The History of the Jet!
The early 1950s: Republic Aviation Corporation’s Product Line
RF-84F Thunderflash (second from right)
It was 1953, not so long ago (or maybe it was!)…
The long dark days of the Korean War were winding down, with the armistice signed on July 27th. Joseph Stalin, Supreme Ruler of the Soviet Union, dies on March 5th, replaced by Georgi Malenkov. General Dwight D. Eisenhower is inaugurated President of the United States on January 20th.
The Soviet Union explodes their first hydrogen bomb. The Cold War is in full swing. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed for espionage. Egypt becomes a Republic. Edmund Hillary reaches the top of Mt. Everest. The structure of DNA is discovered. Ernest Hemingway wins the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea. And Republic Aviation Corporation manufactures an RF-84F Photo Reconnaissance Jet fighter plane, Serial Number 53-7570, under contract with the United States Air Force.
The RF-84F is just one of the family of F-84s manufactured during this time; the original straight wing F-84 Thunder Jet, the swept wing F-84 Thunderstreak, the RF-84 Thunderflash, even the really funky Experimental Turboprop F-84 “Thunderscreech”. Now that was a plane to remember (or not…)!
The sound of the turboprop blades was SO loud, that ground crew would be knocked unconscious and/or be physically ill. The propeller tips actually rotated faster than the speed of sound, at Mach 1.18, creating a constant sonic boom. Only two were built.
Fortunately for us, the USAF has kept records of the history of our Jet. Not so fortunately, the records are on microfilm and are becoming unreadable after so many years in storage. We have obtained scans of the official Aircraft History Card on file at the USAF AFHSO Research Department.
“The Aircraft History Card is almost unreadable. The aircraft was … transferred to the French Air Force in 1957 and assigned to the 33 Escarde de Reconnaissance (ER 33). The Escarde de Reconnaissance was stationed in Cognac, France before the ER 33 moved to Lahr, Germany in 1957. In 1966 the ER 33 began replacing the RF-84Fs with the Mirage IIIRs. At this point RF-5370 returned to the United States (in 1966) and was assigned to the 184 TRS of the Arkansas ANG. Unfortunately, we do not have aircraft cards for aircraft in the ANG. This F-84-F was delivered to the Enka Junior High School by Skycrane from Shaw AFB in 1972.”
Such a small paragraph to represent such a long period of time.
A NOTE ON COLONEL HERSCHEL S. “SCOTTY” MORGAN
Our Jet has long been associated with our distinguished local hero, Herschel S. “Scotty” Morgan. We follow this section on the history of our Jet with a section on the illustrious career of Colonel Morgan. Our Jet, christened “The Spirit of Enka”, and with Colonel (then Lieutenant) Scotty Morgan proudly displayed under the pilot’s canopy, rightfully honors a true American Hero. In Enka/Candler, NC, we are proud to be the home of Colonel Morgan, and are proud to be able to honor him as we are able.
We know that Colonel Morgan flew RF-84Fs early in his career, prior to his transfer to F-105 “Thud” Thunderchiefs (like the one above) and his distinguished service in Vietnam. What is important is that we honor and remember Colonel Morgan to our utmost ability, and continue to recognize him as a True American Hero. We cannot say “they don’t make them like that anymore”, as they do, and the service members of all the Armed Forces need to be honored and recognized as the True Heroes they all are. Colonel Morgan is representative of a breed of American that deserves all the honor and recognition they can get. We salute Colonel Morgan and all the True American Heroes in the service of America, past, present and future.
VIVE LA FRANCE!
In 1957 our Jet was transferred to Armée de l'Air, The French Air Force. Of the only 715 RF-84Fs manufactured by Republic, most were loaned to our NATO allies; France, Belgium, Germany, even Greece.
Here is a photograph of our Jet in the service of the French Air Force:
Notice the Frenchman. Nice shorts! Also notice the rag stuck in the tail of the airplane, and the jacks under the wings. Hey, even jet airplanes need tire changes now and then!
We have no real information on the Jet during its time with the French Air Force (1957-1966). However, since the Jet was with the French Air Force 33rd, a large and active unit, and several military conflicts occurred involving France during this time, as such:
The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962)
Second Franco-Tunisian War [The Bizerte Incident] (1961)
Gabon Intervention (1964)
And of course, The Cold War (1945-1991)
We have no firm evidence of the location of the Jet at the time of the photograph. However, considering the location of the above conflicts, the observation of the shorts and the undershirt that the fellow was wearing, and the rag in the tail of our Jet may indicate the plane was in hot and sandstorm-prone North Africa.
We can only assume that the Jet has a long and distinguished career in the service of an important NATO ally and friend to the United States, the Republic of France.
RETURN TO THE UNITED STATES
Upon the Jet’s deactivation by the French Air Force, as they upgraded their fleet to the at-the-time modern Mirage III, our Jet made its way back to the States, and was assigned to the 184th TRS of the Arkansas Air National Guard. During its time with the Arkansas Air National Guard (1966-1970?), ARANG used these planes in pilot and ground crew training and missions.
During this time the Jet is deactivated from active USAF service, and the tail number is changed from 53-7570 (37570 in France) to the indicative of deactivation, 0-37570. This number has been retained to this date.
During 1971-72, the Jet was finally deactivated for good, after serving nearly twenty years in distinguished service. One can only guess how many important photos were taken by the high-speed spy cameras mounted in the nose of this airplane during its long career in the Air Forces of two nations and one US State.
