-10: Thanks to several of you, and organizations that support getting the F-105 "Thud" back in the air. Bob Jeffrey and Jim Hivner suggested we contact Cavanaugh Museum about their Thud. I have learned that aircraft, like all Thuds on display, on ramps, and in museums, are on loan from the USAF Museum in Wright Pat. Apparently that Museum gets control of USAF aircraft when they are decommissioned. Gen Charlie Metcalf, the Director, and I have spoken a couple times about getting a Thud airborne.
Twice he has told me, "Forget it Leo, it won't happen." Recently the Air Force, through a letter from the Vice Chief of Staff, has come out against transferring a Thud to the Collings Foundation.
The letter said all Thuds are "committed."
The Collings Foundation is the predominate organization now flying vintage American military aircraft.
Dr Collings and I met with the USAF Chief of Staff, General Schwartz, Friday, May 14th. I spoke as the "face" of the Thud, representing officially the Wild Weasels, and for many River Rats, POWs and MOH recipients.
Gen Schwartz was straight forward and said the AF was not in favor of giving a Thud away because of three reasons: Availability, Sustainability and Liability.
I opened our rebuttal citing the emotional side mentioning most or all members of the organizations (above) are in favor of seeing a Thud airborne again. I said that a flying Thud would be a phenomenal memorial to all living and dead Thud aviators, maintainers and want to be "Thuders" - to all Vietnam Veterans. I cited Thud numbers: just over 800 built, just under 400 lost in combat, just over 100 Thud aviators killed in actions and right at 100 POW Thud Aviators.
Next Dr Collings professionally and methodically rebutted the three issues mentioned by General Schwartz:
Availability: there are just over 100 Thuds available - about 23 F & G. Dr Collings had pictures of several sitting on ramps as pigeon poop collectors with panels falling off etc. He also told the Chief that there are Museums who have offered "their" Thud to the Collings Foundation.
Sustainability: Dr Collings said the Collings Foundation would ask for the eight thuds, which will succumb to corrosion, sitting on the ramp at Lackland AFB as "spare parts" and did not feel sustainability would ever be a problem. He noted a Thud flying nowadays would be much easier to maintain than a Wartime Thud. Example: the air ducts would be in permanent sub-sonic position as FAA does not allow the Thud to fly supersonic. Dr Collings did a good job refuting the sustainability issue. Also they have maintained a F-4 & A-4. And have received no support from the USAF. That 2-engine beast requires a lot more attention.
Liability also was well refuted. The Collings folks have been flying the F-4 for 11 years, and about five years flying the A-4. There are several legal "hold harmless" precedents that have held the government harmless after a USAF / Army Air Corp aircraft has had incidents. The Liability issues were well handled, like the Sustainability and Availability issues.
I closed the meeting mentioning that we Thud aviators did our best for the Air Force and United States - often knowing the odds for Weasels were greater than 50 percent of being shot down at the beginning of the war. I appealed saying that I hope the Air Force would go to bat for us as we Thud drivers did the Air Force in Vietnam. Also I mentioned that there are over 200 Vietnam era Soviet bloc country jets flying in the United State - we should be allow at least one Thud in the air.
To his credit, General Schwartz said they would "Double back" on the issues/concerns. After that, he will ask us to another meeting for their final decision to support or oppose the Collings Foundation getting a F-105F/G.
Sorry for the long report. But as long as we spent in Hanoi, I felt this report deserved more than one summary paragraph.
The battle is not won, but nor have we lost. The battle is ongoing to get a Thud airborne. Whatever support you are willing to give is appreciated gents. Congressional support is paramount and any calls that can be made are very helpful. We are still waiting to hear if Ike Skelton, Chairman House Armed Services Committee will support this. No response yet!
Best regards, tailwinds