Republic modified its successful F-84 fighter into a swept-wing reconnaissance jet that could carry a variety of reconnaissance cameras behind optical glass windows in its nose.
In 1955 and 1956, the Air Force experimented with using large, long-range Convair B-36 bombers to carry small, fast RF-84K reconnaissance jets on long intercontinental missions. The bomber would release its RF-84K near enemy territory, the jet would dash in and take its photos, then rendezvous and hook onto the B-36 for the long ride home. (Air-to-air refueling was in its infancy, and the RF-84s could not make the long trips on their own.) The Strategic Air Command had 10 B-36 bombers and 25 RF-84s converted for the experimental Fighter Conveyor (FICON) program. Test flights demonstrated the FICON concept was “tactically sound”, but it was not suitable for normal operations. Even skilled test pilots had trouble hooking onto the trapeze extended below the B-36 while fighting the turbulent slipstream under the massive bomber. The testing revealed that the procedure was (just barely) feasible under ideal conditions, but would be nearly impossible at night or in poor weather. The program ended in 1956 as other solutions became more practical.
The airplane on display at Wings Over the Rockies is one of only three surviving RF-84Ks in the world. Built by Republic in September 1955 as a stock RF-84F, it was sent immediately to Beechcraft in Wichita, Kansas, for conversion into an RF-84K. Beechcraft installed the retractable hook-on equipment and the downward-angled horizontal tail that distinguished the special FICON aircraft, then performed test flights and turned the airplane over to the Air Force. In January 1956 it went to Larson AFB in Washington state and flew with the 71st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing until the end of the FICON program.
The Republic RF-84K is on loan from the National Museum of the US Air Force.
Wingspan: 38 ft 10 in (11.9 m)
Length: 37 ft 9 in (11.5 m)
Maximum speed: 581 mph (935 km/h)
Maximum weight: 15,100 lb (6,849 kg)
Range: 1,110 mi (1,786 km)
Engine: Wright J65 turbojet
Thrust: 7,220 lbf (32.1 kN)