Pharewell to the Phantom

A QF-4 Phantom flies over Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., during the Phinal Phlight event on Dec. 21, 2016. This event marks the end of the aircraft’s 53 years of service to the Air Force. (Photo by Jay Beckman / Crosswind Images)
A QF-4 Phantom flies over Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., during the Phinal Phlight event on Dec. 21, 2016. This event marks the end of the aircraft’s 53 years of service to the Air Force. (Photo by Jay Beckman / Crosswind Images)
A QF-4 Phantom flies over Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., during the Phinal Phlight event on Dec. 21, 2016. This event marks the end of the aircraft’s 53 years of service to the Air Force. (Photo by Jay Beckman / Crosswind Images)

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.

A QF-4 Phantom Four Ship formation flies over Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., during the Phinal Phlight event on Dec. 21, 2016. This event marks the end of the aircraft’s 53 years of service to the Air Force. (Photo by Jay Beckman / Crosswind Images)
A QF-4 Phantom Four Ship formation flies over Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., during the Phinal Phlight event on Dec. 21, 2016. This event marks the end of the aircraft’s 53 years of service to the Air Force. (Photo by Jay Beckman / Crosswind Images)

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.

The end. (Photo by Jay Beckman / Crosswind Images)
The end. (Photo by Jay Beckman / Crosswind Images)

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

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26 Comments

  1. It’s always good to see them in flight. Beautiful how they take-off. Sad to see that one of the best jets, by design, have to go and most likely and up as static display or worse, scrapped. At least we have our literature and (big) models…!

  2. Very sad this beautiful aircraft is being retired from active service,hopefully the odd one will still perform at airshows.Probably my favourite jet of all time,shame I never got to see one.

  3. I sat on my Dad’s shoulders as the 1st F-4 was christened at McDonnell aircraft in 1958. My Dad worked for Mr Mac for 40 years. i went to a High School that sat in the flight path of those big jets and every afternoon ,about 1:30-2p, a flight of 4 or even 5 would come right over us at less then 1000′ shaking the windows of our old building. Teachers just had to stop because you couldnt hear them ! To bad they wont keep in service like the B-52 .

  4. I will miss the A-4 flying rock almost as bad as I will my my own bird the A-7 flying vacuume! The two birds with the worst glides slope ratings ever Built!

  5. Worked for me while an Advisor in Laos. Delivered “snake and nape” and saved my butt more than once. Great aircraft.

  6. I CREWED THE F-4 C & D MODELS.

    FLYING ROCKS with those J79’s.
    “Proof” that anything will fly if a big enough rocket is attached.
    [and those 3 hydraulic systems gave it survivability]

  7. I was 6636, avionics on F4s in the USMC. VMFAT 101, Yuma, AZ in ’77. What an experience. Sat in the RIO’s seat a few times.

  8. I had the honor of flying many models of the F4 throughout my career, and what a workhorse. My Squadron at Taegu flew E models. They were painted grey and had Tiseo, Pave Spike and LES. Though we were primarily an air to air squadron we also were LGB capable. Sad to see them go!
    Col John Gonda
    Hooter 01
    85-87

  9. Spent 3 tours in the Phantom flying all models except the RF. Fantastic beast to move around the sky. You didn’t fly the thing, you wore it.

  10. I was so blessed to fly the F-4C/E/G straight out of UPT. What a great aircraft to be immersed into the fighter community…surrounded by Viet Nam veterans who knew how to use the plane for its intended purpose. A great strafing platform and so rock solid in fingertip, on the boom and in the weeds at 480 knots. I miss this sweetheart a lot…and my fellow fighter pilots that flew her. My Phantom model from the Philippines holds a special place in my study. Nothing like a fighter that has that “kick ass” look about her even sitting on the ramp!

  11. I spent many hours sitting on the fantail of the USS Mt McKinley (AGC-7) in DaNang harbor at dusk, watching and listening to them land at the at the air base. They dropped down almost right over us, a sight to behold, and the harmonics of the engines as they descended I presume where the name Phantom came from.

    The take-offs were spectacular too. The roar of afterburners, steep ascent and the fire in the engines!
    1967-68

  12. Phantoms were stationed at MacDill AFB in Tampa from the ’60s into the ’80s. I used to go to there with a buddy of mine. Some of the pilots thought it was fun to buzz the exchange (grocery/department store) because a flight of four could make every car alarm for about two blocks go off, and the main exchange parking lot was always full of officers’ families’ cars, many of which had the alarms on them that flashed the headlights and honked the horn. When the Phantoms left and F-16s were stationed at MacDill, they were so quiet they couldn’t do it anymore. It was a bit sad that tradition came to an end.

  13. The QF-4 is a great airplane, but expensive to retrofit for drone duty. the QF-16 will be much easier as it is already a fly-by-wire airplane. The F-4 was analog and all those electrical systems had to be installed much like building a model RC airplane. The savings on fuel will be a benefit as well. Those J-79’s are thirsty. I would rather see an old war plane with such a distinguished service record go out under fire training our guys than to see it die in a scrapyard

  14. Lucky me ! I got to see a number of Phantoms taking off from the Udon base in Thailand. 1969. Hitch hiking down from Laos and sitting waiting for a ride. Quite a sight as they went almost vertical just after take off. I thought that Germany is still flying these amazing aircraft ? I don’t think that any of these remaining aircraft will end up in a scrap yard.

  15. I just got back from the Tucson last week and went up to the Boneyard and seen all the F-4 Phantoms they’re cutting up rows and rows of them

  16. This bird really is a class act. Designed just before America was getting digital, it’s a quirky cuss like the Saturn 5 moon rocket. Droopy nose, droopy tail, cranked wings… nothing was like it or ever would be again. A little overly complicated, and as they aged a stinker to maintain sometimes. But damn, a Ferrari doesn’t look any hotter than a Phantom of any make. Big and heavy for a fighter, but in skilled hands, you could kill anything in the air or on the ground. Looks like Death lurking with only fuel tanks on board.

    I’m about to whip out the oils and get back into aviation art again, which is why I’m here, surfing for photos for inspiration, and had to reminisce. God bless McDonnell-Douglas, the Phantom and its pilots, and the good (old) USA.

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