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Versatile F-4 Phantoms making 'final flight' for US military

F-4 Phantoms

Community members and military veterans gathered at Holloman Air Force Base Tuesday for a special farewell ceremony.

The last of thousands of F-4 Phantom jets that have been a workhorse for the U.S. military over five decades are being put to pasture at Holloman Air Force Base to serve as ground targets for strikes by newer aircraft.

Veterans and visitors stood to together as the Air Force held a "final flight" retirement ceremony where the last F-4s are still flying for the U.S. military.

One of the last pilots to fly the F-4s at the base was in attendance.

"It's a bittersweet day cause I'm going to stop flying. I've done about, let's see math, 82, about 34 years of flying and about 5,800hours of flying and I'm going to hang it up finally after this one," said pilot Jim Harkins.

The ceremony celebrated the airplane's rich military history as the jet was a mainstay during the Vietnam War and used for decades for reconnaissance missions and anti-missile electronic jamming.

The last F-4s still flying for the U.S. military took on a different role, serving as aerial targets and test aircraft.

Retired Major General William Acker and several other veterans watched as the F-4 Phantom II took it’s last flight.

"I was one of the original pilots that started the F-4 aircraft,” Acker said.

Built in the early 1960’s by McDonnell Douglas, the F-4 Phantom II was one of the primary fighter aircrafts used by the U.S. Air Force. during the Vietnam War.

The F-4’s were built with two engines and were known to reach speeds up to twice the speed of sound.

Acker was the 4th pilot to ever fly one of the original F-4 Phantom II fighter jets back in the '60s.

"I have a lot of memories in this old bird that's why I'm here, it means a lot to me,” Acker said.

He started his career as a young pilot flying F4’s during the Vietnam War, eventually becoming a major general in

England where he last took fight in an F-4.

Veteran Bill Sobeck told me, for him, the day was bittersweet.

"We grew up with these. I mean I grew up with these. So them not being around again, like I said, it's just the way it goes,” Sobeck said.

Veterans shared war stories at the Holloman Air Force Base during the final flights for the F-4 Phantom II’s.

Each held on to their gratitude as they recalled how the F-4 Phantom II brought them home safely to their families after every mission.

"A lot of them (veterans) can't make it, and I know they'll see readings and writings of their aircraft, and everyone's got a tail number that they flew so that will be important to them,” Sobeck said.

The remaining F-4 Phantom II’s will be used as targets during training.

If you missed today’s event, tomorrow you’ll have one more chance to catch the F-4 in the sky.

Wednesday, Dec. 21 will be the final flight and ceremony starting at 8 a.m. - 1 p.m.

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