The Rhino is Dead. Long Live the Viper.*

January 15, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I was on Holloman AFB just before Christmas to cover the retirement of the F-4 Phantom II from U.S. Air Force service, the last in our military's hands. The base hosted the press one day, with a ceremony open to the public the next. Here are a few of the images I made from those days.

The image above is a five-exposure composite to capture the full range of bright and dark. Below, a maintainer polishing a canopy, and the last active duty USAF Phantom pilot, Colonel "Elvis" King, surveying the scene before strapping in.

On the left is retired Major General William Acker, one of the very first USAF pilots to be trained in the Phantom (as was the author's father), reminiscing with 49th Wing Vice Commander, Colonel Ryan Craycraft. Next, a portion of one Phantom, victim of a near shootdown as a drone, on which inscriptions were encouraged at a September conference of the F-4 Phantom II Society, held also at Holloman AFB.

Here's a panorama from nine adjoining frames, with resolution sufficient for twenty-seven feet wide at exhibit graphics resolution. (The two Phantoms are joined by two Fighting Falcons, the latter being their replacements in the program.) Below that, the last flight of four (or of two or one, for that matter) for the USAF. Colonel King is in the smokey one. (Note, in both of these, the photographically uncooperative sky on the second day.)

The first day, however, gave some beautiful backgrounds, like this one: a lone Phantom silhouetted against evening clouds. A knife-edge pass overhead rendered in classic black-and-white, though the day-two gray sky had just enough character to be interesting.

One of those final four receives its end-of-service honors, hydraulically, then a sunset panorama from 25 frames in two rows!

This vibrant gem is the view when peering into the exhaust end of a Phantom engine, the afterburner section with its myriad colors of fire-tempered metals and sooty residues revealed for our viewing pleasure. Then, opposite in approach and scale, a calm, black-and-white portrait of one of the last.

Finally, to bookend this pile o' pics, the new kid on the block, with the FSAT program at least: a QF-16 awaits its turn to fly — and to be shot down in a blaze of, if not quite glory, a fireball of jet fuel. Better than the crusher…

There you go. People, machines, up close, far way, color, lots-of-color, and black-and-white. A whirlwind of images recording and, hopefully, celebrating the end of one era and the start of another.

*If you're not familiar with their appellations, the F-4 Phantom II received several nicknames over the decades, including Double Ugly and Rhino, the latter applied for its, at the time, very large nose (holding a very large radar). F-16 Fighting Falcons were labeled Electric Jets due to their high level of computerized controls, but are more commonly known as Vipers.


My thanks go out to the USAF for their support and cooperation, with special thanks to Captain Amanda Farr, Public Affairs Advisor with the 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB, and Tech Sargeant Amanda Junk and Senior Airman Emily Kenney, both with the 49th Wing at Holloman AFB.


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Photography is a massive field. Aerospace photography less so. In these writings I share stories and tips.
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