The Thurderjet was assigned to the 54th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) in December 1952. This unit operated from Rapid City (later Ellsworth) AFB in South Dakota as part of Air Defense Command. The 54th FIS had only just been reactivated on 1 December 1952 and given the mission of intercepting enemy bombers.
In December 1953, the 54th FIS began transitioning to F-86s and the Thunderjet was transferred to the 407th Strategic Fighter Wing (composed of the 515th, 516th, and 517th Strategic Fighter Squadrons) in February 1954. This move took the aircraft west to Great Falls (later Malmstrom) AFB in Montana where it became part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). Fighters under SAC command were tasked to escort bombers carrying atomic weapons to their faraway destinations. The 407th had been reactivated in December 1953 and would relocate to Japan later in 1954. It is unlikely that the Thunderjet did much flying with this Wing since it was transferred again in April 1954 before operational training began in June of that year.
The last assignment in the USAF for the Thunderjet was to the Air Materiel Command at Hill AFB in Utah. Shortly after this move, the aircraft was stricken from the USAF and provided to the Yugoslav Air Force under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program in June 1954.
Some 229 F-84Gs were sent to Yugoslavia beginning in June 1953. These were initially used as fighter interceptors, then fighter-bombers, and finally as advanced trainers before being retired in 1974. A 1961 Order of Battle for the Yugoslav Air Force lists F-84Gs as fighter-bombers with the 88th, 198th, 109th, and 172nd Fighter Bomber Aviation Regiments.
In the mid-1950s, the Thunderjet would have carried the following markings in Yugoslav Air Force service:
- “586” in white on the nose;
- “10586” in black above the upper horizontal stripe on the tail;
- A red star with a blue or azure stripe above and a red stripe below on the tail;
- A roundel made up of a red star surrounded by a blue or azure circular stripe with white in between the star and stripe on the aft fuselage;
- “586” in white on the lower left and upper right wings; and a roundel on the lower right and upper left wings.
At some point between 1974 and 1990, the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade came into possession of the Thunderjet. It was there that Steve and Norma Knopp found 2 F-84s disassembled and “stored” outside of the museum. The Knopps own P. Ponk Aviation on Camano Island in Washington and made five trips to Yugoslavia between 1989 and 1992.
Told that these were the last two F-84s available for sale at the museum, the Knopps spent months negotiating and ultimately buying the two aircraft for $22,000 each. Steve’s father, Kenneth, a 40-year Boeing employee, advanced the money for the purchase as the negotiations dragged on. Interestingly, Knopp had to negotiate with the U.S. government first in order to be sure that the aircraft would not be confiscated when imported into the U.S. since they were provided to Yugoslavia under the MDAP.
The then director of the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade, Cedomir Janic, signed the Aircraft Bill of Sale on 15 June 1990 and the Knopps imported the Thunderjet and another with the Yugoslav serial number of 10534. The Knopps registered them on 17 September 1990—the F-84 as N6599V.
It had been Knopp’s plan to trade the aircraft with the USAF, however he says that the USAF decided to stop trading activities at about that time. Both F-84s were used as collateral for a loan from Frontier Bank via an Aircraft Security Agreement dated 12 December 1991. Knopp says that they stored the F-84s on Camano Island. On 6 July 1998, they sold the Thunderjet to The Air Station, Inc. in Arlington, WA. Air Station transferred the registration on 28 August 1998.
It then appears that the paperwork had to catch up with the next series of transactions.
- Air Station sold the Thunderjet to Lawrie Investments Ltd. on 18 March 1999, however it wasn’t until 9 October 2001 that the sale was recorded with the FAA.
- Lawrie Investments sold the aircraft on 5 September 2001 and the paperwork was recorded on 9 October 2001.