The US Air Force bid farewell to the legendary F-4 Phantom II during a “Phinal Phlight” ceremony at Holloman AFB on 21st December.
The F-4 was originally developed for the US Navy. After making its first flight in 1958, it entered service in 1961. The Air Force approved the F-4C a year later and conducted the first flight in May 1963. The Phantom II fighter/bomber became operational in the Air Force in 1964 and became the "workhorse and symbol of American airpower throughout the Vietnam War," in the words of 53rd Wing commander Col. Adrian Spain.
All five American aces in Vietnam flew the F-4 as they scored their kills. The Phantom II was USAF's dominant tactical aircraft through most of the 1960s and 1970s, with production ending in 1979. The F-4 was optimized for many specialized missions and evolved through more than 40 variants, including air superiority, close air support, interception, reconnaissance and suppression of enemy air defence.
Over 5,000 F-4s were produced. The USAF acquired 2,840 F-4s, the Navy-Marine Corps acquired 1,264, and foreign nations purchased 1,091. The F-4 also is the only aircraft flown by both the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels. Known by many names, including Rhino, Double Ugly, and Old Smokey, the Air Force later converted 317 F-4s to aerial targets with the designation QF-4.
The QF-4 flew 145 unmanned missions and 70 aircraft were destroyed in service. It flew its last unmanned mission in August 2016 and will be replaced by the QF-16 in 2017.