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.
“[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.
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)
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.
“The paint scheme is a means of representing threats more accurately,” said Capt. Ken Spiro, 64th AGRS chief of intelligence. “There are real world threats that paint their jets in this way so we are changing over to make it more physically like their aircraft. Once a pilot who is training comes within visual range of the new Aggressor, they’ll be seeing a similar situation to what they would see with an actual threat aircraft.”
To represent these threats more accurately, the 64th AGRS looks for any and all ways to try to emulate the threats that are opposing combat air forces.
“The idea started at the 64th AGRS because we’re always looking for different ways to be more threat representative, and make the training more realistic,” said Spiro. “The 64th AGRS gets creative in extra ways, such as paint schemes to accurately and better represent threats. We act like, look like, or anything you can think of we try so we can be true to the threats. We’ve had some jets that are painted like a regular F-16, and then we’ve had some that have more of a tiger stripe pattern. Our F-16’s paint schemes have been similar to threats in the past and this new scheme is more representative of today’s threats.”
Noteworthy, a new F-16 with a new “shark” paint scheme is being prepared at Nellis. Inspired by the T-50?
Awesome images of A-10s, C-17s and C-130s involved in JFEX exercise.
The battle went unnoticed by most.
On Saturday, Jun. 18 a joint aerial friendly force faced a very capable and determined adversary. The adversary fielded a world class air force combined with advanced radar and surface to air missile sites that create an Anti-Access/Area-Denial zone (A2/AD).
Within that zone, lay the target – a critical airfield. Operational plans called for a combined force of 39 C-17As and C-130H&Js to land equipment and drop paratroops from the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division onto the airfield and secure it.
Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).
This is the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise, or JFEX.
JFEX takes place twice a year as one of the final assignments for those participating in the U.S. Air Force Weapons School (USAFWS). The Weapons School represents the highest level of training offered by the USAF. Those selected to participate are typically instructors on their platforms (aircraft/systems), and have demonstrated leadership excellence. Weapons School graduates are among the finest leaders and advanced integration warfighters on the planet.
Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield. on the NTTR. Overhead, F-15s, F-16s, B-52s and more keep the skies and ground clear of threats during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).
The Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) provides the ideal venue for the exercise. The restricted NTTR features advanced radar systems, surface to air missile sites (SAM), scores of ground targets as well as the unimproved Keno airfield. These systems are configured to create the most challenging and realistic A2/AD threat.
Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 437 AW/315 AW, Charleston, SC “cleans” the runway during take off from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).
In addition to the transports, the joint Blue force utilized 33 aircraft of 9 platforms (F-16CM, F-15C, F-15E, EA-18G, B-52, A-10, E-3, RC-135J, E8, MQ-9). Advanced command and control capabilities were complemented by Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) on the ground in the vicinity of the airfield.
A-10C of the 66 WPS, Nellis AFB turns away from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX. The A-10C offered close air support in the immediate victinity of the airfield during the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).
The Red Force included 10 aircraft (8 F-16s and 2 A-4s) complemented by a ground force that included U.S. Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The adversary ground threat combine and coordinate with Red air flying F-16s out of Nellis AFB. Together, they form a dynamic and unpredictable adversary that must be forcibly neutralized.
Ground launched rocket streaks in front of C-17A’s incoming for airdrop on Keno field in the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).
Col. Michael Drowley, Commandant of the USAFWS, notes that “…weapons school graduates are challenged to solve very difficult problems, given the smaller force size, integration is the key to success.” JFEX demands the advanced platform and service integration that is anticipated in future warfare.
Air Mobility Command C-130J-30 of Little Rock AFB, AR overflies Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016). The “J’s” ramp is open as it prepares to drop U.S. Army paratroppers from the 82nd Airborne Division.
With primary air and ground threats neutralized, the massive force of C-17As and C-130H and Js appeared over the field on cue. Some of the transport aircraft had flown direct to the central Nevada location from distances as far as Fort Bragg, NC. Throughout the operation, A-10s remained low and close to the airfield neutralizing any dynamic threats. F-16CMs, F-15Cs and B-52s circled high overhead responding to ongoing SAM and air threats. The exercise involved nearly 600 participants and went smoothly, though high surface winds led to an abort of the paratrooper jump.
F-15C of the 433 WPS launches flares while providing Defensive Counter Air over Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).
Effective training challenges are those that are more difficult than real world scenarios. Judging by this JFEX, the 2016-A class of Weapons Officers are ready for any challenge an adversary brings.
A-10C from Nellis, AFB provides Close Air Support at Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEC (Dec 2015)
Heartfelt thanks for the support provided by the USAF ACC 99 ABW PAO, specifically SrA Joshua Kleinholz, and Susan Garcia, U.S. Weapons School. Photo contributions by photographer Eric Bowen, JFEX Dec 2015.
F-22 during Deliberate Strike Night: testing stealth abilities to conduct attacks during the hours after the sun sets.
These cool photographs were taken by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 509th Weapons Squadron, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, as it performed aerial refueling on an F-22 Raptor stealth jet assigned to the 433rd Weapons Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
A detailed analysis of a 510FS training mission at Ft. Irwin.
On the afternoon of Feb. 24, The Aviationist’s contributor Eric Rosenwald photographed a flight of two USAF F-16C fighters as they practiced low-altitude strafe runs at Ft. Irwin, California (National Training Center).
They each completed at least 8 passes of a target airfield, periodically dropping to an altitude of less than 500 feet.
The F-16s belonged to the 510th Fighter Squadron of the 31st Fighter Wing, based at Aviano Air Base, Italy deployed to the U.S. to take part in the Red Flag 16-1 air combat exercise.
The infographic below provides some really interesting details about the mission conducted by the “Buzzards” over the range in California.