About This File
During late 1958 the Langley Laboratory made the breakthrough that led to the realisation of a valid variable-sweep wing and by early 1959 Tactical Air Command (TAC) could see that this massive technological breakthrough could be the key to help them in their search for a tactical strike fighter to replace both the F-100 Super Sabre and the F-105 Thunderchief. Pretty soon however the numerical values for unrefuelled range and payload that TAC had attached to their mission requirements had the effect of turning all the paper studies from F-105 sized machines to much larger tactical bombers with a corresponding increase in cost and price and this reduced affordability was of great concern to TAC.
In the Autumn of 1959 TAC wisely decided to split their requirement into a smaller tactical fighter to replace the F-100 and a larger tactical bomber to replace the F-105, B-57 and B-66. The larger aircraft would evolve into Specific Operational Requirement No.183 that would launch the important TFX (tactical fighter experimental) programme and eventually lead (via a tortuous route) to the outstanding but highly compromised F-111 family whilst the smaller aircraft would lead to Specific Operational Requirement No.182 or TAX (tactical aircraft experimental).
Issued in March 1960 SOR182 called for a single-seat tactical fighter aircraft with “reduced dependence of paved runways” and with “the ability to carry a nuclear bomb at supersonic speed at tree-top height”. Requests for Proposals were immediately sent out to industry and Republic Aviation’s proposal soon gained the support of TAC by virtue of its use of a variable-sweep wing but also by the use of the existing J75 turbojet and F-105 avionics. With the end of F-105 production on the horizon Republic Aviation pushed hard for SOR182/TAX and in February 1961 they were rewarded with a contract for 24 prototype and pre-production YF-110 aircraft and 400 production F-110A machines and Republic wasted no time in bestowing the name of ‘Thunderstorm’ to the latest of their long line of fighter aircraft.
Republic Aviation were fortunate in being awarded the contract before Secretary of Defence Robert S. McNamara had got into his stride and the programme largely escaped McNamara and his whiz-kids. Development moved swiftly and during 1962 the programme was re-designated F-7 under the new tri-service designation scheme and the first prototype took to the air on December 22nd 1962 a full year ahead of the F-111A. Entering service in June 1965 the F-7A was followed by the F-7B two-seat trainer version and the more advanced F-7C version that first deployed to Vietnam in March 1968 when a two-squadron wing transferred to Takhli Royal Thia AFB, Thailand in a deployment called ‘Combat Lancer’.