July 1, 2015
On May 28, 2015 two QF-4Es, assigned to the 82 ATRS (Aerial Target Squadron) took off for their final mission from Tyndall AFB, FL. As scheduled, they were shot down about 30 minutes later. The remaining QF-4s at Tyndall are scheduled to move to the 82 ATRS (Det. 1) at Holloman AFB to live out their final days which will end the fourth quarter of FY 2016.
I received some intel that a pair of QF-4E Phantoms were scheduled to stop by Ellington for some fuel on their way from Tyndall to Holloman. As a Phantom lover (my first true aircraft love) I was undoubtedly excited about the news. Not only might I have the opportunity to catch these beautiful jets (I say might because nothing is ever certain in the spotting world), but I could also be a witness to history in the making as Tyndall is saying goodbye to their QF-4s. After all, they have been undertaking that mission for almost 20 years.
As I approached the spotting point on the north side off Genoa Red Bluff and Farley roads, I heard the radio chatter about 2 Phantoms at FL 1600 (military corridor at EF). Sitting in my car at a red light about ½ mile from the spotting location I looked to the north and saw 2 black dots in the sky, with one smoking. I knew right away what I was looking at. At about the time the light turned green, here they came from the NW in formation to fly diagonally across the field. I rushed as fast as I could to get to the spotting point. As I parked and jumped out of the car, the first one was just starting to cross in front of me on short finals. I raised my camera in time to catch it a little downwind of me. Not the best of shots but it will have to do. A few seconds later the second jet came around and I was able to capture some profile shots of it.
Once they landed I drove over to the base to catch some static shots before they departed. Thankfully they were parked in good view. Shortly before they left the sky to the north was getting pretty nasty looking as a shower passed over the airfield before the crew boarded. Around the time they started to taxi out the shower had stopped, but the air traffic changed from using RWY 17 to RWY 22. The Phantoms were held short of RWY 22 for what seemed like at least 20 minutes as the tower was bringing in other traffic in the pattern. Right around the time they were cleared to launch, here came a very heavy down-pour. Drat! There goes my opportunity for depart pics. Even so, I took refuge under a couple of large trees and popped out as they approached to take whatever pics I could. Despite the rain shower at the end, this was one fantastic outing. As the QF-4 numbers drop I’ll take any opportunity I might have to photograph them before they are gone for good.
Note on the aircraft serial numbers: 74-1638 (painted in the SEA –“South East Asia” colors) is an ex-demo bird that used to participate in Heritage Flights at airshows. 74-1625, painted in Egypt One colors was previously assigned to the 335 TFS Chiefs (4th TFW – Seymour Johnson) as evidenced by the faded squadron emblem on the left (port) intake.
Article and pics by Bill Havel