Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Barksdale AFB airshow a couple of weekends ago featured two QF-4E Phantoms. They were from 82ATS, Det.1, based at Holloman AFB, NM. Both aircraft are painted in 'Heritage' paint schemes, a program the Air Force undertook a few years ago to paint up select QF-4s in paint schemes representing F-4s in USAF service over the years. 72-1140 is painted in Vietnam style camoflage, while 72-1485 carries the SEA wraparound scheme (no white belly).
72-1140 performed a spirited demo on each day of the show, flown by Bluto. Afterwards, it joined an A-10C from D-M AFB and P-51D Galveston Gal for a Heritage Flight demonstration. Seeing a Phantom fly these days is a very rare treat. To see one flown in a demo just doesn't happen very often.
The only remaining Phantoms in US service have been converted into target drones. They are used to test weapons systems and provide aircrew training. Based at Holloman AFB and Tyndall AFB, they are routinely flown several times with a pilot before being sent off on an unmanned mission that ends with the aircraft being shot down.
Spending the weekend in close proximity with the pilots and ground crew members for these jets was a treat. The loving care with which they treated the old girls was impressive - you would have thought that they were brand new aircraft, not ones that had been built 39 years ago.
The number of QF-4s left will ensure the aircraft is flying for a few more years. Current 'expentiture' estimates show the last shootdown happening sometime between 2014 and 2017. The last F-4 drone conversion contract was just signed, meaning there will be no more drone conversions after this small group passes through. QF-16 Lawn Darts will take their place on the shootdown line.