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“Pax-16″: Something Different

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Naval Air Station Patuxent River (KNHK / Trapnel Field) also known as NAS Pax River, is a United States Naval Air Station located in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Located on Chesapeake Bay, near the mouth of the Patuxent River, it is about one hour east of Andrews AFB. The big base is home to Headquarters, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the U.S. Naval Test Pilots School, the Atlantic Test Range, and serves as a center for Test, Evaluation and Systems Acquisition to Naval Aviation of new and operational aircraft. Additional Commands include Air Test Wing Atlantic, and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). Its operational units include: Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1); Scientific Development Squadron 1 / Naval Research Lab (VXS-1, Warlocks), Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20 (VX-20, Force), Rotary Wing Test Squadron 21 (HX-21, Black Pack), and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23, Salty Dogs). Pax air shows have been noted for showing off special and unusual test aircraft decked out in bands of day-glow orange and special nose art, something you never get to see at other military air shows. That makes a Pax air show always special and unusual. 2016 was no exception!

The NAS Patuxent River “Air Expo 2016″ Air Show was held very late last year on October 29th and 30th, 2016. Maybe being late in the year made this major air show much more manageable, easier to get into, and much more fun. By Andrews AFB show standards, the crowds were relatively low, at about fifteen thousand, and most of those guys were late arrivals. When I got to the Main Gate at about 0800 there were only about ten cars in front of me. I can remember McGuire back in the 80’s, even if you got there at 5 AM, there were one hundred fifty cars in front of you waiting for the gate to open. Not so with Pax-16. This was easy!

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But before we drive through the Main Gate, let’s recon the area just a bit. You never come to Pax unless you block out some time for the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum (PRNAM), just outside the Main Gate, on MD Route 235 where 246 intersects. First opened in 1978, the Pax River Naval Air Museum now spans three buildings (one brand new) and includes a flightline ramp consisting of one-of-a-kind historic aircraft associated with the Naval Flight Test Programs that have taken place at Pax over the years. PRNAM focuses on the research, development, test and evaluation programs at Pax – and besides unique artifacts, has over twenty-five one-of-a-kind test aircraft that you can walk right up to and touch if you want to. Most ramp aircraft are painted up in a band of day-glow orange on a white fuselage, typical of the test programs run at Pax and include: a NA-4M Skyhawk; an RA-5C Vigilante; an NA-6E Intruder; an NA-7A Corsair II, an F-4J Phantom II; an NF-6A (F4D) Skyray; a F9F-8B Cougar; an F-14A Tomcat; an NF/A-18A Hornet; an E-2B Hawkeye; an AH-1J Seacobra; a TH-1L Iroquois (Huey); an SH-2G Super Seasprite; a CH-53A Sea Stallion; an S-2D (S2F-3) Tracker; an S-3B Viking; a T-34B Turbo Mentor; a T-39D Sabreliner; an X-32B JSF STOVL demonstrator and a C-2A COD Greyhound.

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Inside the brand new, design award – winning Pax Museum Building is a F-35C STOL Lightning II, a Curtiss A-1 Triad replica of the first Navy test aircraft, an X-47 UCAV drone, an SH-3A Sea King in pristine gloss grey, a 1965 QH-50 Gyrodyne DASH ASW drone anti- submarine helicopter, a USCG twin blade drone similar to a mini-VS-22 Osprey, a white half-scale JSF mockup; a Northrop-Grumman MQ-8B “Fire Scout” drone helo; a gloss white Northrop F-5E Tiger II with a horizontal orange band with “USNTPS” markings; and many other Pax historical artifacts. The place is worthy of a special visit.

If you want to see some real aircraft testing and you can’t get on base, try your luck visiting the Webster Field Test Annex, a near-by OLF of Pax about fifteen miles south at Kitts Point. From the Pax Main Gate, go south on Route 246, then east on Route 5 to St. Inigoes, then look for the little “Webster Field” sign on the right. After you have seen some touch-and-goes, go over to the “Ruddy Duck 2″ on nearby Piney Point, a quiet restaurant where the Pax pilots go to toast the sunset, so I hear. On Saturday night there was a “Air Show Block Party” at Leonardtown, about ten miles west of Pax on Route 4. They had a couple of bands going at the Town Park in Town. Pilots and Air Crews were signing autographs on show programs. Local pubs like “Rex” and the “Old Town Pub” in Leonardtown had a few Hornet Drivers having a few, and I hear some crews went to “The Ruddy Duck-1″ in nearby Solomon’s. Solomon’s, on the other side of the big Route 4 Bridge, has a neat Maritime Museum, and is near Pax as you depart the area after the show. Lots to do outside the fence!

