THE 456th FIGHTER INTERCEPTOR SQUADRON

THE PROTECTORS OF  S. A. C.

 

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YRF-84F "FICON"

 

The Republic YRF-84 "FICON"

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As displayed at the museum.

Detail of the capture mechanism.

The YRF-84F was the prototype of the standard USAF F-84F "Thunderstreak." Originally designated the YF-96A, it consisted of an F-84E "Thunderjet fuselage with swept-back wings and tail. As the YF-96A, it made its initial flight on June 3, 1950.

During the early 1950s, the Air Force decided to conduct experiments on the feasibility of B-36's carrying fighter aircraft suspended under their bellies. This would not only provide the bomber with its own fighter protection, but would make it possible for the bomber to carry the fighter long distances to a combat zone. Upon reaching the edge of the enemy's territory, the fighter would be released to conduct reconnaissance or bombing missions on its own.

The YF-96A re-designated the YRF-84F "FICON" (which is a contraction of "Fighter" and "Conveyer") was designed so that it could be carried by a B-36. As the FICON, it made its first flight on March 30, 1953. However, subsequent development of mid-air refueling for range extension of fighter aircraft proved so successful that experiments with parasite fighters were discontinued.

SPECIFICATIONS
Span:
33 ft. 7 in.
Length: 42 ft. 11 in.
Height: 14 ft. 4 in.
Armament: Four .50 cal. machine guns.
Engine: Allison J35-A-25 jet engine of 5,200 lbs. thrust.
Crew: One
Serial number: 49-2430

PERFORMANCE
Maximum speed:
670 mph.
Cruising speed: 600 mph.
Range: 1,800 miles
Service Ceiling: 45,000 ft.

Air Force Museum

 

"FICON"

 

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GRB-36 carrying YRF-84F. USAF

During the early 1950s, the Air Force decided to conduct experiments on the feasibility of B-36's carrying fighter aircraft suspended under their bellies. This would not only provide the bomber with its own fighter protection, but would make it possible for the bomber to carry the fighter long distances to a combat zone. Upon reaching the edge of the enemy's territory, the fighter would be released to conduct reconnaissance or bombing missions on its own.

The YF-96A re-designated the YRF-84F "Ficon" (which is a contraction of "Fighter" and "Conveyer") was designed so that it could be carried by a B-36. As the FICON, it made its first flight on March 30, 1953. However, subsequent development of mid-air refueling for range extension of fighter aircraft proved so successful that experiments with parasite fighters were discontinued.

The FICON (Fighter Conveyor) program was conducted by the United States Air Force in the 1950s to test the feasibility of a B-36 Peacemaker bomber carrying an F-84 parasite fighter in its bomb bay. This article also covers a similar parasite fighter experiment called Project Tom-Tom.

 

The FICON Concept

 

Although the experimental XF-85 Goblin escort fighter proved to be a failure, USAF believed that bomber-borne fighter was still viable. Instead of escort, the focus had shifted to a strike role with a Convair B-36 Peacemaker carrying a Republic F-84 Thunderjet fighter. The plan was for the heavy bomber with superior range to arrive in the vicinity of the target and deploy a faster, more maneuverable F-84 to deliver the tactical nuclear bomb. The F-84 would then return to the ‘mothership’ and be carried home.

 

FICON Testing

 

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GRB-36 launching YRF-84F from the trapeze.

F-84E on FICON trapeze.

A production RB-36F-1 Peacemaker (serial number 49-2707) was modified with a special trapeze mechanism in its bomb bay and designated GRB-36F, and a production F-84E Thunderjet (serial number 49-2115) was fitted with a retractable hook in the nose in front of the cockpit. The hook would link the fighter to the trapeze which would hold the aircraft in the bomb bay during flight, lower it for deployment, and raise it back in after the mission. Due to the size of the fighter, only the cockpit, the fuselage spine, and the tailfin actually fit inside the GRB-36, which considerably increased the drag and reduced the big bomber's range by 5-10%. On a positive note, the fighter pilot was able to leave his airplane while attached to the carrier, making the 10-hour flights to and from the target much more bearable.

The initial FICON trials were performed in 1952. First hookup took place on January 9, with first retrieval into the bomb bay on 23 April, and first flight of the complete system from takeoff to landing on 14 May. In 1953, the GRB-36/F-84E was sent to Eglin Air Force Base where 170 airborne launches and retrievals were subsequently performed. In May 1953, the F-84E was replaced by the faster F-84F Thunderstreak, with the original YRF-84F (briefly called YF-96A) prototype (serial number 49-2430) modified for the role and briefly designated GRF-84F. When RF-84F Thunderflash tactical reconnaissance fighter began entering service, the FICON role was changed from attack to reconnaissance. As with the F-84, the RF-84 was supposed to utilize its smaller size and superior agility to over fly heavily defended targets and gather intelligence while the bomber loitered outside the range of enemy defences. The scheme was found to be "tactically sound" and USAF ordered 10 production RB-36D to be converted to GRB-36D carriers with a complement of 25 RF-84K tactical reconnaissance fighters. The RF-84K differed from RF-84F in having retractable hookup equipment and anhedral tailplanes to better fit inside the GRB-36. Since it retained an armament of 4x 0.50 in. machine guns, it could also act as an escort fighter. The RF-84K could be deployed at altitudes of up to 25,000 ft (7,550 m) and added 1,180 mi (1,900 km) to GRB-36D's already impressive 2,800 mi (4,500 km) combat range.

