The US Military bid a final farewell to the mighty McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II on December 21st, 2016, as the last active examples were paid off in a ceremony and brief flying display under heavily overcast skies at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, New Mexico. While the Phantom II officially retired from US front line squadron use in 1996, more than 300 examples underwent conversion into QF-4 full-scale aerial target drones over the past 30 years. These aircraft performed an essential service, both in testing the effectiveness of munitions in realistic situations, as well as providing training for fighter pilots in the art of air-to-air combat against live targets. The last QF-4 conversion, formerly RF-4C 68-0599, rolled off the modifications line at AMARG in Tucson, Arizona during April, 2013. The QF-16 will take over where the QF-4 left off.
The small retirement ceremony for the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron’s QF-4s at Holloman yesterday was not initially going to be open to the public, but there is such devoted interest in the Phantom II that the military relented and allowed for civilian attendance. Several dignitaries from the Phantom community were present for the event, including the last active-duty F-4 pilot in the US Air Force, Col. Ron “Elvis” King. Six Phantom IIs sat out on the flight line early in the morning with their canopies open, alongside a pair of QF-16s. Four Phantoms took to the skies and individually beat up the field before forming a four-ship “Phinale”, followed by a fighter break for landing. They received a traditional firehose salute from the locally based emergency vehicles sending a plume of water into the air as the retiring fighters taxied slowly by, their drag ‘chutes still fluttering. After shutdown, maintenance personnel, pilots and former Phantom community members festooned one of the gray QF-4s with their signatures. Hopefully this aircraft, along with the others, will find a home inside a museum somewhere.
With the end of the QF-4 program, only the Collings Foundations F-4D will remain airworthy in the United States, while a hundred or so airworthy examples linger on outside the US with the Japanese Air Self Defense Force, Turkish Air Force, Hellenic Air Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, and of course the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. Most of these are slated for retirement in the very near future too.
Many thanks to Jay Beckman of Crosswind Images for covering the event for WarbirdsNews. For those interested in purchasing Jay’s prints and photos, click HERE.
Here is a great tribute by our friends at AirshowStuff