Tag Archives: Aviation Nation

Reflecting on The Raptor: F-22 Demo Team Changes Pilots for 2018.

We Get a Rare Opportunity to Meet the Outgoing and Incoming F-22 Demo Pilots.

As the 2018 air show season rapidly approaches in the United States it occurs to me that I’ve written about military aviation in some capacity since I was a kid. Today aviation journalism is my job, and I’ll tell you it is among the best jobs in the world. This story is one example why.

Along with every other author who has written about flying, from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to modern-day journalists like our Editor David Cenciotti, Tyler Rogoway of The Drive, Laura Seligman, Valerie Insinna and many others, aviation has also been a passion since I was a kid.

Covering aviation is long days of travel, waiting under a hot sun or in freezing weather, sitting in a canyon or a desert waiting for something to happen. It is getting to a flight demonstration or media event hours before anyone else and staying long after it’s over to catch that one story, that one photo, that no one else may have gotten. It’s also lots of research, fact checking, and covering your ass so, when millions of people read your story it’s as accurate as you can make it. Even then, it sometimes goes wrong.

But during the heavy lifting of packing, flying, waiting, hoping, getting smacked for printing an error, getting read and shared when you write a scoop, I still have the same boyhood enthusiasm for the miracle of flight. I also still have my boyhood admiration for the women and men who fix and who fly the aircraft we write about. They are humble heroes who are larger than life. Military aviation is one of very few vocations where a young person can earn so much responsibility so quickly.

Because of my boyhood excitement for aviation, I’m more than just a journalist covering a story, I’m also a fan. While I did take journalism in school and can put on a game face as a “reporter” asking tricky questions of a Public Affairs Officer, I’ll also ask a pilot or a crew chief for an autograph or a handshake, or take a photo with the women and men who do the jobs I write about. They’re heroes to me, and I remain an unapologetic fan.

This past summer during 2017 I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time for a great story, a great transition into the 2018 air demonstration season and a great aviation moment. As is usually the case, Nellis AFB was where it happened.

The Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada is among the greatest air shows in the world. Along with MAKS in Russia, the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK, the Dubai Air Show and the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition it is unique in both setting and displays. No other show on earth provides the insight into U.S. air power that Aviation Nation does. In November 2017, the show also celebrated the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.

On media day before the show opened to the public at Nellis, I got to meet both the outgoing F-22 Raptor Demo pilot and the new incoming F-22 Demo pilot. It was a unique chance to see a big transition in flight demonstration history.

For the past couple years, I’ve seen USAF Major Dan Dickinson, call sign “Rock”, fly the F-22 Raptor at flight demos around the country. Maj. Dickinson was the F-22 Aerial Demonstration Commander. He represented the USAF, the DoD and, at international airshows around the world, the face of our nation, at over 20 airshows each year. “Rock’s” team has 19 members responsible for getting the F-22 Raptor from show venue to show venue, being sure it is flight-ready and coordinating all the logistics from travel to maintenance to lodging. He also represents, at least by association, giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin, builders of the F-22 Raptor.

Outgoing USAF F-22 Demo Team pilot Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson taxis in on his last demo. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

The Air Force estimates that every year a staggering 10 million spectators see Major Dan Dickinson fly his F-22 in person. According to statistics published by NBC Sports, that is more than double the amount of people who watched the NHL Stanley Cup Final on television. In addition to his work as the F-22 Demo Team leader and pilot, Maj. Dickinson is also an active F-22 instructor pilot for the 1st Operations Group at Langley AFB in Virginia.

Among many other fascinating facts about Major Dan Dickinson and the Air Force F-22 Demo Team, I find it remarkable that a Major in the USAF earns $111,760 USD according to a Google search, but an NHL player like Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators hockey team earns $14,000,000 USD in about the same time period, but with half the fan exposure as Maj. Dickinson gets even in NHL hockey’s biggest game series.

Unlike overpaid sport stars, if you want to talk to an American hero like Maj. Dickinson, all you have to do is walk up to him in the F-22 Demo Team tent at an airshow before or after his demonstration.

I always visit the F-22 Demo Team tent to see if Maj. Dickinson, his Crew Chief or one of the other members is there to have a chat, get a free photo or buy a patch that benefits an air force supported charity. Every time Maj. Dickinson and his team take the time to answer questions, shake hands and pose for another photo with me. I bet I have over a hundred photos with these guys, tons of autographed aircraft photos, a few profile prints of their aircraft signed by them and whatever other stuff I could collect. Every time Maj. Dickinson answers my questions with enthusiasm and interest.