But wait, there was an air show still to go to, actually a big air show with about sixty airplanes and not too many people breaking down the fences to get in. Nice and easy at 0800. No “Le Mans Start” at all. So I was pretty close to being lead car in. This time they took us around the scenic route to get to “Show Center” parking. Our line of slow moving cars went through a long divert through active taxiways, aprons, ramps and even runways, past quite a few fighters, tankers, C-130’s, and other support aircraft. I wish I could have stopped to take some pictures with the two hundred fifty, but there was very tight security and no one was allowed to stop or even slow down until we got to the show parking area. When I parked I was ten cars away from the controlled entry to get to the flightline. The first airplanes were positioned really close at about one hundred feet from where my car was parked and this was general parking! Such a deal !

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At 0830 the few that got there early had the ramp to themselves; just a few hundred plane chasers and they were unobtrusively well scattered. I headed for the Hot Ramp, and it was surprisingly pretty much opened to the public, at least at 0830. The Hot Ramp included: the Warrior Flight Team with two L-39’s with “Vandy-1″, the Navy “Black Bunny” piloted by Mark “Crunchy” Burgess and “Roman-86″, the Navy black and white Red Star aggressor piloted by Bill “Pirate” Mills; a UK FA.2 Sea Harrier Warbird piloted by former Marine test pilot Lt. Col. (Ret.) Art Nalls; a twin-tailed De-Havilland DH-100 Vampire jet piloted by Jerry Conley; the USAF F-22 Raptor Demo Team out of Langley, AFB, VA, from the 27th FS (“FF”); the Navy F-18 Hornet Demo Team out of NAS Oceana with two F/A-18C’s from VFA-106 “Gladiators”; the GEICO Skytypers out of Republic Airport, LI, NY, with six WW2 T-6A Texans; a Navy blue T-28B Trojan Warbird piloted by Joe Edwards; a Yak-52TW “Roman Mistress” in tan Aggressor cammo with a red star piloted by Charlie “V+12″ VandenBossche; a red bi-wing Pitts Special stunt plane piloted by Clemens Kuhlig; a white home-built single wing custom-built “Javelin” stunt plane piloted by Trevor Rafferty from Hamilton Ontario Canada; a dark blue mono-wing MXS stunt plane piloted by Scott Francis; the super-quiet and graceful white Sailplane Glider piloted by the world-famous Manfred Radius; and the well-known B-25J “Panchito” of the Delaware Aviation Museum out of the Delaware Coastal Airport in Georgetown, DE.

I’ve always been impressed with the bios of the pilots that go up and risk their lives to put on a good show for us plane chasers at an air show. One such pilot is Charlie VandenBossche and his Yak-52TW: Charlie “V+12″ VandenBossche is a former USAF bomber pilot whose service includes the 28th Bomb Squadron at McConnell AFB and the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth AFB piloting the Rockwell B-1B Lancer “Bone” bomber, duty at RAF Fairford in the UK, USAF Weapons Schools at the 53rd Wing, the 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard, and finally duty at Andrews AFB and the Pentagon in DC. After 22 years of service, Charlie retired and now works on the F-35 Integrated Test and Evaluation Team right here at Pax River. In his free time Charlie flies with Nalls Aviation (the FA.2 “Sea Harrier” Team). Charlie is currently flying a 1939 Piper “Cub”, an L-39 “Albatross”, his Yak-53TW and a Cessna C-182.

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The Static Line at Pax was a huge squared-off oval that provided a lot of ramp space for the planes. As you came in to the flightline at the single main gate, once you cleared the security screening, off to the right was a roped off F/A-18F CAG Bird, all decked out in blue-grey CAG colors of VX-23 “Salty Dogs” with “Strike Test – Lead the Fleet” logo. It was reserved for a later “Man Vs. Jumbo Jet” rope pull with strong man Mark Kirsch. Yeah, he managed to pull the Hornet about ten feet!! A better test would have been if he could have pulled a fully-fueled KC-10A Tanker!! Next Time!!

To the left of the gate as you walked in was an assortment of cool aircraft: two dark grey Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing up from Seymour Johnson AFB; a Marine VS-22A Osprey from Pax Test HX-21; an F/A-18C from VX-23 Strike Test 402; an F/A-18C from VX-23 Strike Test 100; a Navy MH-60R Seahawk helo with inert Hellfire missiles; a UH-1Y Super Huey “Venom” from HX-21; a Marine AH-1W Super Cobra helo from HX-21; a Marine AH-1Z “Viper” from HX-21; a Navy white and orange NU-1B single engine tail-dragger STOL “Otter”(a derivative of the DHC-3 Otter); a Navy Test T-38 Talon; a USAF T-6B Texan II; and a Navy TPS Eurocopter UH-72A “Lakota” helo from Airbus North America… it’s a version of the commercial EC145 helo. To the left of all this test metal there was a small stretch of of local food vendors representing some of the best high-end restaurants here in St. Mary’s County; kind of “Restaurant Week” for a Saturday afternoon. The special food was very tasty!!

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At the far west ramp down by Fire and Crash was gaggle of more unusual birds: a 1955 white with red band T-28B Trojan Warbird with VA-122 markings owned by the Warbird Museum of Virginia based at the Richmond Executive Airport; a silver 1948 L-17A Ryan “Navion” in USAF colors; two yellow Piper “Cubs”; seven local EAA light aircraft on flight school display; a fully restored ex-USCG Grumman “Albatross”; an active Navy C-2A COD Greyhound from VX-20; a local P-3C Orion from the on-Base Naval Research Labs (RL tail code). (Sadly, this aircraft was just sent to the Boneyard in February, 2017); a 2003 USCG HC-130J up from Elizabeth City in that fabulous white with red nose band Coast Guard color scheme, and finally a private crop duster and a silver P-51 Mustang Warbird. I think this works out to well over 50 a/c – not bad for a late show!

Starting at 1000, Pax put a nice 5 hour flying show together. First up was a Pax MH-60 jump helo with the US Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demo Team “Black Daggers” on board along with Scott Francis and his MXS doing circles round the lone jumper for the National Anthem flag drop. Next, Clemens Kuhlig and Scott Francis did a nice 2-ship stunt show. The “Black Daggers” full team show was next with them doing HALO team jump and right behind was Trevor Rafferty doing a nice stunt show with his white Javelin that he actually built in his garage at home over a five year span. Joe Anderson, an ex-F4 pilot, took his L-39 Albatross up next for a few laps. Charlie VandenBossche, a local who works right here at Pax, did a nice job in his Aggressor colored Yak-52TW.

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The DH-100 twin-tiled RAF Vampire jet was next; hard to believe that thing had a plywood fuselage. Joe Edwards took his dark blue Navy T-28 Trojan up next and raced a brand new 2017 Lamborghini car. I think the car beat him! Our old friend “Panchito” did a few loud low turns around the field. Then he gave way to the Manfred Radius glider show. Now I know why the crop duster was here; it was his tow plane that got him up to his 5,800 foot release point. As always, the Warrior Flight Team’s 2-ship L-39’s did a nice tight show and paved the way for the 6-ship GEICO Skytypers from Long Island doing their simulated air combat routine with their T-6’s, always a great act. Clemens Kuhlig next did a second display with his red home-built Pitts S-1S. Scott Francis was right behind him with a nice stunt show with his blue MXS. The Blues were supposed to end the Pax show, but they were ordered to cancel their attendance for mandatory “Crew Rest” due to an accident earlier in the season. But we got the next best thing for a Show Finale at Pax — the F/A-18 Hornet and F-22 Raptor Demo Teams! The F/A-18C from VFA-106 “Gladiators”, out of Oceana, was first out with Lt. Scott “McGruber” Lyndall on the stick. Loud and fast – what everybody loves!! The “Black Daggers” next give our ear drums a break with a full team HALO jump from Angels 10. The F-22 Raptor out of Langley gave an unbelievable performance with controlled thrust vectoring to make that 5th-generation fighter literally hang in the air and rotate on its own tail ! Finally, the P-51 Mustang joined up with the Raptor to give a final concluding patriotic “Heritage Flight” performance. The crowd loved it and cheered them on for the final split breakaway pass. Really “Sierra Hotel”!