 

FICON In Service

 

The FICON system saw limited service with Strategic Air Command in 1955-1956. The GRB-36D carriers from 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (Fairchild AFB) operated in conjunction with RF-84K from 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (Larson AFB).

Subsequent test flights demonstrated that while the FICON concept was indeed "tactically sound," its operational implementation was difficult. Hookups with the carrier aircraft were challenging for the experienced test pilots under ideal conditions. In combat or in adverse weather and in the hands of less experienced pilots such maneuvers proved difficult with several RF-84K damaged while attempting to dock. In addition, the RF-84 had dramatically reduced the bomber's ground clearance. With the 450 gallon external tanks on the fighter, the FICON assembly sat a mere six inches (15 cm) off the ground! These adversities, combined with the advent of Lockheed U-2 and passing of the B-36 into obsolescence, resulted in cancellation of the project in 1956, with the last FICON flight taking place on 27 April 1956.

 

Project Tom-Tom

 

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EB-29A docked wingtip-to-wingtip with two EF-84Bs in Project Tom-Tom.

An even more bizarre development related to the FICON system was Project Tom-Tom. The first Tom-Tom consisted of a specially modified EB-29A (serial number 44-62093) and two EF-84B (serial numbers 46-0641 and 46-0661). The fighters would attach to the bomber using flexible mounts between the wingtips of the aircraft and would be towed by the mothership to extend their range. Not surprisingly the system proved dangerous because the powerful vortices coming off the EB-29's wingtips caused the fighters to violently roll. Tragically, on 24 April 1953, the B-29 and one of the F-84s aircraft crashed with no survivors.

In parallel, a similar configuration was being developed using an RB-36F previously used in the early FICON trials and two RF-84F (serial numbers 51-1848 and 51-1849). The aircraft were attached wingtip-to-wingtip using articulated arms and clamps. Although several successful hookups were performed in 1953, turbulence and vortices continued to present a major problem. In late 1953, an RF-84F was actually torn away from the RB-36. All aircraft landed safely but the concept was deemed too dangerous. Developments in the area of mid-air refueling at the time promised a much safer way of extending the range of the fighters and Project Tom-Tom was cancelled.

 

References

  • Air Force Flight Test Center. Two Warfighters in One Package.  Access date: 18 December 2006.
  • Baugher, Joe. B-36 Peacemaker.  Access date: 18 December 2006.
  • McLaren, David. Republic F-84 Thunderjet, Thunderstreak & Thunderflash: A Photo Chronicle. New York: Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1998. ISBN 0-7643-0444-5.
  • National Museum of the USAF. Convair GRB-36F.  Access date: 18 December 2006.

Wikipedia

 

 

The YRF-84 "FICON" Photo Gallery

 

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YRB-36 and YF-84F in stowed position YRB-36 and YF-84F in launch position Cockpit detail while in carried position
 The YF-84F  modified to the Fighter Conveyor configuration, was S/N 49-2430.

FICON Project with F-84E - This is a 37 figure sequence from a technical project report.

F-84E-1-RE S/N 49-2115

YF-84F-RE FICON side view   F-84E on loading dolly -
Loading F-84E on trapeze F-84E in stowed position F-84E in stowed position - front view
F-84E in loading position Nose probe to receiver attachment - long boom configuration Stowed position - long boom configuration
F-84E in stowed position - rear view Retrieving position - long boom configuration Long boom configuration - front view
Retrieving position - short boom configuration Short boom configuration - front view F-84E nose probe configuration used on flight 6
Test receiver mounted in aft latches Forward probe contact test receiver Aft probe contact test receiver
Snubber jack installation used on flight 9 Retrieving position - trapeze ground operation Extended position
Extended position - side view 14,000 lb. weight attached to trapeze Front view of weight
Take-off with F-84E stowed Take-off - front view Take-off - front view - airborne
Extending F-84E for landing gear operation Landing gear operation - F-84E extended Landing with F-84E stowed
Retrieving position - short boom with snubber Retrieving position - front view Extended position - front view
Extended position - side view Loading position Loading position - front view
Stowed position Stowed position - front view F-84E in extended position under B-36

 

THE F-84

The F-84E /G

THE F-84F

More About THE F-84F

The Thunderbirds & The F-84F

The Thunderbirds & The F-84G

The RF-84F Recon

The XF-84H

 

 

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02/10/2014

 

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