The McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II proudly displayed at the entrance to McCulloch-Wagner American Legion Post 109 is owned by the United States Air Force and is on loan from the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. As one can easily see, the Phantom’s unique aerodynamic design broke all traditional combat rules of the time. Fighters were supposed to be small, sleek, single-seat aircraft with guns. The Phantom was huge with bent wings, a two-man crew, and missiles. Initially deployed to Southeast Asia, it was there that the Phantoms dominated the skies over North Vietnam in air-to-air combat against Russian MIGs. In later roles, the Phantom would be deployed in air-to-ground support for troop protection, bombing, and the destruction of ground targets, and as a reconnaissance “Recca” aircraft.
Post 109 acquired loan of the jet, Serial # 66-0294, from the Davis-Monthan Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) in 1994. AMARC towed the aircraft down Wilmot Road to the intersection of Wilmot and Sahuarita. It was from this point that Post 109 members towed the aircraft with a pickup truck up to Sahuarita Road, which at that time was a dirt road to Post 109, its current location.
Aircraft 0294 was retired in 1991 after serving in Tactical Air Command (TAC) since its manufacture in 1966. During the years between 1996 and 1991, 0294 was assigned to numerous stateside bases as well Udorn and Takhli Thailand. After its return stateside, the aircraft was reassigned to Nellis AFB, Nevada, where she served as one of 8 F4-E Phantoms in the capacity of United States Air Force Thunderbird aircraft; tail number 4 served in this capacity from October 1973 to January 1974. After leaving the team, the aircraft served as a systems and weapons testbed aircraft for “Operational Test and Evaluation” (OT&E) at Edwards Air Force Base, California. During its last assignment at Edwards, the aircraft received a flight test paint scheme of overall white with orange wing tips, nose, and tail recognizable to observers in the air and on the ground she was delivered to Post 109 with that paint.
In 2003. local Girl Scout Troop 468 approached then Post 109 Commander Bill Eberle as to the possibility of returning the jet to the Thunderbird’s color and paint scheme used during her term of duty as a USAF Thunderbird; neither Bill or the Girl Scout Troop had a clue at the time as to the time, effort and expense the decision to do so would generate. Thousands of labor hours later by the Girl Scouts, Thunderbird crew members, and Post 109 legionnaires and numerous bumps and scrapes along the way. Post 109 members along with private enterprise and the local community contributed to the restoration process. These combined efforts and donations resulted in the beautiful aircraft that greets you on your approach to Post 109. The F-4E stands as an example of pride and dedication Post 109 Family members strive for in any task they undertake.
Aircraft #66-0294 was dedicated during Commander McMahon’s tenure on Memorial Day 2004 by General Tom Swalm (USAF, Ret.) in the memories of Captain Jerry Bolt, Thunderbird #4 and TSgt. Chuck Lynn a Thunderbird aircraft maintenance technician. The vertical tail of the F-4 has a black “sooty” appearance representing Captain Bolt’s relative flight position as the slot aircraft whose tail was always dirty due to flying just beneath the tail the engine exhaust of the Commander/Leaders aircraft. Captain Bolt and TSgt. Lynn lost their lives during an F-4 maintenance functional check flight while serving as Thunderbirds under Major General Tom Swalm’s command. In memory of their sacrifice, a granite boulder rests near the aircraft with these simple words.
“Gentlemen, Your Aircraft is Ready”
Throughout the years that tail #4 has been displayed at the Post 109 Home dedicated legionnaires have worked hard to keep the aircraft as well as the immediate surrounding area in pristine condition; currently, a United States Air Force veteran is in charge of the project and does a wonderful job. Tail #4 is easily the most photographed object in Corona de Tucson, folks from all over America stop by to take pictures of this beautiful jet.