Drone Will Fly Again
Arizona-based technicians saved the military $620,000 when they
recently 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 Florida's
Tyndall Air Force Base.
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 (AZ) 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
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
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
(CA) 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