I grab to opportunity for a couple autographs from F-22 Demo Pilot Dan Dickinson. (Photo: Jan Mack/TheAviationist)

“How much pressure does it take to move the sidestick?” “Have you ever worried about hypoxia?” “What is the longest time you’ve been in the cockpit?” “What was it like to take-off for the first time in an F-22?” “What is the plane like to fight with?” “What’s your favorite flight demo venue?” I never ran out of questions for Maj. Dickinson, and he always had enthusiastic answers as he signed one more autograph for me. By the way, we will provide his answers as part of a new article we will publish in the next weeks. “Rock” probably started thinking I was selling all the airshow schwag on eBay. But I wasn’t. If you visit our house the walls are covered with framed profile prints and aircraft photos, many of them from Nellis, many of them of Rock’s F-22 Raptor.

This year marks a big transition for the F-22 Demo Team. At the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB. Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson would fly his final demo and Major Paul “Loco” Lopez would be there observing in his role as incoming F-22 demo pilot for the 2018 season and beyond.

Word on the tarmac is that Major “Loco” Lopez got his call sign because of his infectious enthusiasm for military aviation. When you meet him in person you see that is absolutely true. A big smile and a bigger handshake, Major Lopez initially seems too jovial to be a deadly Mach 2 predator stalking the skies for enemy aircraft and killing them with impunity from beyond visual range, but ask him about the technical performance of his F-22 Raptor and you get a sense of his seriousness about the aircraft and its mission. Major Lopez’s knowledge of the F-22, its capabilities and tactical role is encyclopedic. He discusses the aircraft as though he were one of the engineers who built it.

At Nellis I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to shake the hand of outgoing F-22 demo pilot, Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson, then turn to my left and immediately shake the hand of incoming pilot Major Paul “Loco” Lopez. It was living aviation history.

A moment in airshow history: outgoing F-22 demo pilot Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson on the left, the author in the center, and incoming 2018 F-22 demo pilot Major Paul “Loco” Lopez on the right. (Photo: Jan Mack/TheAviationist)

New incoming demo pilot U.S. Air Force Major Paul Lopez, call sign “Loco”, completed his certification of capabilities as a demo team pilot at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia on December 18, 2017. He flies his first public demo on March 17, 2018 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.

Since the schedule at the 2018 Yuma Air Show next month does not include one of the major U.S. military demo teams, The Navy’s Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds, Major Lopez’s solo demonstration flight of the F-22 along with his Heritage Flight formation with a North American P-51 Mustang of WWII fame, will be one of the headlining demos along with the civilian Patriot’s Jet Team and a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B demo.

According to an official public affairs release from the U.S. Air Force, Major Paul “Loco” Lopez’s 13-member F-22 Demo Team for 2018 will showcase the fifth-generation aircraft through 25 flight demonstrations, including solo displays and Heritage Flights, at 21 locations around the country, as well as international demos in Santiago, Chile and Alberta, Canada. If you get the opportunity to see Major Lopez’s flight demo or Heritage Flight at any of the scheduled shows, you’ll be witness to a chapter in aviation history as his first year flying F-22 demos begins in 2018.

We Got A Close Look At America’s Iconic U-2 Dragon Lady Spy Plane

It Wasn’t on the Schedule, but a Late Tip at Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo Gave Us Unique Insights into The Historic U-2.

The fine print in every air show schedule reads, “Aircraft appearances are subject to change”.

It’s a reminder that the primary mission of military aircraft is not display, but operational readiness. Sometimes that means an aircraft scheduled to appear at a flight demonstration or static display gets cancelled because of higher priorities.

But sometimes it also means one gets added.

That was the case at the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis Air Force Base. A Saturday flyover of a B-2 Spirit strategic bomber was moved off the schedule when the scarce, national security asset was assigned to a higher priority mission. With only about twelve of the B-2 Spirit fleet in operational status and the looming North Korean crisis many aviation enthusiasts thought we would lose the flyover to higher tasking. What we didn’t know was that the good folk at Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo would replace it with something even better.

