USAF to use F-4's to tow target banners

An unmanned QF-4 drone flies over the over Gulf of Mexico / © U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Matthew C. Simpson

An unmanned QF-4 drone flies over the over Gulf of Mexico / © U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Matthew C. Simpson

Posted By Frank Grealish

The 82nd Aerial Target Squadron are replacing the use of Lear jets for their banner tow missions with the QF-4 Phantom, creating an air-to-air target that aircrews in training can safely evaluate, develop and test their weapons systems.

"We developed the idea to use the F-4 for the banner tow missions to ensure our combat fighter aircrews could continue training and developing their aerial gunnery skills," said Lt. Col. Ryan Luchsinger, the 82nd ATRS commander. "Due to costs, the Navy contract for use of the Lear jets was being cut, and we had no other way to accomplish this training. The F-4 was the perfect platform to tow the banner and ensure we kept their aerial gunnery proficiency."

The F-4 models in use by the 82nd ATRS range in age from 36 to 42 years old and are flown and maintained here. New procedures for attaching the banner to the jet had to be developed to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Lt. Col. Gregory Blount, the 82nd ATRS director of operations, began flying the F-4's new mission two months ago.

"We did our research and came up with new procedures for attaching the banner," said Maj. William Hope, the 53rd Test Support Squadron Assistant Director of Operations and the F-4 banner tow project manager. "We adapted them from an old Navy banner tow system of another F-4 model and made some minor changes to the equipment to make it safer as well."

"Using the F-4 provides us with the capability to take advantage of training opportunities that otherwise would not have been available to us," he said.

The 60 foot-long banner is attached to the F-4 by specially trained maintainers.

"We attach the banner with a 120-foot chain to 1600 feet of cable so there is 1800 feet of clearance between the jet and the banner," said Tech. Sgt. Phillip Praeger, with the 82nd ATRS maintenance and logistics section. "This leaves plenty of room between the banner and the F-4 in case the target is missed."

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