A French RF-84F photographs its own shadow as it streaks low over Egypt during the Suez Crisis (1956)
After the final deactivation by the AR Air National Guard, the Jet made its way, we like to think its final flight, to Shaw Air Force Base near Columbia, SC, where the final step was taken: the Wright-built Sapphire Turbojet engine was removed. Is this the END for our Jet? Hardly. Seems certain movers and shakers had plans for this Jet…
“THE SPIRIT OF ENKA”
Sometime around the beginning of 1970, two certain individuals, then involved with the Air Force ROTC chapter located at Enka High School (now Enka Middle), began an ultimately successful letter-writing campaign in search of a suitable mascot for the school. “Home of the Jets” was not complete without a Jet! These two individuals, Colonel John Pennstrom, AFROTC, and Sergeant Clarence Clark, AFROTC, both instructors at Enka High, starting writing letters to try to procure a mascot for the school.
Ultimately, the letters must have come to the attention of Major General Roger K. Rhodarmer, USAF, at the time the Commanding Officer of Shaw Air Force Base outside of Columbia, SC. A native of Canton, NC (right next door!), a graduate of Canton High, General Rhodarmer obviously took a particular interest in these letters being written by Pennstrom and Clark. The General was a long time Reconnaissance man, being involved in USAF Photo Reconnaissance in his entire post-WWII career.
Here is General Rhodarmer’s official USAF biography:
A photo reconnaissance Jet would be right up his alley. And so, without further ado, approvals are obtained from the United States Department of Defense, orders are given and received, the Alabama Air National Guard is contacted, a certain afore-mentioned Republic RF-84F Thunderflash (minus its engine) is strung up under an Alabama Air National Guard Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter. Pictured below is our jet being delivered! (Actual historic photos!)
And on April 18, 1972, the next thing you know, Enka High School has its mascot! Of course, the Jet really doesn’t belong to the school, it is the property of The United States Air Force. The Jet is on permanent loan to the school, and a condition of the loan is that the Jet is Properly Maintained. While it is rare, the Air Force has been known to take back their property if it is not Properly Maintained. Taking back their property involves a very large saw, a backhoe and a dump truck. A big one.
There are a couple of footnotes here:
The Enka High bricklaying class of 1972 was tasked with an important project: create a 30-foot cement pad ringed with brick to accommodate the new addition. It must have been a labor of love, or at least duty. Not many bricklaying classes anymore! Below are scale drawings done by students to design the concrete pad for the new mascot.
The concrete pad for the jet under construction
When the final orders were given, the school only had a few hours’ notice before the arrival of the RF-84F. The crew of the Skycrane, proceeded in the mission by another helicopter containing a ground crew, had anticipated fuel consumption for the mission including an eleven minute window for lowering and delivering the plane. They sure do things on a tight schedule! Of course, no one thought to mention the high powered electrical wires that had to circumvented when the package arrived. The word is that the Skycrane barely had enough fuel to make it home, when the delivery stretched to over twenty minutes because of the power lines that had to be avoided. This must have been quite a sight to see!
Ground crew arriving in Huey helicopter (actual historic photo)
Two days after the Jet’s arrival at its new home, there was a Dedication at the school for the new arrival. The main speaker at this Dedication was none other than Major General Roger Rhodarmer himself. We imagine he was quite proud of his Thunderflash, Enka High School, and the Western North Carolina community as a whole. Other speakers included Colonel Pennstrom and Enka High Principal W.E. McElrath.
And so the speakers lift their lofty words and step down from the temporary stage, the proud and amazed crowd walks around the shiny new Jet for a while, then everyone goes home, the sun sets, and the RF-84F “Spirit of Enka” begins the last chapter in a long and distinguished career. Enka High “Home of the Jets” finally has a Jet of which to be very proud. And for forty-four years since that wonderful day, the “Spirit of Enka” has been a very real presence in the Enka Community and a major source of pride to the school.
For twenty five years after the installation of our Jet to its honored place at the front of Enka High School (Enka Middle School as of 1984), with no roof over the Jet, local weather had the opportunity to take its toll. In addition, small holes, corrosion, a broken radio deck window, and other nooks and crannies in the structure of the Jet gave small critters, birds, and insects a foothold. By 1997 the Jet was in sore shape. Paint was peeling, birds and insects had moved in, lettering was fading. “The Spirit of Enka” needed help.
While Major General Rhodarmer had retired in 1973, the USAF still had the desire, expertise, and most importantly, the budget to maintain permanently loaned Jets. Not for a moment do we think our Jet got any sort of special treatment. We imagine the USAF felt it needed to maintain not only its Jets on display, but its own image in the eyes of the communities where the various display aircraft were located. Wouldn’t look good for the USAF to have falling down aircraft, now would it?
And so needed help arrived, in May 1997, in the form of a crew from Shaw AFB, as such:
And a fine job they did, indeed. Inspected, repaired, new paint, a protective clear coat, lettering redone, touched up, cleaned, and polished. A real first class job. We salute these service members, and are grateful for their service to the Jet, and to the Enka Community as a whole. Job well done!
NINETEEN YEARS LATER – THE SPIRIT OF ENKA TODAY
Fast forward from 1997 to 2016. Nineteen years later. Once again, paint is peeling, birds and insects have moved in, corrosion has set in, the tires are flat, the radio deck window is still broken, lettering is fading badly, our Jet Needs Help again. Which is why we’re here. But things have changed in the last two decades. Most importantly, the United States Air Force no longer has the budgets to maintain the numerous Jets on display all across the country. Sorry, guys, you’re on your own. But, in case you need reminding, the Conditions of the Permanent Loan still apply. The Jet must be Properly Maintained. You wouldn’t want the Air Force to take their property back, now would you?
There’s a plan. There’s a committee. There’s a non-profit Foundation, there’s dedication and will, and there are people who want this project to succeed. And so the latest movers and shakers, the Enka Middle School, the Buncombe County School system, the Enka High School Air Force ROTC, our sponsors and, most importantly, the wonderful volunteers who have stepped forward to make this dream a reality, appeal to all:
SAVE THE JET!