It pays to keep your eyes open at an airshow, and especially at Aviation Nation. Nellis is a hub of training activity in one of the busiest military aircraft training regions in the world. If you’re a keen observer, you may spot an unusual flight suit patch, a different name tag, or something else extraordinary. There is so much going on at Nellis it can be tricky to pay attention to everything at once. It’s like looking for the best candy in the world’s largest candy shop. But on the Friday Veteran and Military Appreciation Day and Working Media Day, our helpful media escort, Mr. Mike Young, a retired Public Affairs Officer in the Air Force, found us a rare gem. Mr. Young was working with the Nellis 99th Air Base Wing/Public Affairs Office at Nellis. His unenviable job was to follow me around all day to make sure I didn’t stray off anywhere I wasn’t supposed to, photograph anything off limits, or touch any switches in cockpits that ought to not be touched.

As our media escort ushered us through the many static displays and aircrew introductions I spotted an unusual patch on an officer’s flight suit. The patch read, “Dragon Lady 1000, Solum Volamus.” And in case that didn’t raise an eyebrow, it said quite plainly across the top: “Lockheed U-2”.

We had just stumbled upon one of the rarest aircraft pilots in aviation history, a Lockheed U-2 spy plane pilot.

I often feel for pilots at airshows, especially when a gawky fanboy reporter like me is fawning over them, asking, “Can I take a photo with you Sir?” But they always do, and with a smile. This was no exception.

With accommodating enthusiasm, the U-2 pilot I spotted in the crowd confirmed he did indeed fly the Dragon Lady, one of the most difficult planes to fly in one of the most dangerous roles in any air force. He went on to leave us with another gem, “It will be arriving here today at 4:30 PM, right after the Thunderbirds practice is over.”

Jackpot.

Few people have ever seen a U-2 high altitude reconnaissance plane up close. First flown in 1955, only 104 were built. The U.S. continues to use about forty U-2s in their intended surveillance role. Interestingly, Taiwan operated a few of the aircraft at one time, but they have been, and continue to be mostly employed by the U.S. Air Force and NASA. The Central Intelligence Agency also operated the U-2 in the intelligence gathering role.

While every aspect of the U-2, its mission, operation and performance are remarkable, certainly the most remarkable chapter in the U-2’s history is the Francis Gary Powers incident.

On May 1, 1960, Operation Grand Slam, managed by the C.I.A., was initiated. A U-2 spy plane flown by Capt. Francis Gary Powers overflew the Soviet Union to obtain photos of ICBM bases and a plutonium manufacturing facility. The Soviets knew the American U-2 was coming, and put all their air defense units on alert. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to intercept the U-2 spy plane along its route using fighter aircraft, none of which could reach it because of its extreme high altitude, a salvo of three SA-2 Guideline surface to air missiles (SAMs) was able to shoot down Capt. Powers’ U-2. The missile salvo also accidentally shot down a Soviet MiG-19 aircraft chasing Powers’ U-2. Although Capt. Powers was able to eject and survive the shoot-down, the Soviet pilot trying to intercept him, Senior Lieutenant Sergei Ivanovich Safronov of the 764th Fighter Aviation Regiment, Soviet Air Defense Force at Bolshoye Savino Airport, died in the tragic fratricide incident.

If people hadn’t known about the most secret spy plane in the U.S. arsenal before the Gary Powers incident, that soon changed when the Soviets paraded the captured Capt. Powers in front of newsreel cameras and displayed the wreckage of his U-2 spy plane. Overnight the U-2 went from national security secret to the most famous airplane in the world at the time.

Since then the U-2 and its related versions such as the TR-2 have gone on to perform the strategic and tactical reconnaissance mission around the world. The aircraft has also been flown to collect high altitude weather data.

Everything about operating the U-2 is remarkable. Its pilots, among the most skilled in any air force, wear an ultra-high altitude pressure suit that is effectively a spacesuit, including the large bubble-like helmet. Pilots must pre-breath pure oxygen for an extended time prior to their high-altitude surveillance missions, the time varying depending on the duration of their mission. Long missions can last a staggering 10+ hours. The pilots also wear radiological dosimeters to record the amount of solar radiation they are exposed since they fly at the outer limits of the atmosphere and are exposed to higher levels of harmful radiation from the sun. During periods of elevated sunspot activity, the pilots do not fly high altitude missions. Pilots eat pureed paste-like food through a tube during long missions. If a pilot has to urinate during a mission, they do so into a flexible bladder sewn into the suit. If they have to defecate, something avoided through careful management of diet in the days prior to a long-range, high-altitude flight, the suit is no longer useable. Once the helmet is donned and the pilot is ready to fly, they can’t even scratch an itch on their face.

