One of the first things visitors to Airbase Arizona Flying Museum will see as they enter the museum is a U.S. Navy version of a Vietnam War icon, an F-4 Phantom jet interceptor bomber.
The sheer size of the plane is astounding enough. A step to the rear of the aircraft reveals something even more astounding, but first a bit about this amazing plane.
A proper identification of the Phantom would be something like a tandem two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber.
When it entered production in 1958, the F-4 was designed as the first modern fleet defense fighter for the U.S. Navy. While still in the development stage, a Phantom set, for its time, an altitude record of over 98,000 feet and a speed record exceeding 1,600 miles per hour. Over 5,000 Phantoms were delivered by 1981, giving it the longest production run of any supersonic aircraft of that era.
Phantoms served in Vietnam as the principal air superiority fighter for the United States entering the war in 1965. Phantoms could deliver a staggering assortment, over 18,000 pounds, of bombs and rockets, but their primary firepower was sidewinder or sparrow missiles.
The Navy variant was the first U.S. military fighter that was not factory equipped with any machine guns or cannons. Once cannons were added, the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps used Phantoms for important ground attack, forward air control, and aerial reconnaissance roles in the war. Huge fuel tanks on the wings and in the center of the aircraft gave it impressive range and loitering time or it could be refueled in flight.
Phantom pilots flew the aircraft from the front seat at combat speeds in excess of 800 miles per hour and discharged weapons. The complex task of targeting the missiles, reconnaissance and counter-measure duties were handled by an officer in the back seat of the tandem
Among its many distinctions and achievements, both the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration teams flew Phantoms from 1969-74. Phantoms remained active assets for the U.S. military into the 1980s and were finally replaced by planes such as the F-14, F-15 and F/A-18, which are still in service today.
Airbase Arizona Flying Museum at Falcon Field in Mesa offers visitors 100 years of military aircraft history with around 15 planes on hand at any time, including six that can take passengers on unforgettable rides.
Special features like presentations in our mission briefing room, artifact and cabinet displays, Family Fun Days, tours of the impressive display of engines, and cockpit tours complement scheduled guided tours of the museum by docent volunteers. Information about the museum programs, and booking for group tours or flights, can be found at the museum website, azcaf.org. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays.
When you visit the museum, the Phantom is right inside the guest entrance door. You are encouraged to walk around the plane to get a sense of its massive size, then try to imagine landing a 40-ton Phantom approaching at nearly 200 miles per hour on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier.
Now, step to the rear of the plane and look at the tiny tail hook, which is all that would stop that huge plane in a well-executed landing. Prepare to be amazed!
Airbase Arizona at Falcon Field
2017 N. Greenfield Road, Mesa
For museum/PX store: 480-924-1940
For rides/flights: 480-462-2992
For admission details, visit the website
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays
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