Aviation Nation 2014: Phinal Phantoms

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a legendary twin engine, all-weather fighter-bomber that well and truly earned the moniker of “Phabulous Phantom” in a long career of peace time and combat operations around the world for many different nations (over 5,000 were built between 1958 and 1981). At Aviation Nation 2014 I was surprised to see two Phantoms in the static line-up as they have been long retired from the USAF inventory (the USAF operated more than 2,600 F-4’s with the first delivered in 1963 and the last in 1979. They were retired in 1996). Well sort of…

McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II Aviation Nation 2014 Nellis AFB
Phabulous Phantoms

These were actually QF-4E Phantom II aircraft of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron flown in for the air show from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. These are “retired” Phantoms converted into reusable aerial target aircraft that are either piloted (with a safety pilot to monitor performance) or remote-controlled drones used to simulate enemy aircraft maneuvers for research of weaponry and defensive systems. The QF-4 program became operational in 1997.

McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II Aviation Nation 2014 Nellis AFB
McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II
Holloman USAF QF-4E 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron
From Holloman AFB New Mexico
USAF QF-4E 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron
USAF 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron

A QF-4 aircraft is fitted with electronic and infrared countermeasures to fully simulate an encounter with an enemy aircraft. When remotely flown they are fitted with a self-destruct explosive device just in case the aircraft becomes uncontrollable to avoid any accidents with other aircraft or casualties on the ground.

McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II Aviation Nation 2014 Nellis AFB
This QF-4E almost looked like she had just come of the production line
McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II Aviation Nation 2014 Nellis AFB
Great to see any type of F-4. I just wish I had been able to see this fly in to Nellis

Sadly the ultimate fate of a QF-4 aircraft is generally destruction by a missile (for unmanned flights that is!). As such, there and not many of them left and these truly are the “Phinal Phantoms” of the USAF (even more likely given today’s military budget constraints and most are being replaced by the newer General Dynamics QF-16 Fighting Falcon).

McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II Aviation Nation 2014 Nellis AFB Phinal Phantoms
The back of a t-shirt I purchased from the pilots of the QF-4E’s at Aviation Nation 2014


8 thoughts on “Aviation Nation 2014: Phinal Phantoms

  1. Two Phantom stories. I’m not a military type but I got two vey close up looks at Phantoms. First one was in Avon Park, FL many moons ago. The bombing range there permitted a certain amount of hunters to enter the range to hunt deer. Hunters were restricted to certain areas that were supposedly not in an active area. Minding my own deer hunting business in a tree stand I was roused from a late morning doze by a Phantom at tree top level. The back seat guy did a double take as they passed fairly close by. My hair grew back but the stain did not come out.
    Look number two was over Arcadia, FL. Again minding my own business thermaling at about 3000 feet in my 1-26 sailplane felt a violent shudder and the accompanying roar of jet engines passing directly under me. I watched the twin tail exhausts of the Phantom streaking west presumably back to MacDill or wherever. I can just imagine what the cockpit yuks were at that. I hope they didn’t hear what I said over the glider frequency.


    1. Thanks for the feedback. Glad you enjoy taking a look. I have been lucky that I get to go to all these places (well I make that luck I guess), but anyway I enjoy sharing. If I had more time I would post a lot more as I have a lot of photos and stories from my own archives as well as historical stuff. Stay tuned 🙂


  2. Thanks for the great blog post with pics. We enjoyed being able to bring the QF-4 Phantoms to Nellis over Veterans Day weekend and wish we could have flown during the show. We sell the Phinal Phantom t-shirts to support our Phinal Phantoms booster club, just search for Phinal Phantoms on ebay. Thanks again for the support!

    Liked by 1 person

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