Where Have All the Phantoms Gone?

How a fighter-bomber-recon-attack superstar ended up as fodder for target practice

F-4s at Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the warplane retirement home. (Mark Bennett)
Air & Space Magazine

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Finally, after a 15-minute delay, the mission was ordered back on.

The drone launch order was soon passed, and the operators got the Phantom rolling. LaCourse made a correction to get the aircraft precisely on centerline as both afterburners lit. Fifteen seconds later, I watched the pilotless aircraft take off.

The F-4 proceeded out over the gulf. The first aircraft fired its missile. The ground controller monitoring the telemetry radioed the air crews: “No hit.”

The Phantom flew on.

My emotions tangled: I wanted the aircraft to survive, but I also wanted it to fulfill its intended mission.

The four F-22 Raptors spread out. Each launched a missile. Over the radio we heard “Fox-four”—all shooters had fired.

Then: “Splash.” A direct hit.

Brackin and I walked back to the van and got in. Brackin was staring straight ahead. Then he turned to me. “So now you know,” he said, grinning. “It takes four Raptors to kill an F-4.” 



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