I got a privileged opportunity to sit in the operational U-2 flown into Nellis AFB by two of the officers who fly her. For security reasons, they asked that their real names not be used.

While every corner of the flight envelope is tricky to fly in the U-2, managing the landing is particularly difficult. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

The first thing that occurred to me climbing inside the aircraft is how small it is. I was wearing summer street clothes. In a high-altitude pressure suit I have no idea how someone could wedge themselves into the compact space.

Flight controls and instrumentation in the U-2 I sat in seemed antiquated compared to more modern aircraft like the F-22 and F-35. Recall that the first U-2, designed by the famous Kelly Johnson of the Lockheed Skunkworks, was flown in 1955, so these are all old aircraft.

All U-2 aircraft go through what is effectively a re-building process called Programmed Depot Maintenance every 4,800 flight hours or every seven years. The aircraft are almost completely disassembled, inspected and necessary components are repaired or replaced. About six of the aircraft are cycled through the extended maintenance procedure per year. This fascinating video shows the process:

Pilots who fly the U-2 are restricted from discussing aircraft performance and mission specifics for security reasons. However, the pilot who briefed me on flight control procedures when operating at the classified operational altitudes showed me how the autopilot controls are used to maintain the aircraft within its very narrow speed and attitude band. Fly too fast and the aircraft is possibly damaged, likely resulting in a crash, fly too slow in the thin air of the outer atmosphere and the aircraft stalls and tumbles out of the sky, hopefully regaining control if it doesn’t disintegrate before it reaches lower, thicker air below 60,000 ft. The difference between max airspeed, the VH airspeed, and VMU airspeed, or minimum unstick airspeed can be incredibly narrow, a band of less than 20 MPH. When you factor in wind speed, vertical acceleration from turbulence and other variables, you quickly begin to understand that a U-2 pilot will be extremely busy during a high-altitude mission just trying to keep the aircraft in the air.

The U-2 on static display at Aviation Nation along with its chase car.

With the tip from the U-2 pilot we met on Friday we also got to see the U-2 arrival and landing, including the unusual procedure of having a fast car driven by another qualified U-2 pilot chase the aircraft down the runway on final approach giving the pilot minor corrections on attitude and line-up. Once the aircraft touches down on the runway the pilot attempts to hold what is ostensibly the world’s largest unicycle on its center main landing gear. As the aircraft slows during roll-out the pilot tries to hold the wingtips off the runway until the final moment. Once they stop on the landing roll, small “pogo” wheels are installed under each wing to keep the wingtips off the pavement and allow the plane to taxi.

A close look at the U-2’s enormous flaps and unusual pogo wheel parking system.

Seeing a U-2 in person was a rare treat in aviation history.

On both Saturday and Sunday, everyone attending the airshow got a chance to see the “Dragon Lady”. This incredibly rare and exotic opportunity is just one of the many things that make the Nellis AFB Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo one of the finest air shows anywhere in the world.

TheAviationist.com would like to thank U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Marie Ortiz, Chief of Media Operations at the 99th ABW/Public Affairs and Mr. Mike Young, USAF (retired), along with the entire Public Affairs Team at Nellis AFB for their generous assistance in covering not only the arrival of the U-2, but all of the events at the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo.

Report: 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo Celebrates USAF 70th Anniversary at Nellis AFB

Expo Showcases USAF Heritage, Capabilities and Breaking Barriers in Military Aviation.

It is the premiere U.S. Air Force air show: the Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. This year’s Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the U.S. Air Force with displays and demonstrations rarely seen at any other air show. The theme of the show is “Breaking Barriers” and showcases advances that have crossed gender and race in the U.S. Air Force.

Nellis Air Force Base is adjacent to the sprawling Nellis Range farther north. The range covers a total of 4,500 square miles. It is home of the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nevada National Security Site, Tonopah Test Range, Groom Range, Tikaboo Valley and the fabled “Area 51”. To the southwest is “Star Wars Canyon”, one of the premiere low-flying training areas in the world. It is one of the few places where lucky aviation photographers can photograph real world, low-level flight training- if they’re lucky.

