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!

18 Responses

  1. Jeff

    The Collings Foundation is being forced to shut down by its township in MASS because they’ve been declaired to have no educational or historical value despite giving lectures and talks on the historical significance of their many aircraft which they also fly to airshows around the country.

    • Ryan

      The Collings Foundation is NOT being forced to shutdown the facilities in Stow, MA. The argument with the township has been over the proposed new museum to house the Littlefield Tank Collection.

      As for the Foundation’s F-4, it lives in Houston at Ellington Field, along with the rest of our jet collection. The F-100 flew this afternoon in fact!

  2. Louis

    Tell the Collings Foundation that they are welcome in Texas. I am sure we can find a base of operations for them down here.

  3. Ned

    Sad to see them shot down or shot at. Wish they could all be saved ànd put in museums.

  4. Fermin

    The type of wings used by F-4 Phantoms, could be considered as wing tips?

  5. halo1322

    Originally the F-4 was a naval design that, by direction of Sec Def McNamara, would become a “one size fits all” solution for U.S. military aviation throughout the late 60’s and early 70’s. The wing design of the F-4 is related to its naval roots in that the aircraft was designed to fit on an aircraft carrier and needed to be able to fold its wings in order to maximize hangar and storage space aboard ship.

  6. Robert Di Pietro

    Hey OBAMA You FUCKING TURD – SAVE The LAST 2 Phantoms In The Air Force Inventory And KEEP Them FLYING Forever..!

    Lord Knows The U. S. Government Made A HUGE HUGE Mistake NOT Keeping & Maintaining In Flying Condition At Least 5 Examples Of Every Aircraft And I Mean EVERYTHING, From World War II..

    A HUGE Memorial A Museum If You Will, Should Have Been Constructed With An Airstrip. Even If Only Fenced In & Covered OUTSIDE, So Those Survivors Could Have Remained @ Peace For ALL To Marvel..!

    “To Forever TELL Their Tales To Each Other, And Those That Understand The Cost Of Freedom “..!

    Can You Imagine The Conversations Among Such Warriors As They Sat In Peace Knowing They Were NEVER Going To FIGHT AGAIN, OR GO TO Smelter..!

    WE Should Have Been Listening, To EVERY TALE THEY TOLD As They Rotted In The Deserts & Fields Across America After The War…

    Those Machines Of War And The Brave Men & Women Associated With THEM. ARE Responsible For The America That WE Know Today.

    If EVER There Was Sacred GROUND, Such A Place This Would Be..!

    “As THEY WERE The Most BEAUTIFUL Representations On Earth, Of Machines Designed To Do An Unpleasant Job”..!

    To Deny The Public And FUTURE Generations Of Aviators & Ground Support The Opportunity And Experience Of What You See Here In This Video Is Beyond Reprehensible…

    The Mere THOUGHT Of These 2 PRISTINE Examples Getting SHOT Down As Target Drones Is Unconscionable…

    And Don’t EVEN Raise The ISSUES Of COST To Me, Because I’ll Shit Down Your Neck…

    You Liberals Are FUCKING Pathetic…

    • Corin Hetherington

      All of these amazing aircraft that the Us designed and they can’t even save a couple.
      Same for another legend the F-14.
      I remember seeing them at Airshows here in the UK being in awe of them.
      Truly amazing aircraft.
      Really sad.
      People collect and restore shitty old car’s.
      What about Keeping a few of these aircraft to show future generations.

  7. Patrick

    It is definitely sad for me to see that these Great War machines are being destroyed. I understand that they have used up there serviceable life and we’re just rotting in the boneyard. But as one of the thousands of Air Force airmen who serviced these aircraft back in their heyday, it hurts to see them being systematically destroyed. I was never fortunate enough to have ever gotten a ride in one of these awesome birds, it was always a dream of mine, but now that they are all soon to be destroyed that will never happen. I am extremely proud of my time in the AF, and of the duty I performed during those years. Those years helped shape the person that I have become and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I think it is an experience every young person should have! Maybe then we wouldn’t have these idiots who won’t stand for our National Anthem! RIP all you F-4 Phantoms, you have served our country well!

  8. Mike S.

    The last remaining QF4E/F4E Phantom Drone needs to be placed on display at the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Paterson AFB in Dayton Ohio. We need everyone to get behind the idea of saving the last QF4E Phantom.

  9. Mike S.

    Don’t forget his wing man, Jim “WAM” Harkins together they are a formable team who will be the final air display Aviators within the USA for the QF4E Phantoms.

  10. Ray Blewett

    I believe that the phinal phlit of the F4 will be in aircraft tail number 638. This is a TISEO equipped, slatted E model which went into service in the fall of 1976 at Ramstein, Germany. I was a pilot in the 526 TFS at Ramstein when these new aircraft arrived and got to fly the sister aircraft of #638 (tail # 640) on her first operational mission. I remember starting my preflight and looking at the maintenance form and seeing that the aircraft had less than 20 hours on the airframe. It was such a pleasure to strap on an aircraft that smelled like a new car!
    As a side note, I flew #638 five times between Dec ’76 and May ’77 before I was transferred to Neuburg AB, Germany as an exchange pilot with the Luftwaffe.

  11. Luther Diamond

    My father was the last of the first aircraft electricians to work on the F4 Phantoms. He was trained at Oceania Virginia. He worked on Robin Olds F4 a few times when he was in Vietnam. He passed away this past August at the age of 74. He would be sad to see the last F4’s be put down that way.

  12. Brian

    I remember the first time I saw the mighty Phantom up close, I live north of Detroit, just south of Selfridge Air National Guard base, I went to an air show back around 1980 – 81 and I saw this beautiful plane with a race car like paint job, shiny light grey with black and yellow checkerboards on its tail and splitter plate, I didn’t know much about planes at that time, but my older brother did, when I got home, he asked me how the show was and I told him about this beautiful plane I saw, he asked what it was and I told him I didn’t have a clue, he asked me to describe it to him and I told him that standing behind it, it had two huge engines and the tail looked like a Mercedes Benz emblem with one straight up and two drooping down and he immediately told me it was an F-4 Phantom, I asked how do you know that, he said its the only plane in the world that looks like that
    its been my favorite plane ever since
    Other planes might of been way better from a pilots point of view, like the F-16, its small, it doesn’t smoke, it visually melts’ into the air, and it turns on a dime, but as far as a spectator plane, few planes had as much presence at an air show as the F-4
    I lived about 6 miles south of Selfridge near lake St Clair, and I remember hearing them on final, approaching the base from the south, they used to make a ghostly howl, Phantom couldn’t have been a better name for them, especially late at night when you couldn’t really see them, just the blinking red anti-collision light on their tail
    what a Phabulous plane!

    • Corin Hetherington

      I cannot believe that the Us Airforce can’t even save one of these amazing aircraft.
      Really sad to see the lost aircraft being used as target fodder.
      I love the Phantom and I remember when I used to see it flying here often in the UK.
      Terrible end to an amazing Plane.
      Almost 60 Year’s of the Fabulous Phantom!

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