The Air Force marked the end of almost 60 years of service of the F-4 Phantom with a ceremony at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico just before Christmas. The last flying Phantom took off to assume its final role as a ground target for training pilots in more modern platforms. Holloman has been using remotely piloted and manned versions of the aircraft as targets for years and dozens have been blown out of the sky by the new generation of fighter pilots. The aerial targets, designated QF-4, are being replaced by old versions of the F-16. When the Dec. 21 ceremony was held, there were just 13 flyable Phantoms left.
McDonnell Douglas built more than 5,000 Phantoms in versions for the Air Force, Navy and Marines and it was sold to about a dozen other countries. Originally designed as a carrier-based interceptor, the big, rugged fighter was adapted to myriad roles, from dogfighting to bombing and electronic countermeasures. It could also carry nuclear weapons. Pilots praised its buckets of power and rugged construction as a lifesaver that compensated for it being less agile than some opponents.