Retiring QF-4 stops in at Aviation Nation

A QF-4 Aerial Target lands on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., during the Aviation Nation air show on Nov. 11, 2016. The QF-4 was piloted by Lt. Col. Ron King, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Detachment 1 commander, at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)
A QF-4 Aerial Target lands on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., during the Aviation Nation air show on Nov. 11, 2016. The QF-4 was piloted by Lt. Col. Ron King, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Detachment 1 commander, at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)
A QF-4 Aerial Target lands on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., during the Aviation Nation air show on Nov. 11, 2016. The QF-4 was piloted by Lt. Col. Ron King, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Detachment 1 commander, at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

After more than 60 years of service, the QF-4 Aerial Target, modified from the F-4 Phantom II, will officially retire from service. The aircraft was highlighted during Nellis Air Force Base’s Aviation Nation air show Nov. 12 and 13, allowing more than 295,000 spectators from around the world, the opportunity to witness one of aircraft’s final performances. Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and Jim Harkins, pilots from Holloman AFB, New Mexico, performed the aerial acts during the show.“[The QF-4 retiring] is bittersweet,” said King, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 commander. “It’s been a phenomenal workhorse for our country for years. When the military revitalized the aircraft after retiring them in 1997, it gave them a second lease on life.”

Maintainers with PAE prepare a QF-4 for takeoff on the drone runway May 12 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. This unmanned QF-4 was used as a full-scale target and shot down by a pilot from the 177th Fighter Wing, a New Jersey Air National Guard unit, who were participating in Combat Archer. Combat Archer is the air-to-air component of the 53rd Wing’s weapons system evaluation program. The 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron operates QF-4, QF-16 and BQM-167 targets to provide manned and unmanned aerial targets support for programs across the Department of Defense. The QF-4 mission for the 82nd ATRS at Tyndall came to an end in May, with the squadron transitioning to QF-16s for all future full-scale target operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sara Vidoni)
Maintainers with PAE prepare a QF-4 for takeoff on the drone runway when Phantoms were operational at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. This unmanned QF-4 was used as a full-scale target and shot down by a pilot from the 177th Fighter Wing, a New Jersey Air National Guard unit, who were participating in Combat Archer. Combat Archer is the air-to-air component of the 53rd Wing’s weapons system evaluation program. The 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron operated QF-4, QF-16 and BQM-167 targets to provide manned and unmanned aerial targets support for programs across the Department of Defense. The QF-4 mission for the 82nd ATRS at Tyndall came to an end in May, with the squadron transitioning to QF-16s for all future full-scale target operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sara Vidoni)

The QF-4 is a remotely controlled target, which simulates enemy aircraft maneuvers. QF-4s are basic F-4s reconfigured for unmanned flight and are used in full-scale aerial target missions, providing targets for all DOD weapon systems. “Originally, this was the first multi-roll, mass-produced international fighter aircraft,” said Harkins. “At the time it was the Vietnam ‘hero.’”

Retired Lt. Col. Thomas Mudge, a ground controller for the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, remotely pilots a QF-4 during a Combat Archer mission May 12 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The unmanned QF-4 was used as a full-scale target and shot down by a pilot from the 177th Fighter Wing, a New Jersey Air National Guard unit participating in the operation. Combat Archer is the air-to-air component of the 53rd Wing’s weapons system evaluation program. The 82nd ATRS operates QF-4, QF-16 and BQM-167 targets to provide manned and unmanned aerial targets support for programs across the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sara Vidoni)
Retired Lt. Col. Thomas Mudge, a ground controller for the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, remotely pilots a QF-4 during a Combat Archer mission May 12, 2015 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sara Vidoni)

The history of the aircraft is unprecedented throughout its lifecycle. “Just as service members come and go in their military careers, unfortunately so do aircraft,” said Harkins. “It’s getting harder and harder to do the job that it’s supposed to do [based on new technology].“It’s too old to go as high and as fast or as many [gravitational forces] as the customers need it to so they can proper test equipment,” he added. The QF-4 has brought together many different stories and generations. “My favorite memories are probably from this past six months,” said Harkins. “I have flown to more places now than I have in the past 10 years and it’s been [amazing].”King chimed in. “I don’t have a specific favorite moment, but being able to take it on the road and talk to so many families of people who had flown it or worked on it and especially the people who were saved on the ground in Vietnam,” said King. “Those are the things I’ll remember best.“I’ll be sad when they go, but I’m also excited for the next chapter when we bring in the QF-16 and the capabilities that it brings as well,” said King.

Lt. Col. Ron King, left, and Jim Harkins, both pilots from the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Detachment 1, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, talk with Col. Dana Pelletier, 75th Mission Support Group commander, during a QF-4 Aerial Target aircraft static display at Hill AFB, Oct. 25. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Holcomb)
Lt. Col. Ron King, left, and Jim Harkins, both pilots from the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Detachment 1, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, talk with Col. Dana Pelletier, 75th Mission Support Group commander, during a QF-4 Aerial Target aircraft static display at Hill AFB, Oct. 25. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Holcomb)

Air Combat Command declared initial operational capability for the QF-16 full-scale aerial target Sept. 23.In May 2015, all remaining QF-4s were transferred to Holloman AFB for final operations. The last unmanned mission in a threat representative configuration was flown Aug. 17, 2016, and unmanned operations ended in September.

Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron commander, flies a QF-16 across the horizon May 12 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The QF-16 is a Full Scale Aerial Target that has been modified to be flown with a pilot in the cockpit for training and also without a pilot as a target for live missile testing. The 82nd ATRS received their first QF-16 in September of 2014 and will continue to transition their full scale aerial target program to the new model over the next several months. The 82nd ATRS operates QF-4, QF-16 and BQM-167 targets to provide manned and unmanned aerial targets support for programs across the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sara Vidoni)
Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron commander, flies a QF-16 across the horizon May 12 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The QF-16 is a Full Scale Aerial Target that has been modified to be flown with a pilot in the cockpit for training and also without a pilot as a target for live missile testing. The 82nd ATRS received their first QF-16 in September of 2014 and will continue to transition their full scale aerial target program to the new model over the next several months. The 82nd ATRS operated QF-4 and now QF-16 and BQM-167 targets to provide manned and unmanned aerial targets support for programs across the Department of Defense. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sara Vidoni)

The last manned QF-4 flight is planned for Dec. 21.

Story by Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum 

99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

3 Comments

  1. A flyover in my hometown of san diego ought to be in the works.
    I loved this jet and knew it had a nasty attitude about it when faced with any adversity it came up against in the airwar campaign in the Vietnam war.
    Can we see this jet soon in SAN DIEGO CA.?

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