2 March 1978: Major Charles Thomas Fulop and First Lieutenant William A. Stone departed George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, in a Republic F-105G Thunderchief, call sign “Thud 71.” Their mission was a routine instrument training flight, making instrument approaches and departures at NAS Point Mugu on the southern California coast, then return to George AFB. Their airplane, Republic F-105G 63-8321, was built as an F-105F-1-RE, but converted to an F-105G Wild Weasel III, designed to locate and attack anti-aircraft missile sites.
The weather surrounding Point Mugu was actual IFR, with heavy clouds, rain and fog. Thud 71 made an instrument approach to the airfield and then initiated a missed approach, a normal procedure for a training flight. However, while climbing out, the pilot, Major Fulop, radioed Mugu Approach Control that he had a problem and requested an immediate return to George AFB. His request was approved.
Approach Control then lost the fighter bomber’s radar transponder signals. Fulop declared an emergency, and requested an immediate return to Point Mugu for landing. He stated that the altimeter had failed and that he was trying to climb above the clouds.
Moments later, witnesses in Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park saw the F-105 diving out of the overcast. Major Fulop initiated the ejection sequence for the Electronics Warfare Officer, Lieutenant Stone, in the back seat. Stone was ejected and parachuted to safety.
The witnesses said that the pilot was obviously steering the Thunderchief away from homes surrounding the open space of Wildwood Regional Park. Thud 71 crashed on the side of Hill Canyon. The airplane exploded on impact and Major Fulop was killed.
The crash site is less than two miles (three kilometers) from where I am now sitting.
The Republic F-105 Thunderchief was a Mach 2+ tactical fighter bomber. The F-105F is a two-place variant, flown by a pilot and a weapons system operator. Its high speed, low radar cross-section and heavy bomb load capacity made it a good candidate for the “Wild Weasel” mission.
The F-105F/G was 67 feet (20.422 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). It had a maximum weight of 54,580 pounds (24,757 kilograms).
The Thunderchief was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 17,200 pounds of thrust (76.51 kilonewtons), and 26,500 pounds (117.88 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).
The F-105G has a cruising speed of 596 miles per hour (959.2 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 1,386 miles per hour (2,230.6 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling is 52,000 feet (15,849.6 meters) and range, with external fuel tanks, is 2,070 miles (3,331 kilometers).
The Thunderchief is armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 1,028 rounds of ammunition, and it can carry up to 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms) of ordnance.
65 F-105Fs were converted to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration. Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York, factory. 334 of them were lost in combat during the Vietnam War.
Thud 71’s sister ship, Republic F-105G Thunderchief 63-8320, shot down three enemy MiG fighters. It is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Charles Thomas Fulop was born 6 October 1946 at Barberton, Ohio. He attended Miami University, where he was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity, graduating in 1968.
On 20 December 1969, he married Miss Cheryl P. Lewis at Sacramento, California. They would have two daughters.
Major Fulop was buried in the Veteran’s Court at Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Sacramento, California.
© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes