The QF-4 Aerial Target mission is winding down and two of the aircraft visited Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Oct. 25, 2016, so that those who have supported F-4 Phantom IIs over the years could see them one last time.
The visit–touted as the ‘Phinal Phantom Phlight’–was hosted by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, F/QF-4 System Program Office here. Events included a flyby, luncheon, and static display.
Holloman AFB, N.M., pilots Lt. Col. Ron King, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Detachment 1 commander, and Jim Harkins performed two flybys, then landed here at noon and taxied toward base operations where they were greeted by Airmen and civilians.
“I felt like we had an opportunity and an obligation to get this aircraft on the road one more time because so many people have this connection with it,” said King during luncheon remarks. “It’s just been absolutely amazing for me to do this.”
QF-4s are basic F-4s reconfigured for unmanned flight and used in Full-Scale Aerial Target missions.
The FSAT mission is to provide aerial targets for all Defense Department weapon systems. When flown in threat representative configuration, QF-4s were oftentimes shot at and destroyed during Live Fire Test & Evaluation missions and Air Combat Command’s Weapon System Evaluation Program.
The QF-4 program, which stood up in the 1990s after the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., began regenerating F-4s, is now in the ’Sundown’ phase of its lifecycle. In May 2015, all remaining QF-4s were transferred to Holloman AFB for final operations. The last unmanned mission in a threat representative configuration was flown Aug. 17, 2016, and unmanned operations ended in September. The last manned QF-4 flight is planned for Dec. 21.
During the program’s lifecycle, it was not unusual for these ‘unmanned’ aircraft to be flown by pilots.
“Ironically, the majority of QF-4 missions are flown in the manned configuration to support manned presentations (validation tests of non-lethal weapon system components), unmanned flight chase missions, and pilot proficiency training,” said Scott Johnson, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center F-4 system program manager. “QF-4s also participate in the Heritage Flight Foundation’s effort to share air power history with the public.”
Johnson also noted that before becoming operational, each QF-4 had to be checked out with a human inside.
“One of the checks was to fly the aircraft with a pilot in the cockpit while it was controlled from the ground station in what’s called a ‘manned-coupled mission,’” he said. “It then became part of the local QF-4 fleet and remained in a manned configuration until it was needed for an unmanned flight to support an FSAT mission.”
The end of the QF-4 mission does not mean the AFLCMC F/QF-4 System Program Office here will stand down. Besides the F/QF-4 program, the office also has System Program Management responsibility for 12 other Mission Design Series Proven Aircraft (retired U.S. Air Force aircraft acquired and operated by other agencies and countries to include NASA and 44 Foreign Military Sales customers around the world) such as the F-4, F-5, A-37, T-37, B-57, C-47, OV-10, and O-2, to name a few.
“It has been the privilege and honor for the men and women of the Proven Aircraft SPO to be a part of the F-4 Phantom II’s long and glorious history,” said Johnson. “The success of the QF 4 FSAT program has been the result of a great team working toward a common goal for the better part of 20 years.”
The current fleet of QF-4s at Holloman AFB consists of 13 aircraft. At the end of the program, those still remaining will have their engines and hazardous materials removed and be towed to the White Sands Missile Range for use as ground targets.
The QF-16 will replace the QF-4.