In a ceremony at Holloman AFB, New Mexico on December 21, over 500 people watched the final flight of an Air Force F-4 Phantom. Marking the end of over 50 years of service to the Air Force it was a bittersweet moment for pilot Lt. Col. Ronald King who flew the F-4 on its final flight.

“This has been a humbling experience,” said King, the Det. 1, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron commander. “There is no way to truly understand what this aircraft has done without talking to the people who lived it.”

“I’ve learned a lot on this journey,” said King, the only active duty F-4 pilot in the Air Force. “This is not an aircraft; this is a family. With that, I would leave you with this – Phantom forever.” – Holloman AFB

Watch the Final F-4 Flight

Originally developed for the United States Navy by McDonnell Aircraft it first flew in 1958. The F-4 was a large tandem seat, twin engine aircraft that could be utilized as a high speed interceptor, bomber or fighter jet. Due to the high performace of the aircraft it was quickly adapted into the US Air Force and Marine Corps.

Despite being able to carry 18,000 of weapons such as air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground rockets and bombs the F-4 was sometimes criticized for not having an internal cannon. The thinking at the time was that the days of air combat where one plane would shoot down another with bullets were over. Air-to-air missiles were the weapon of choice for ‘modern’ air combat.

F-4 Dropping Bombs in Vietnam Photo by US Navy

Widely utilized during the Vietnam War the big Phantom became well known for it’s abilities in dogfighting and close air support for troops on the ground. Notably, Air Force Captain Richard S. Ritchie and Navy Lieutenant Randall Harold “Duke” Cunningham became aces in Vietnam scoring five kills each flying the F-4. Cunningham was the first ace of the war and the first American ace to score all their kills via missile.

There were over 5000 F-4 aircraft built with the approximate cost of each being $2.4 million.

F-4 Phantom Specifications:

  • Length: 63 ft 0 in (19.2 m)
  • Wingspan: 38 ft 4.5 in (11.7 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 6 in (5.0 m)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 61,795 lb (28,030 kg)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.23, 1,472 mph
  • Cruise speed: 506 kn (585 mph, 940 km/h)
  • Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,300 m)
  • Rate of climb: 41,300 ft/min (210 m/s)

Featured Image of QF-4 Aerial Target landing at Nellis Air Force Base, NV 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)