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Tom Cleaver
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Hobby Boss 1/48 F-105D Thunderchief “Cherry Girl”

March 7, 2021 · in Aviation · · 20 · 2.9K

Frequently, my choice of models to build is influenced by whatever book project I am working on. That was the case with this model, which I decided to build while writing “Downtown: the U.S. Air Force in Southeast Asia 1961-73" that will be released by Osprey in May 2022. Having a model handy that is related to the project is good when there's a "block" on continued manuscript production. An hour spent with the model and when I turn back to the computer, whatever the problem was has resolved itself.

This model of "Cherry Girl" was done with the Cutting Edge sheet "F-105 Fancy Girls Part 2." After Vic Vizcarra was forced to paint out "Pussy Galore" in the fall of 1966, "Cherry Girl" came along in the spring of 1967 as the most risque F-105 in SEA. I used the Hasegawa Weapons Set "A" to give the load carried on June 3.

The following description of the battle in which Captain Larry Wiggins, flying "Cherry Girl" as "Hambone 03" shot down a MiG-17 on June 3, 1967, is from the coming book; the North Vietnamese information comes from "Aerial Engagements In The Skies of Vietnam," the official history of the VPAF - American pilots who were there who have read it say it's more accurate than the US record. I think I am the only "civilian" American to have a copy in English, thanks to Dr. Nguyen Hung, historian of the VPAF. A "taste" for you all:

The F-105s got back into the scoring on June 3 during an attack on the vital Bac Giang bridge on the Hanoi-China rail line, with Thunderchiefs from the 388th TFW's “Hambone Flight” that led the attack becoming involved with defending MiG-17s from the 923rd Fighter Regiment, which launched two four-Mig flights. The first was led by Ngo Duc Mai with wingman Phan Tan Duan and element leader Truong Van Cung and wingman Ha Dinh Bon. The second flight was led by Phan Van Tuc with wingman Le Van Phong, and element leader Hoang Van Ky and wingman Bui Van Suu.

After evading an F-4 escort flight, the first MiG flight spotted two flights of F-105s and turned in to attack from ahead as the Thunderchiefs accelerated supersonic for their getaway. Wingman Phan Tan Duan opened fire at the fourth F-105 of the second flight, but the four Thunderchiefs in the lead flight, led by Major John Rowan in “Hambone 01,” made a 180-degree left turn followed by “Hambone 02" and “03.” Element leader “Hambone 03," Captain Larry D. Wiggins was unaware that his wingman, “Hambone 04,” had barely avoided a collision with the second F-105 flight. Losing his own flight when it turned sharply, “Hambone 04" had stayed with the other flight. Wiggins managed to get behind Phan Tan Duan and put his gunsight pipper on the MiG's tailpipe just as Duan ignited his afterburner, and fired a Sidewinder at a range of 2,500 feet as his F-105 descended through 1,000 feet. With the AIM-9B 400 feet behind him when he spotted it, Duan began a left turn, increasing his bank steeply, when the missile exploded beside his tailpipe. Dense white vapor streamed out, as Duan tried to dive away. Wiggins pursued him, firing 376 rounds from his M61. “I had my gunsight aimed up and I worked it right down through him.” Although he saw no hits and soon overshot the MiG at high speed, Kuster and Rowan saw the MiG explode in a fireball and crash, killing Duan.

Leader Ngo Duc Mai maneuvered to evade the F-105s as he descended to low altitude followed by Truong Van Cung and wingman Ha Dinh Bon where they could outmaneuver the Thunderchiefs. Rowan, Wiggins, and “Hambone 02,” Major Ralph D. Kuster Jr., followed the three but Rowan and Wiggins overshot. At low altitude, the canopies of the F-105s all fogged up with condensation from the warm most air at low altitude and the three pilots peered through their front windscreens to try and follow the enemy. Kuster cleared his canopy by turning off his cockpit ventilation.

The three enemy fighters loosened their turns after the first orbit at 200 feet, and took up a “V” formation as Kuster tried for a shot, taking aim at Ha Dinh Bon's MiG as he rocked his wings. Before he could fire, Mai began closing on Rowan from his 11 o'clock while Truong Van Cung crossed his 1:30 position at a range of half a mile. Kuster reported the two fighters to Rowan, who responded. “If you can get one, go get him!” Finding himself in a favorable position to go after Mai's fighter, Kuster tightened up his left turn, while Rowan attacked Truong Van Cung.

