Last of the legendary U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom jets to become yet another missile victim

May 02 2013 - 11 Comments
By Jacek Siminski

The last of the produced F-4 Phantom jets has been converted into a flying dummy target-drone for missile training.

The plane was a part of 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group) based in Tuscon, Arizona and went through tests on Apr. 17.

The RF-4C, production no. 68-0599 is not a machine that is young or freshly retired, as it has been a part of the AMARG inventory since Jan. 18, 1989.

Just after being prepared for flying in a form of a target drone it was given a name Last One.

Last Phantom

Image Credit: AMARG

It is 316th QRF-4C (target drone designation for F-4) that was created. The conversion of the former MiG-21 adversary is conducted with the help of BAe Systems.

The aerial target drone will be managed by 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron based in Tyndall AFB.  The conversion itself is not a quick process, as it takes about 160 days which is almost half a year!

The QF-4 is created using the planes that sit on the USAF’s desert boneyard in Tuscon, Arizona.

As no Phantoms are left to be converted, the oldest F-16s are next in the queue  to be converted into dummy targets for training or new missile research. The first F-16 made its first flight in May 2012.

This is as far as the Air Force goes.

The US Navy is not using Phantoms anymore, as the last ones were also QF-4 target drones in service with Naval Air Warfare Center in Point Magu, California. The Phantom drones are expected to be a part of USAF target dummy inventory until 2013-2014 (later they will be replaced by the abovementioned F-16).

The QF-4 has replaced QF-106 target drone.

The QF-4’s not only serve a drone role, as several of  them are still painted in historical camo and take part in the USAF Heritage Flights at the airshows when not being used as targets.

When being a target, the QF-4 provides quite realistic training platform, as it can imitate all kinds of evasive maneuvers.

Image Credit:

The following video shows practical application of QF-4 in training of the Air National Guard:

In the video we can see two F-15 jets shooting at the targets – the QF-4 Phantoms. To simulate the aerial combat with the highest possible fidelity the targets are equipped with the whole array of countermeasures (chaffs and flares) and may be flown remotely (when serving as a target) or with a pilot in cockpit (Heritage flights, maintenance). When unmanned, the QF-4 also carries an explosive device for self-destruct purpose in case it becomes uncontrollable.

Even if most modern air forces are equipped with more advanced fighter planes, the F-4 is still comparable if not superior to many enemy aircraft U.S. fighter could face in case of war….

Jacek Siminski for TheAviationist

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  • When the F-22s were grounded sometime back, the only things flying at Tyndall AFB were F-4s and T-38s. It was like going back in time to see a pattern full of F-4s… I’ll miss them.

  • I saw it wrong or in around the 4:15 of the video the Phantom manage to avoid the sidewinder?

    • It appeared that way to me as well. F4 is still badass.

  • Troy

    A QF-4E mad a fuel stop at my base about two months ago. It was like their was an airshow going on, what was a mundane fuel stop gathered about 20+ folks as word spread quickly. For me it was a flash back to my childhood growing up in the 80s and taking for granted that back then F-4s where everywhere. For others who were more “senior” to me it was a reunion as three crew chiefs that I was with actually worked on Phantoms in the Air Force and with one tearing up seeing an actual airworthy Phantom.

    Took some good photos touched the old girl and went to EOR to watch a “real” fighter take off with both J79s roaring into afterburner.

    Phantoms Phorever………

  • Bigdirk

    Utterly abominable this decimation of all the F4s. Still, at least we now know that the F-35 has a purpose waiting…

    • David Brown

      yeah, the f-35 will make a great paperweight

  • Bigdirk

    On the subject of the (ugh I almost faint when I mention its name) Phantom – reading a book “Phantom over Vietnam” by Fighter Pilot, USMC John Trotti. Recommend it.

  • Mike G.

    Back in the day, the F-4 was the baddest plane in the sky. My job was to train them in ECM and dropping ordinance on target with the 1st CEVG in Germany. Nothing like an F-4 flying fifty feet over head on a “bubble check” after completion of their simulated bomb run. All us operators would race to the top of the radar vans to take pictures and watch as they screamed over head.

    This was when the first F-15’s and A-10’s had made it over to Europe.

  • JohnSkookum

    Love the Phantom, but my favorite from the golden age of jet fighters will always be the English Electric Lightning.

  • What an ignominious ending to such a great bird.