Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Legendary Lost Rhino Graveyard - Found

"But wait," you say, "These are just junky airplanes!" Well...yes; and no. Let me explain....

The mighty McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, affectionately called "Rhino" by ground crews and air crews and all fans of Mr. Mac's "phantastic Phantom." was one of the best fighters of its day. Ungainly looking but powerful, the airplane was capable of Mach 2+ speed in a clean configuration (which wasn't often - a lot of ordnance can get loaded on this bird). Over 5,000 F-4s were built and they served in three branches of the U.S. military and in several foreign air forces. Some are still in active service, but most have been retired. Those in the U.S. inventory that haven't been turned into target drones are parked here, in the expansive grounds of Davis-Monthan AFB, outside of Tucson, AZ.

I got to visit DM for the first time last October as the F-4 Phantom II Society held its annual convention that year in Tucson. DM is legendary among aviation aficionados as the last stop for most military aircraft types. If you are shooting the entire career and life-cycle of an airplane, a trip to DM is a must as it represents the end of the line.

Personally I don't normally shoot dead airplanes. I find it too sad. I prefer planes in active service; full of purpose and alive - and a Phantom in full roar is indeed alive! Unless there are specific types I'm following or a certain unit or serial number I'm after, I usually pass on getting slides of mothballed or junked aircraft.

But it is truly amazing to behold acres and acres of America's finest resting quietly in the desert sun. Cocooned against the elements in case of further need or just to preserve them for parts until they are finally cut-up and disposed of, they stand as silent sentinels to the dedication and ingenuity of the U.S. aerospace workforce. One of the great untold stories of our age is the cost and sacrifice made regularly by the engineers and assembly line mechanics during the course of the Cold War and beyond. Perhaps one day people will know.

Or perhaps not. As time passes, both aircraft and builder become more and more forgotten by the public at large. Hence my reference to the "legendary lost Rhino graveyard." Whether we admit it or not, we are in some way duty-bound to preserve and remember the past - or to at least learn from it. For how else will we know what path to take in the future if we don't know where we've been?

1 comment:

  1. Zombie aircraft... it comes back alive but eats its pilot. Somebody should make a movie where the beleagered defenders go to DM to construct and airforce.