Kuster quickly got a 45 degree angle-off shot at Mai's MiG at about 2,000 feet and fired a short burst, but did not have enough lead. Unable to track the enemy fighter through the turn, he started a high-speed yo-yo to reduce his overshoot, as Mai reversed into a hard right turn that solved Kuster's tracking problem. The two jets were almost parallel in a left turn, with Kuster slightly behind. Mai then turned across him again and he fired a few bursts at a range of 1,200 feet, but got no hits.

Mai's MiG rolled further left and banked into a steep dive. Kuster closed rapidly with 200 knots of overtake speed, but Mai established a smooth, tight descending turn to the left as he reduced power to force an overshoot. Pulling maximum Gs and just short of blacking out, Kuster aligned himself with the MiG but was unable to pull lead. He rolled as a last resort, which was enough to put the sight well in front of the MiG. Opening fire at 200 feet, he forced Mai to fly through the stream of cannon fire. The underside of Mai's wing exploded between the fuselage and the external fuel tank and the fire spread. Kuster relaxed back stick pressure as the fire and debris engulfed his F-105, which passed 25 feet below Mai's fighter as melted aluminum partially coated his windscreen and debris made an inchwide hole inside the Thunderchief's left air intake duct. The MiG rolled inverted and crashed, killing Mai. Kuster's J75 surged violently after ingesting flames from the burning MiG and the F-105 rapidly declerated. Wiggins stayed with him as he turned away at a lower speed to head for a tanker rendezvous. Fortunately, the engine recovered when they were about 30 miles from the tanker.

The kit is "mostly OK" but really needs an aftermarket cockpit.

Reader reactions:
18  Awesome

4 additional images. Click to enlarge.

20 responses

  1. Congratulations on your jet, my friend @tcinla!
    Excellent job!
    Loved the "translated" story as well!

  2. Excellent history. The Thud is the definitive plane of Operation Rolling Thunder.

    I built this kit over a decade ago. The cockpit is c**p, needs the Hasegawa bomb set for the correct weapons especially the centerline TER and Mk117 bombs with fuse extenders attached to the internal bomb bay doors and metal landing gear because the plastic ones are really weak but the rest of the kit isn't bad.

    I would post pics of Pussy Galore up, but it got damaged by Russians (well, one drugged out/drunk Russian who nearly ruined my life five years ago) so it sits on a shelf awaiting repair and parts.

  3. Great model and back story, Tom. Your paintwork came out exceptional.

  4. Very nice achievement on this 105, Tom.
    Love the build and the story as well.

  5. Amazing work as always! Your Thunderchief is a real showpiece. Well done Tom!

  6. Well done Tom, what an incredible aircraft portrayed impeccably! The background detail from your private collection is also educational and most enjoyable, thank you.

  7. Great looking Thunderchief. Looking forward to your new book.

  8. Great job, Tom and great narrative. I like the fact that we are now getting "both" sides of the story for Vietnam air combat, like the we did with WWII and Korea...not to burst any bubbles, but to get a more honest view of what actually took place in the skies. OBTW, the F-105D was my dream choice when I entered USAF Pilot School, but the Thuds were pulled from Southeast Asia and given to the Air National Guard when I was mid-way through the program. I ended up flying F-111's in the war.

  9. Great story, and Dan's is pretty good too!
    "Mostly OK" is probably the most succinct review I've ever read.
    Nice '105.

  10. Wonderful building Mr Cleaver! I have this same kit here, hope will be as good as this one.

  11. Fantastic description of the battle in the air and cool looking plane. It's a strange world we live in where Pussy Galore was considered more offensive than Cherry Girl. Definitely liked.

  12. One could write a doctoral dissertation on why that was, @chinesegeorge.

  13. What´s not to like, interesting story, nicely done Thud and a hot nose art 😀

  14. Well done Thud Tom. Great back story as usual too.
    Is she loaded with Mk 84’s or M-118’s. I’m thinking it’s
    The 2000lbs Mk 84, but wanted to make sure.

  15. Nice Build Tom, and a great story. I have always loved the Thud, it looks especially good in the Vietnam camo, and yours turned out well.

    My dad was in the Air Force during Vietnam as a Boom Operator doing midair refueling. He flew in Young Tiger's and from 1968-1972 was overseas more than he was home. Have home videos of him refueling the 105's pre-strike and post-strike. Said it was tough when you would have a flight of five or six planes and be talking to the pilots, and then post-strike one or more of the planes might be missing. Things like that most people just don't think about.

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