The hulking, smoking jet that pilots compared to a combat rhinoceros first flew in the 1950s, and served the Navy first, then the Air Force from 1963-2016. On 22 December 16, a small formation of Phantoms — one decorated in the style of the jet’s peak years of Vietnam — lifted off from Holloman AFB, New Mexico, for the mighty jet’s last flight bearing the stars and bars of the US national insignia and flying an Air Force mission.
Here’s a video from the Alamogordo, NM, News:
The News had reporters on the scene.
To give you an idea on how old the Phantom is: when it first flew, most cars had yet to grow tailfins. Eisenhower was President. The company that designed and built it (McDonnell, which specialized in Naval fighters) is gone, merged with another old aviation firm (Douglas Aircraft, the Southern California giant), which is also gone, bought by Boeing in the Clinton-era forced mergers. In the end, just 14 of the jets were airworthy at an aerial target squadron, and retiring them in favor of the F-16s coming in lets them get rid of all the F-4 specific parts and tools, and move on. The fate of the remaining jets is uncertain: some are likely to go to AMARC to be spares for the handful of remaining foreign operators, others may wind up as ground targets on a range somewhere.
The one privately-operated Phantom, the Collings Foundation’s, is rumored to be dependent on military maintenance and retired from the airshow circuit some time ago.
The Phantom was a jet of the video age, so naturally there’s a bunch of videos of this final flight. Here’s one, mostly air-to-air video with a suitable soundtrack — the chorale from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony — that’s under three minutes long. A hit single.
And here’s a longer (much longer) all-shot-from-the-ground film of nearly thirty minutes (think of it as one side of an album, if you’re old enough to remember those, as most former Phantom pilots do).
Finally, here are a couple of Phantom greatest hits. First, found video of a Phantom-vs-MiG air-to-air kill. Moshe Shargal and his buddies went diving at Ras Mohammed every Yom Kippur, and he brought his video camera… and has authentic if shaky video of an Israeli Phantom flaming a MiG at very low altitude. Hebrew voice-over, by Shargal, with English subtitles.
For those of a more historical turn of mind, the indispensable Jeff Quitney has a 1967 too-hip-for-the-Navy USAF pilot training film. In it, filmmakers quiz an F-4 instructor pilot about the characteristics of the jet, as they put a film together. (Hey, anything to keep fighter jocks awake in training).
Best thing about the video? The slams that “Doug,” the pilot, delivers to “the swing-wing.” This is a mildly subversive line-level counterstrike against the McNamara-specified “switchblade Edsel,” the F-111, that was undergoing extreme teething problems at that time.
And finally, a fine collection of Phantom buzz jobs, flat out on the deck in Nevada. Not the fastest jet in this milieu (that would have been the F-105) but fast enough to be thrilling to watch.
Ave atque Vale, F-4 Phantom, the survivors of the 5,500 or so of you have earned your place in the hearts and minds of your countrymen (and the allied jet drivers who flew you, as well).
Hat tip, Russ Niles at AvWeb.