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TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- James Gunn (left) and Gene Fischer remove damaged titanium blast shields from a QF-4 Phantom II here. They are aircraft structural engineers. Mr. Gunn is from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Mr. Fischer is from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Peterson)

Photo by Dave Peterson

Crew returns Phantom jet to Florida sky

14 May 2004 | Terry Vanden-Heuvel

Arizona-based technicians saved the military $620,000 when they rebuilt a QF-4 Phantom II full-scale aerial target drone. The drone had suffered extensive missile damage to its aft section during a warfare exercise over the Atlantic Ocean near here.

Even though shrapnel had shattered the QF-4's blast shields and tail hook, the remotely controlled drone returned here safely.

Maintainers from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., revived the drone, which belongs to the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron here.

"The plane was damaged beyond our repair capability," said Marion Dillon, an aerial target maintenance supervisor. "This aircraft suffered major structural damage, and we knew (the regeneration center’s technicians) had the knowledge and skill to make it flyable again. We knew (they) could do it."

With a price of more than $725,000 for a replacement drone, officials decided to return the aircraft to the sky by repairing the aircraft. A four-person crew went to Tyndall to begin the drone's repair process.

They called in Tyndall firefighters to use a rescue saw to remove the mangled sheets of blast shield and expose the extensive internal damage.

Replacement parts, including the titanium blast shields and a tail hook, were taken from other aircraft; however, correcting the damage to the F-4's keel beam proved to be a testimony of the work crews' versatility, officials said.

To repair breaks in the beam, stainless-steel panels had to be custom made to line up with the existing rivet holes, center experts said.

Eugene Fischer, an aircraft structural mechanic, made the stainless-steel panels, completely recreating the aircraft's main lower structure by hand.

"The only thing more challenging than this job would have been trying to get the job done while being fired at," said Mr. Fischer, who served in Vietnam repairing battle-damaged helicopters.

This Phantom II began its active-duty service life in 1969. It was eventually retired from the 35th Fighter Wing at George AFB, Calif., and entered the regeneration center in March 1992, where it remained for seven years.

The aircraft was selected for the F-4 drone program and returned to flight status in March 1999.

There are more than 600 F-4 aircraft at center, many of which will be used in the drone program following a seven-month regeneration process. (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)
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