Thank you Pax for a great final air show for the 2016 season!!

BILL SARAMA
March 19, 2017

The USAF Wild Weasel Mission Surpasses Fifty Years

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Slightly more than half a century ago, a new U. S. Air Force mission – that of a high importance – was assigned to a handful of pilots and electronic warfare officers. Their mission was to offer a solution to the critical task of defeating the newest and very lethal Soviet Bloc SA-2 anti-aircraft missiles that had recently become a threat to aircraft involved in the Vietnam War. Looking back upon fifty-two years of defeating anti-aircraft missiles and other air defense weapons, the Wild Weasel mission successes have shaped air warfare tactics and weapons systems worldwide.

During the early stages of the Vietnam War, American aviators met a new threat not encountered in previous conflicts. Radar-guided surface to air anti-aircraft missiles (SAMs) became a menace to aircraft as they flew missions against targets in North Vietnam. Missile sites had been detected earlier in the year, but on July 24, 1965, a Soviet-built SA-2 Guideline (NATO codename) missile shot down an Air Force F-4C Phantom II; the following day an unmanned aircraft was also lost.

Losses began to mount as the missiles became a commonly-deployed defense; additionally, the sites were effectively defended by dense anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), often leading to additional aircraft losses as the strikes brought attackers below effective missile ranges, but into lethal AAA fire range. The rapidly growing menace drew increasing concerns from aircrew and planners.

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A few months later, in October, 1965, a group of ten Air Force pilots and Electronic Warfare Officers (EWOs), under the leadership of Major Gary Willard, gathered at Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base to create a plan to combat the missiles and their air defense radars. They would fly twin-seat F-100F Super Sabres (known as the Wild Weasel I), hurriedly equipped with specialized sensors, whose sole use was to find and destroy AAA and SAM sites that hampered bombing missions. Fitted with radar detection and launch warning receivers, and armed with rockets, bombs and cannons, the EWO operated the sensors that found the camouflaged missile sites, while the pilot visually directed the weapons at those sites.

The secret program was called Project Weasel; crews developed tactics and were deployed to Southeast Asia in less than two months. The so-called Wild Weasels soon proved their tactics were sound, as the first recorded destruction of a SAM site occurred on December 22, 1965 by Captains Allen Lamb and Jack Donovan in an F-100F. Initial tactics provided a Wild Weasel jet flying ahead of a strike group; it would try to draw the attention of the missile operators on the ground, and would (hopefully) trigger radar activation. The Weasel would home in on the radars, and accomplish the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) mission with weapons directed at the sites. The attack would either destroy the equipment, or at least cause the operators to shut it off to avoid further detection and Weasel attacks.

Weasels remained over the missile sites while the strike group completed their bombing mission, and did not leave the area until the last of the strikers had withdrawn. It was a long time to be in harm’s way, and earned them their motto of “First In and Last Out” as well as the admiration from the other flight crews they protected. When a missile was launched at a Weasel, most times the only defense was to visually track the missile and allow it to close to a “minimum” range of the jet, then aggressively maneuver away from it so that the missile couldn’t follow the high-G turn of the jet’s rapidly changing flight path. The now-famous unofficial motto of the Wild Weasels began with these first missions… as attributed to Captain Jack Donovan… an initial EWO put it, YGBSM – “You’ve Got to Be Shitting Me” as the crews tangled with the lethal SA-2s.

Another style mission involved an F-100F leading a group of fully armed F-105 Thunderchief bombers that dealt a missile site (hopefully) heavier damage than the one Weasel could do. Between the high attrition of the first two groups of F-100F jets and their crews, and the operational difficulties of the slower Super Sabre had keeping up with bombers (plus different air refueling equipment needed – the Sabre was one of only a few fighters of the Air Force that used the hose and drogue method), an interim change to the Wild Weasel platform was made with F-4C Phantom II (Wild Weasel II) airframes.