Part of what differentiates Aviation Nation from other air expos and air shows around the world are the unique Air Force units that live at Nellis, and those units’ capability to demonstrate the air force mission better than anyone. While Aviation Nation only covers two days of the year, the capabilities and missions demonstrated during the expo are lived every day by the officers and airmen of Nellis.

One of the most unique and dynamic demonstrations at Aviation Nation is the USAF Warfighter Demo, a combined air and ground demo that showcases the unique Aggressor units and their capability to simulate opposing forces and tactics. The demo also highlights Air Force air superiority capabilities, close air support and Combat Search and Rescue missions and capabilities.

For the first time at an airshow the Lockheed F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter demonstrated its role in both close air support and also air superiority in a single mission. The F-35A flew in the Warfighter Demo alongside the A-10C Thunderbolt II. The demo reinforced the role of F-35A as a complementary asset to the A-10C, and an aircraft that can use its advanced capability to fill the role of the A-10C in addition to performing the air dominance mission.

The demo began with a simulated attack on Nellis Air Force Base performed by F-16s of the 64th Aggressor Squadron. F-15 Eagles on ready alert responded by taking off to contest the aggressors. A pair of F-35A Lighting IIs arrived and the Aggressors were quickly routed by the F-35s and F-15s.

A pair of F-15 Eagles leap off the runway at Nellis AFB during the Air Combat Demo. (All photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

Following the air combat phase of the demonstration a simulated rescue of a downed airman featured HH-60G rescue helicopters and A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft providing close air support. The new component of the close air support demonstration was seeing the F-35As transition from their air superiority role in the first demo to the air support operation in the second phase of the demo, providing simulated close air support along with the A-10Cs during the rescue demo. The message in the demo was clear, the F-35A can perform the close air support mission. While this was only a demonstration, it did provide at least the visual insight that the F-35A can do close air support (CAS). The demo showed the low altitude, close support capability of the F-35A alongside the A-10C for the first time at Aviation Nation.

A pair of F-35As performed close air support (CAS) alongside A-10s in the Air Combat Demo.

Highlights of the veteran, military and media day at Aviation Nation on Friday, November 10, 2017 included a surprise visit by USAF Air Combat Command Commander, General James M. “Mike” Holmes. General Holmes inspected a specially painted F-15 Eagle honoring the city of Las Vegas in the wake of the tragic mass shooting on October 1, 2017.

General James M. “Mike” Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command (right) inspects the special livery F-15 Eagle.

General James M. “Mike” Holmes with members of the team responsible for the special F-15 and surprise F-16.

There was the surprise unveiling of an F-16 Fighting Falcon (shown in the top image) also painted in a new, commemorative livery honoring Las Vegas and the memory of victims lost and survivors recovering from the October 1st mass shooting.

The Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo takes place this weekend, Saturday, November 11 and Sunday, November 12, 2017 at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. Admission is free to the public.

Nellis AFB F-15 Receives Special Paint Livery Honoring Victims of Las Vegas Mass Shooting

This Nellis-Based F-15A Was Repainted in Time for Next Week’s Aviation Nation 2017 Airshow.

Public affairs and local Las Vegas news outlets have released a new video of an F-15A Eagle with a special set of markings honoring the victims of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history in nearby Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, 2017. The tragic shooting claimed 58 lives.

The F-15A has what appears to be applique markings on the left side of the fuselage under the wing that reads “Vegas STRONG” in white against the air force grey tactical color. The markings under the right-side wing read “U.S. AIR FORCE”

The saying is an adaptation of a popular U.S. tagline that has been used in a U.S. Army (not Air Force) recruiting campaign called “ARMY STRONG” since 2006. The “Army Strong” tagline was originally developed by an advertising agency named McCann Worldgroup. It has since become a household phrase. The phrase was also adapted as “BOSTON STRONG” following the Boston Marathon bombing in April, 2013.

The left tail of the newly repainted F-15 wears an interpretation of the highly recognized Las Vegas sign memorializing the tragedy. It reads, “We Are VEGAS STRONG, October 1, 2017”.

The left hand side of the “Vegas Strong” special colored F-15.

