Phantom Finale: The Last Remaining USAF F-4 Pilot On The End Of A Legend

USAF F-4 Phantom II Afterburner Takeoff

It goes without saying that the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II has had an incredible impact on American aviation, one that carries it into modern aviation legend. One of the most iconic aircraft ever built, nearly everyone involved with aviation and the military has a story relating to the F-4. Unfortunately this American classic is rapidly approaching its final days*, at least in the US.

In April of 1996, the last operational US Air Force/Air National Guard F-4 flight was conducted, marking the end of the Phantom II’s active career. It continued to serve its country as a remotely-piloted target drone, but now even that mission is coming to an end. We met up with likely the last ever USAF F-4 pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Ron “Elvis” King of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron, Detachment 1, while he was displaying one of the 21 remaining Phantoms at the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show & STEM Expo on May 14-15 2016. Lt. Col. King was kind enough to talk with AirshowStuff about the status of the target drone program, flying the F-4, and his job overseeing the final days of the famed Phantom.

The 82nd ATS uses the QF-4 drones for full-scale aerial targets that test surface and air-to-air missiles, radar technologies, and other counter-air systems. With 21 QF-4s left in the fleet, their numbers will be dwindled down to none by the end of this year. Once the program phases out the QF-4s for the incoming Boeing-modified QF-16 Fighting Falcons, any remaining Phantoms will be de-militarized and trucked out to the bombing range in New Mexico to be used as ground targets. When asked about whether any of the aircraft will be available to museums, Lt. Col. King wasn’t able to specify, but he did mention that the QF-4Es are not a very desirable aircraft to museum collections due to the modifications.

Lt. Col. King is hoping to get the QF-4s out and around to air shows this year while they’re still around, but with only eight available aircraft and four pilots, the 82nd ATS is stretched thin for availability to attend public shows. He is looking at taking the QF-4 to EAA AirVenture, the Reno Air Races, Nellis AFB’s Aviation Nation, and the Sioux Falls Air Show later this year. Testing requirements and availability will be the ultimate determining factors in their attendance.

*The Collings Foundation does own and operate one airworthy F-4 Phantom in the US. Additionally, several foreign countries use them in active service.

For more information, watch the interview above and keep your eyes posted here and on our Facebook page!

F-35 Lightning II To Race At Reno; Biplane Class Expected To Provide Tough Competition

posted in: Military, Miscellaneous | 3

USAF F-35A Lightning II

The Biplane Class will have a tough new kid on the block to compete with at this year’s Reno Air Races. The United States Air Force has arranged special permission for one of its new F-35 Lightning II fighters to enter the race in an effort to shed the jet’s reputation as unmaneuverable, slow, and a colossal waste of money. The jet was originally intended to race in the headlining Unlimited Class, but after several practice runs it became clear that it would simply not be competitive. Race organizers felt it would be unsafe to force the Unlimited pilots to overtake the $113 million stealth fighter at such a high rate of speed, and approved the appearance only on the condition that the F-35 would compete with aircraft of a similar speed. The Biplane Class typically features similar lap times, so that is where the jet will compete.

This could easily be seen as another black mark on the program’s record, but the Air Force and the aircraft’s manufacturer are quick to point out that air race performance of the current F-35 fleet is limited by the installed software package. Program representatives say that a $45 million dollar air-racing software upgrade designed for this year’s event is currently in testing and should be ready some time in 2037. Nevertheless, the F-35 is expected to compete for a top ten finish amongst the biplanes. “It’s great for the class,” race pilot Chet Whabnoski told AirshowStuff, “because it will draw a lot of attention to the underappreciated biplanes. At the same time, the top pilots in the class don’t really have to worry about losing. It’s a win for everyone! Except the F-35 of course.”