The Wings and Rotors Museum in Murrieta, California currently has a bold project underway. They are restoring an F-4 Phantom II to flight. This isn’t just any Phantom, it is an F4H-1F. The example at the museum is the eleventh F-4 ever built. Alan Kenny found out more.
The F4 Phantom II story started in 1954 when the US Navy approached McDonnell Douglas to make them a twin-engined fighter attack jet. The aircraft started off being called the AH-1, but after design and specification changes, its primary role became a long-range, all weather fleet defence interceptor, it was renamed the F4H-1. The first flight of the YF4H-1, 142259, was on 27th May 1958. It was a great success and the US Navy wanted it. The prototypes made several altitude and speed records which sealed its future within the US Armed Forces and worldwide air forces. As the production aircraft went into service, they were re-designated again, to the now famous, F-4.
The museum’s F4H-1F ‘145310’ was delivered to the Navy in 1959 and was the 11th pre-production aircraft built. 1961 was a memorable year for the jet. On 22nd April 1961, it carried a very impressive 22 Mk83 500lb bombs on various hardpoints under the aircraft and dropped them on a range at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This demonstration was the deciding factor for the United State Air Force to also order the aircraft. During a weapons test, part of the undercarriage door and pylon were burnt by a Sidewinder missile and later that year, the aircraft suffered an engine failure. Thankfully landing safely. This example last saw use in September 1964 when the Navy retired their test aircraft. It had completed less than 1,000 hours and was put in storage for the next 35 years. It was declared surplus to requirements and was found at various locations through the USA. In the year 2000, the museum received the Phantom thanks to executive director Patrick Rodger and a financial backer who found it in reasonable condition and agreed an undisclosed sum to restore it.
The team have spent the last 13 years re-wiring, painting, sourcing parts, cleaning and raising funds for this remarkable and historic F4H-1F Phantom II. Progress is slow and they have had trouble finding components. Because the aircraft is such an early model, few parts from the later models fit. So the team have had to create some for their Phantom from the original specifications and paperwork. There are manuals and blueprints of every F-4 model on shelves in the hangar. Shayne showed me pages with hundreds of components listed and complicated wiring diagrams. They have gone into great depth, but they need to to get the aircraft back in the air and to get its air worthiness certificate. Many of the features from its past life, weapons systems, etc, are stripped out as they won’t be needed when flying at air shows. They hope to have the F4H-1F in the sky by the end of 2014, but without funds, donations and parts, this is looking less likely.
The team consists of three full time members, consisting of Patrick Rodgers, Shayne Meder, Pete Miranda and Ed Allen.
Patrick is the Executive Director and Chief Pilot at the museum. He has extensive maintenance and flying experience. He started at 15 years old while at the Planes of Fame museum in Chino, CA. He then went on to fly a wide variety of military aircraft whilst in the US Army and the Air National Guard, including the UH-1, OH-58 and F-4 Phantom.
Shayne is an aircraft painter, maintainer and marketing director. She is a retired USAF Master Sergent and learnt her trade on B-52s and KC-135s. She left the Air Force in 1994 and worked as a restorer at Castle AFB Air Museum for three years until moving to March Field Air Museum to become the chief restorations manager. Eight years later Shayne moved to the Wings and Rotors Museum and has been heavily involved in restoring, painting and marketing the aircraft there.
Pete Miranda is an A&P and AI (Inspector) and airframe specialist. He works full time on the Phantom and has actually fabricated parts for the aircraft. Pat is a retired Air National Guard A&P and pilot, also former Army and then AF ANG.. Ed Allen was an F-4 technician for 25 years and is still a part timer with the ANG. He works every afternoon on the Phantom. He has installed all the fuel system and does all the flight control rigging. There are almost 15 volunteers who donate their time to the museum. They are an invaluable asset and offer a massive range of knowledge and expertise, and all for free. They are either veterans of the USMC, US Army or still in active duty. The volunteer pilots all have extensive experience of flying the UH-1 Huey and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters which the museum operates.
In 2008 the museum and veterans flew ‘Huey’ UH-1B 62-2084 from French Valley Airport, California all the way to Washington DC in honour of veterans from the Vietnam War. They made numerous stops as they crossed the country and were always greeted by enthusiastic crowds and veterans. The flight brought back many memories for the veterans as it reminded them of friends lost, sights witnessed and a traumatic time. It also brought tears of joy to hear the venerable sound created by the iconic Huey.
The museum is dedicated to veterans of all wars, but mainly the Vietnam War. They take great care to ensure the artefacts they have on show are as accurate as possible, taking time to research everything about the aircraft before restoring them to their former glory.
The following aircraft are in flyable condition:
Bell ‘Huey’ UH-1B 62-2084 N832M – delivered to the museum in 2003 and restored by 2004. It was delivered to the US Army in 1963 and was in service until 1984. After the war it had been used as an insect sprayer in Florida, so had to be restored to military condition.
Bell ‘Kiowa’ OH-58A 7015258 N58WR – Restored in Atlanta, Georgia and flown to the museum in 2002. It was in service with the US Army from 1971 until retiring with the Pennsylvania ANG in 1998.
The following aircraft are currently being restored to flight:
Bell ‘Kiowa’ OH-58A 16888 N206PR
Hughes ‘Osage’ TH-55
McDonnell Douglas ‘Phantom ‘F4H-1F 145310
The museum also restored Bell ‘Huey’ UH-1H 69-15372. However, this Huey was traded for a flyable example with a museum located in Alabama.
The museum is located at French Valley Airport, in Murrieta, Ca. which is situated off of Winchester Rd (SR-79), just east of I-215. It is open from 0900 – 1600 on weekdays and from 0900 – 1500 on some Saturdays. It is best to call ahead in advance on a Saturday in case the museum is closed as the staff and volunteers are at an air show. They can be called on +1 951-662-5653 or +1 909-225-7627 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations are gladly accepted at the museum and more details of how to donate can be found on their website http://www.wingsandrotors.org