The right-side tail wears a stylized graphic of the Air Force Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The right-side tail of the F-15C AF76-057

The F-15A will be on static display at the 2017 Aviation Nation Airshow at Nellis AFB on November 11 and 12. The Aviation Nation Airshow, one of the most unique airshows in the world showcasing the entire USAF arsenal in a setting that permits unparalleled aerial and static displays, will feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team, a tactical air combat display, numerous static displays of aircraft, some of which can only be seen at Nellis AFB, and a Saturday flyover the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber from Whiteman AFB, Missouri.

TheAviationist.com will provide full coverage of Aviation Nation 2017 on this website.

A previous version of this article mistakenly reported the involved aircraft is an F-15C wheareas it is an F-15A.

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The F-4 Phantom II, in the QF-4 Aerial Target variant, performs final display before retiring from USAF

After more than 50 years of service, the F-4 Phantom II is about to be retired by the U.S. Air Force.

The final F-4 Phantom appearance at an airshow while in USAF service occurred during Nellis Air Force Base’s Aviation Nation air show, on Nov. 12 and 13.

QF-4E 74-1638, piloted by Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and Jim Harkins, pilots from Holloman AFB, New Mexico, flew at the show on both days, making several passes in afterburner to the delight of more than 295,000 spectators from around the world.

The photographs in this post were taken by our reader Ken Lilly at Nellis AFB during Aviation Nation 2016.

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“[The QF-4 retiring] is bittersweet,” said King, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 commander in a U.S. Air Force release. “It’s been a phenomenal workhorse for our country for years. When the military revitalized the aircraft after retiring them in 1997, it gave them a second lease on life.”

The aircraft have flown as unmanned aerial targets for several DoD and foreign military sales customers testing next generation weapons.

“Just as service members come and go in their military careers, unfortunately so do aircraft,” said Harkins. “It’s getting harder and harder to do the job that it’s supposed to do [based on new technology].

“It’s too old to go as high and as fast or as many [gravitational forces] as the customers need it to so they can proper test equipment,” he added.

Air Combat Command declared initial operational capability for its replacement, the QF-16 full-scale aerial target, that has been flying with the 82nd ATRS, based at Tyndall AFB, Florida, since September 2014, on Sept. 23: therefore the QF-4 flown by the 82nd ATRS Det. 1 at Holloman AFB is being retired on Dec. 21.

Whilst unmanned operations ended in September, the last unmanned mission in a threat representative configuration was flown on Aug. 17, 2016, “against” an F-35 Lightning II.

During that sortie, the Vietnam-era remotely piloted aircraft was shot at by the F-35 Lightning II with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles). However, the aircraft was not destroyed in the test (read more about the final sortie “against” two AIM-120Cs fired by a Joint Strike Fighter here.)

A QF-4 Aerial Target lands on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., during the Aviation Nation air show on Nov. 11, 2016. The QF-4 was piloted by Lt. Col. Ron King, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Detachment 1 commander, at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

A QF-4 Aerial Target lands on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., during the Aviation Nation air show on Nov. 11, 2016. The QF-4 was piloted by Lt. Col. Ron King, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron Detachment 1 commander, at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. (U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Kevin Tanenbaum/Released)

Interestingly, on  Oct. 25 two USAF McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II’s made an appearance through the famous “Star Wars Canyon” (Jedi Transition) in Death Valley, CA, during in transit from NAS Point Mugu, CA to Hill AFB, UT.

The aircraft, piloted by Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and by Lt. Col. (Ret) Jim “WAM” Harkins, made a couple of aggressive passes through the canyon before continuing their journey to Hill.

The F-4 is one of the most successful multi-role fighter aircraft ever produced. Over 5,000 Phantoms of various models were built and served in combat with a variety of Air Forces around the world. In the U.S., the F-4 served with the US Navy beginning in 1961, followed by the USMC and the USAF.

The aircraft remained in service with the USAF through 1996 when it was retired.

Many Phantoms were converted to service as manned and unmanned targets for weapons training with various USAF and DoD programs, including the White Sands Missile Range.

But the final chapter in a long and successful career in the U.S. Air Force is approaching. At least, other air arms around the world still operate the mighty Phantom, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, that has also used the F-4E in the Air War in Syria; the Turkish Air Force, whose F-4s have had a role in the coup attempt last July; South Korea’s ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force), that has also employed the Phantoms to stage Elephant Walks “against” the North; and the Hellenic Air Force.

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Image credit: Ken Lilly unless otherwise specified.

 

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