Phantom Conference (Phancon)
The Phantom Conference was an annual event organized by the F-4 Phantom II Society intended to gather pilots, maintenance, support personnel and enthusiasts all with a shared passion for the F-4 Phantom. Known as Phancon, it was usually held at a base that flew the F-4 so that the sound of J-79 engines could be enjoyed but this became more difficult as years went by and fewer Phantoms remained in service. Phancon was recommended to us many times, especially in the last years of active duty service for the Phantom but it wasn't until only the QF-4 drone versions of the aircraft remained flying that we finally visited.
The event runs for three and a half days, starting with check-in on Monday followed by a meet and greet social and ends with a banquet featuring a guest speaker on Thursday night. In between, the Phantom Society schedules access at Phantom related points of interest such as active military bases or museums that are in the area.
2016 - Holloman AFB
With respect to our three Phantom Conferences, we were able to save the best for last. In September of 2016, Phancon visited Holloman AFB in New Mexico for the final installment of this event as the QF-4s were set to discontinue flying just a few months later. Once again the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron was the host and they delighted those in attendance as they flew two jets on each of Tuesday September 13 and Wednesday September 14 that made multiple passes on departure and again on arrival after their mission. The sky was a beautiful blue and we were provided with a perfect location to photograph at the end of Runway 25. Holloman is a busy place and we were fortunate to also catch some of the locally based F-16s, T-38s and German Tornados heading off on training missions.
Our days were kept busy visiting the various tenant groups at Holloman. The highlight of course was time on the ramp with the QF-4s which were lined up in groups of four or five with a few still wearing faded camouflage patterns applied for Heritage Flight displays. Briefings were also conducted with the 54th Fighter Group, responsible for training aircrew and maintenance personnel on the F-16, the 49th Wing, a remotely piloted vehicle wing that was transitioning from the MQ-1 Predator to the MQ-9 Reaper and at the German Air Force Flying Training Center. There was also a final stop at the Heritage Park whose F-4 Phantom wears the name and MiG kill mark of aircraft commander Joe Latham, an exceptional man and wonderful story teller who has been part of many Phantom Conferences including the one in 2016. On 5 November 1966, 1st LT Latham piloting an F-4C with the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Da Nang Air Base shot down a MiG-21 with an AIM-9 Sidewinder while flying north of Hanoi, Vietnam. It was a pleasure to listen to Joe tell some of his flying stories while standing next to an aircraft honouring his accomplishment.
2011 - Davis Monthan AFB
The 2011 event was held in Tucson, Arizona and presented a bittersweet opportunity to gather as enthusiasts of the F-4 Phantom. Tuesday was spent at Davis Monthan AFB with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, responsible for the largest aircraft and missile storage and preservation facility in the world. Our first stop focussed on regeneration and the transitioning of F-4E Phantoms into QF-4E drones with the unfortunate fate of being shot down for the purpose of training. Our tour continued to the storage areas and as interesting as it was to be able to walk amongst the preserved aircraft in the 'Boneyard', an opportunity only available to specially planned groups, it was very sad to see so many great aircraft at their end.
On Wednesday the tour continued to Pima Air & Space Museum, one of the largest aviation museums in the United States featuring a collection of about 400 airplanes. Pima is conveniently located next to Davis Monthan and that proximity is what lead to the creation of the museum in the 1960s and has helped them grow their collection over the years.
All week we had been treated to the sound of A-10s flying around since they are the main aircraft type based at Davis Monthan. On Thursday morning we were hosted by the 355th Wing, the group responsible for three squadrons of Warthog operations and after a briefing we visited the flight line while jets taxied to and from the parking spots. Unfortunately, the QF-4 that was scheduled for a test flight that morning went unserviceable so the 2011 Phantom Conference went without a display from a Phantom.
2010 - Tyndall AFB
In 2011 we finally attended our first Phantom Conference hosted by the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall AFB near Panama City in the Florida Panhandle. Tyndall is a big base and at the time had three separate locations with QF-4 Phantoms. Our tour started out on the satellite section of the base to the southeast, about three miles from the main apron and runways. This area included over a dozen QRF-4C and QF-4E jets that were next in line to become aerial targets and was therefore known as 'Death Row'. One of the beautifully painted Heritage Flight jets greeted our arrival, making multiple passes along Runway 01 before taxiing past us. After spending the morning in this area, we moved on to 'The Swamp', the northern section of the base that featured six QRF-4Cs. Our day ended on the main ramp with nine QF-4Es, including three with special camouflage liveries.
Wednesday morning started out with a briefing from the newest tenant at Tyndall, the 325th Fighter Wing and their F-22 Raptors, followed by a visit to their area of the main ramp. As interesting as it was to be up close to the F-22, it was bittersweet considering the unit they were replacing, the 95th Fighter Squadron, was being deactivated just to our left and flying their remaining three aircraft off the base for the last time. This day also proved a little frustrating as the group was restricted to the F-22 area while just a short distance away, QF-4s were conducting operations.
Thursday we left early for Pensacola, near the Alabama border, for a tour of the Naval Base and the wonderful National Naval Aviation Museum. Pensacola is busy with loads of training aircraft and they proved to be welcoming hosts showing us their T-6As, T-39Ns and T-45Cs from Training Air Wing Six, as well as some T-1s belonging to the Air Force. The afternoon was spent at the museum and since we had recently visited most of our time was enjoyed on the outside ramp in the back of the museum, where dozens of interesting aircraft are located in various states of restoration. To give these aircraft a proper viewing space a separate gallery was created. Click here to see the photos from the National Naval Aviation Museum.