The Collings Foundation‘s F-4 Phantom II is now the only flying example of its kind in North America. She took to the skies again in the capable hands of former US Air Force ‘Rhino’-driver Harry “D-Day” Daye at 10:50am local time on August 8th, 2017 from Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. Listed on the US civil registry as N749CF, the 1965-built McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II once flew with the USAF as 65-0749. She is currently painted in the markings of 66-7680, a Phantom II flown by Col. Robin Olds’ during Operation Bolo in the Viet Nam War.
We are very fortunate that there is a civilian-owned Phantom II still flying at all. It actually took an Act of Congress to make it possible. With considerable political and financial assistance, the Collings Foundation was able to pass many significant (and justifiable) hurdles in order to acquire this aircraft through an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill of 1999.
Once acquired, the aircraft underwent a significant refurbishment to make it airworthy back in the late 1990s. This included replacing the engines with zero-timed examples, locating and adding ejector seats, upgrading the cockpit avionics, overhauling hydraulic systems and other components, not to mention the myriad structural inspections and repairs. Following thousands of hours of repairs, the F-4 first flew in civilian hands with the Collings Foundation in August, 1999. Due to the enormous expense of operations, the Collings Foundation flew her sparingly, but she still made regular appearances until 2011, when they grounded her for major maintenance.
Chris Ebdon, one of the F-4’s maintainers, recently told WarbirdsNews, “It was decided to rebuild one of the two J79 engines. It took a long time. The engine was trucked to California for rebuild. An A&P [a licensed Airframe and Powerplant inspector] was sent to the shop to inspect it. The rebuilt included a replacement compressor section. Took a year to get it back. While the aircraft hadn’t flown in long time she was never derelict or not being worked on in some capacity. A lot of that time was waiting on suppliers or repair shops lead time on components. Beside the engine, the Collings Foundation volunteers had to rework the communications systems, chase down fuel leaks, etc.” It clearly took a lot of effort, and no inconsiderable expense, to get the aircraft ready to go again after a decade on the air show circuit.
Harry “D-Day” Daye, the pilot for the August 8th test flight, has more than 2,500 flight hours in the F-4, including 1,000 hours as an instructor, so he was clearly the perfect choice to perform the sortie. He flew the Phantom for about 30 minutes and made the “three bounces” to regain his currency on the type. Now that she is flying again, the Collings Foundation will again demonstrate their Phantom II judiciously, making sure to maximize her operational lifetime. The plans so far for this year include taking the F-4 to the Selfridge Open House over the weekend of August 19th/20th, 2017 and then back to her home town for the Wings Over Houston air show over October 21st/22nd at Ellington Field. It is fantastic to see this mighty aircraft back in American skies. With the final shut down of the USAF QF-4 program in December, 2016, this is likely the last of the Rhinos ever to fly in the USA, so bravo to the Collings Foundation for their incredible dedication to this important historic aircraft…. and go see her while you can!
Here is a short video interview filmed by Chris Ebdon and edited by Erik Johnson with pilot Harry “D-Day” Daye and Crew Chief Bob Schuler.
Many thanks to Chris Ebdon for providing his terrific photographs and video. We wish to congratulate the Collings Foundation and their many volunteers for their dedication in preserving such important national aviation heritage, and presenting them to the public. It is an important mission!