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By late 1966, Republic F-105F Thunderchiefs – the two seat trainer version of the fast jet bomber – were introduced as Wild Weasels, now packed with specialized equipment. The “Thud” offered longer range and higher speed than the F-100s, and more space for electronics. Known as the Wild Weasel III, the Thunderchiefs were further modified into F-105Gs, with more capable equipment and for the first time, radar jammers. The –Gs could also use a purposely-built anti-radar missile, the AGM-45 Shrike, which homed in on an SA-2 radar beam. Although the missile was relatively short-ranged and had to have a radar target radiating constantly for it to be accurate, it was a new way to counter the threat.

The F-105s were effective at their tasks, but attrition was still high among the Weasels. Their mission successfully allowed many bomber, fighter and reconnaissance crews badly needed protection while they performed their tasks in heavily defended airspace. By 1972, new F-4C Wild Weasel IVs were fielded, to help replace the depleted F-105F/G stocks. Another anti-radiation missile was fielded, the Navy-developed AGM-78 Standard ARM, which was an improvement over the Shrike… it could be fired from beyond the range of an SA-2 (which the Shrike couldn’t); launch parameters offered improved flexibility for the Weasel crews to attack from off angles, and some versions had a memory feature allowed for the missile to strike effectively even after a radar was shut off.

Wild Weasel tactics and weapons had improved so much that by the 1972 Linebacker and Linebacker II raids, Weasel and bomber losses from SA-2s were said to be at a rate of around eighty SA-2s fired for each Air Force aircraft lost to the SAMs, down from approximately fifteen for each aircraft lost in 1965 when the SA-2s were first encountered.

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During the final stages of the Vietnam War, a new version of the Phantom II, a modified F-4E known as the F-4G, was introduced. Radar homing equipment was housed where the –E’s nose cannon was removed, and electronics were updated to detect and even defeat various radar systems fielded by a bevy of newer surface to air missile systems. Jamming equipment could also be carried, but the SEAD mission was still a top priority for this new Wild Weasel V. A decade and a half later, the F-4Gs were used heavily against Iraqi targets in Operation Desert Storm. This time, a newer and more lethal anti-radiation missile, the AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti Radiation Missile) was fielded. The F-4G version was the last operational Phantom II variant fielded by the Air Force, and after the Desert Storm action, it was replaced by the newest version of the Wild Weasel, the F-16C Block 50/52 series.

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Today’s F-16C Wild Weasel VI (sometimes referred to as the F-16CJ) benefits from the rapid advancement in the miniaturization of electronic components and the additional capabilities of computers. For the first time, a single pilot employed the Wild Weasel. Weapons such as the HARM, Maverick missile, and GPS-guided bombs allow for successfully destroying anti-aircraft radar and weapons from a further distance, thus avoiding associated AAA fire. The Harm Targeting System (HTS) is a fuselage mounted pod that receives various electronic signals and sends data to the F-16’s on-board computers for processing and display in the cockpit. Data link communications equipment allows for sharing of targeting data between aircraft too.

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A great book to read about the capabilities of the Wild Weasel VI, weapons, missions, and a pilot’s memoirs is retired Lieutenant Colonel Dan Hampton’s VIPER PILOT, A Memoir of Air Combat (William Morrow/HarperCollinsPublishers).

Looking ahead to the next Wild Weasel platform, the new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II has been identified as the F-16’s successor. Filled with sensors and computers that have the same or improved capabilities of the F-16C Block 50/52, the possibility of internal carriage of weapons could add stealth capabilities to the Wild Weasel arsenal. Since there are no planned external modifications expected – like the HTS – any F-35 airframe will contain the necessary hardware and software, and could act as a Wild Weasel as long as pilots are trained to perform the SEAD mission.

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A big difference in the workload for the pilot of an F-35 acting in the SEAD role will be the onboard computer that’ll collect information from other sources – aircraft and ground stations – and fusing the information together for the pilot, instead of him/her having to look at multiple sources of data to arrive at the same situational awareness. Although the F-35 may not possess a larger weapons load or better maneuverability than the aircraft it will replace, it will hold a huge advantage in data collection and distribution – a very important capability to have on the world’s newest electronic battlefields.

While the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) has always been a major part of the Wild Weasel mission, it has remained a role for a few select pilots and their aircraft. Beginning with a new style of fighting over Vietnam against specialized SA-2 radars and their deadly guided missiles, and continuing through the Iraq wars against many different types of military hardware, Wild Weasels have helped to facilitate airpower as a decisive force on the battlefield for half a century. Future aircraft like the F-35 will contain purposely-built internal systems to counter enemy air defenses, not add-ons. The specialized role of a specific Wild Weasel airframe and pilot may be coming to an end soon, as new aircraft will carry the necessary tools to do the mission without any modifications or even specialized training – things that got the ball rolling over fifty years ago for the Vietnam War.DSC_0755S

A Grand Phinale at Holloman AFB

QF-4E_74-1638_Elvis_9778 Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King taxies QF-4E 74-1638 back to the ramp

The U.S. Air Force retired its final McDonnell Douglas/Boeing QF-4 Phantom IIs on December 21, 2016. The jets were the last of the line… more than four thousand airframes of various versions were manufactured for the Air Force. The first version flew in 1963, and for more than half a century, the jets and their crews performed air defense, attack, reconnaissance, Wild Weasel, and ultimately remote control drone service.

The final QF-4Es in service were operated by Detachment 1, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, based at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. The 82 ATRS reports to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall AFB, FL. Holloman AFB sits close to the White Sands Missile Range, where live fire exercises against unmanned drone aircraft are routinely accomplished. The final unmanned Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) mission was flown there on August 17, 2016, although manned missions, carrying various test payloads, lasted into December of that year.

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 Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jim “Wam” Harkins in front of QF-4E 74-0643

During December 20th and 21st, the Air Force feted the history made by Phantoms over the past half century, with a Media Day on the 20th, and a public finale on the 21st. Guest speakers, ground based activities, and a fair amount of Phantoms in the air concluded the illustrious career of the fighter jet. Many Phantom veterans – pilots, Weapons Systems Officers, maintenance crewmembers, program managers and other military dignitaries attended the finale, along with a group of civilian Phantom enthusiasts and international aviation history aficionados.

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Eric “Rock” Vold, Detachment1 82nd ATRS Commander Lt. Col Ron “Elvis” King, Lt Col (Ret) Jim “Wam” Harkins, Major (Ret) Jim “Boomer” Schreiner

The four remaining QF-4 Phantom pilots reached celebrity status as they took their final flights in the last operational USAF Phantoms. Of note, the Detachment Commander, Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King, was the last active duty U. S. Air Force F-4 pilot.

Photorecon.net’s Scott Zeno and Alice Leong spent three days at Holloman AFB, immersing themselves in the activities leading up to, and during the finale celebration. Here’s their pictorial report on activities from Monday December 19th through Wednesday, December 21st.

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In the office, Jim “Wam” Harkins before a flight

Six flyable QF-4s were available to be flown for proficiency and practice before Wednesday’s Main Event. Although the rear seats didn’t need to be occupied, a few flights were filled with VIPs… Other Phantoms were parked, ready to go.

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A pair of manned QF-16s – the successor to the Phantom in the FSAT mission, departed on the wing of Detachment Commander “Elvis” King in a QF-4E.

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Battle damage!

More Phantoms, already grounded, stood parked on the ramp. Most would be towed onto firing ranges and become targets; QF-4E 68-0452 had most of its left stabilator shot off by an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile during an unmanned FSAT mission… but the drone pilot skillfully brought the wounded Phantom back to Holloman AFB on its final flight.

QF-16s, the newest FSAT

General Dynamics QF-16C jets will fulfill the FSAT mission duties for the next few years, they follow an illustrious line of fighters that were converted to expendable drones to provide realistic targets for training and weapons testing. Starting with the PQM-102 Delta Dagger, the QF-100 Super Sabre, QF-106 Delta Dart and QF-4 Phantoms followed. The 82 ATRS is already flying QF-16 missions.


Although the QF-4 activity was winding down, there was still activity around the offices and ramp. The four remaining current QF-4 pilots, Lt. Col Ron “Elvis” King, Lt Col (Ret) Jim “Wam” Harkins, Major (Ret) Jim “Boomer” Schreiner, and Eric “Rock” Vold weren’t exactly finished with their duties yet.

On Media Day Tuesday, Phantom Phanatics, writers, photographers and former Phantom crew assembled to watch some of the jets fly, and spend time around the aircraft. Question and answer sessions occurred too, and lithographs and t-shorts were signed by the remaining pilots. Soon, two Phantoms roared to life, and along with a pair of QF-16s, alighted to the delight of the assembled enthusiasts. They’d return close to sundown after an air-to-air photo mission.

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Finally, on Wednesday, the F-4 Retirement and Phinal Phantom Phlight ceremony occurred. Former and active duty Air Force personnel mingled, and they all witnessed the end to an era. Nor was this a military-only event, as community leaders who helped to support the men and women who employed the Phantom were present too.

A very thick book could easily be filled with the experiences and exploits of the many Phantom Phlyers and Phantom Phixers present. Two former Phantom crew in attendance were (Ret) Maj. Gen. Bill Acker, part of the first cadre of pilots to train on Air Force F-4s, and (Ret.) Col. Chuck DeBellevue, the leading flying ace in Vietnam, earning the title while flying on the Phantom.

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 The man with the F-4 picture is Edward Evans, a former F-4 pilot with the 336th TFS. The picture he’s holding is of him back in his F-4 days, and in that photo, the jet behind him is 74-1167… which he’s standing in front of again many years later!! His son “Ozie”, currently a pilot stationed at Nellis AFB, was with him as well that day.

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(Ret.) Col. Klaus Klause is a former F-117 Operations Group Commander (and Bandit pilot), as well as an F-4 Phantom veteran of Vietnam. That’s Alice Leong with him at Holloman AFB’s Phantom Phinale.

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The “Phinal Phantom Phlight” ceremony began with a quartet of Phantoms departing with a roar of afterburners. Sonic booms, “presentation passes” and finally, the last landings occurred before the final drag chutes were popped and water cannon salutes ensued.

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 Detachment 1, 82 ATRS Commander “Elvis” King upon finishing his speech.

After shut down, the crews exited the jets, and the formal retirement ceremony for the Phantoms began. Speeches by the 53rd Wing Commander Adrian “Elmo” Spain & 53rd WEG Commander Lance “Blade” Wilkins were followed by the Detachment 1, 82nd ATRS Commander Lt. Col Ron “Elvis” King giving the final words. Afterwards, a short period of time allowed for people to get close to a Phantom for the last time and even sign the jet. A successor QF-16C was available for inspection too.

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Wam” Harkins and QF-16 pilot Lt. Col. Brian “Jaws” Swyt celebrate after one of the final QF-4E Phantom flights at Holloman AFB.

It was the end of an era for the mighty USAF’s F-4 Phantoms. A fitting salute was presented to the aircraft and the people who spent countless hours dedicated to the job of protecting America’s freedom and liberties, through the use of this iconic fighter bomber.

Classic Colors, RIAT Tiger Meet Participants 1997

f5 1Twenty years ago, the Royal International Air Tattoo was fortunate to assemble a quantity of NATO aircraft which were participants in that year’s annual Tiger Meet.  The NATO Tiger Association is a group of squadrons which feature cats, usually the “big cat” family of tigers, panthers, cheetahs, etc. in their heraldry, crests, and/or unit names and logos.

They gather to swap information about tactics and training, as well as to boost morale within the NATO ranks. Usually, one or two aircraft from each unit is emblazoned with some special color scheme to emulate the “big cat” prowess as hunters, or leaders of the pack. A motto of the group is “Hard to be Humble”, and their aircraft markings sometimes make full use of the bravado it carries!

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There are some 24 squadrons worldwide who are full members, with a number of honorary members too. Other memberships have ended, normally when a squadron has been disbanded. The organization can trace its roots back to a 1960 meeting between a USAF and RAF squadron, although the official website of the NATO Tigers casts some doubt upon the early years’ story.

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