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Photo Essay: The Unexpected Pleasure of a Phabulous F-4 Phantom Sighting in Bastrop, Texas

When a roadside stop becomes a history tour in airpower

66-8768 pictured in her last paint scheme while still at Bergstrom AFB in Austin. Note Texas colors on fin cap and contrasting Air Defense Gray paint colors.

When one travels this great country the unexpected can be expected to be found almost anywhere- around the corner or roadside. Many of the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion posts around the country display military hardware to be appreciated by anyone who is compelled to stop and take a gander. One such American Legion post is Post 533 in Bastrop, Texas. Located along Highway 21 just outside of town, adjacent to highway 150 and Bastrop State Park, Post 533 has an M115 8 inch howitzer sitting out in front. That monster could throw a 200 pound shell almost ten and a half miles. Impressive enough, but that wasn’t why I stopped.

F-4D 66-8768 out in front of American Legion Post 533 in Bastrop Texas

Also outside the post is McDonnell Douglas F-4D-31-MC Phantom II 66-8768 (CN 2620). The jet’s paint is faded and it has seen better days, but it’s identified as a Phabulous Phantom easily enough. This particular F-4 was a gate guard at the former Bergstrom Air Force Base (AFB) near Austin in Texas, where it last served with the 704th Tactical Fighter Squadron Outlaws of the 924th Tactical Fighter Group (TFG). The jet actually belongs to the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is on loan to Post 533.

Another Outlaws F-4D showing off the striking camouflage scheme worn to Gunsmoke competitions in the mid to late 1980s. Official US Air Force Photo

66-8768 was built at the McDonnell Douglas plant in St. Louis Missouri in 1966. The jet was first assigned to the 25th TFS Assam Dragons of the famed 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) Wolf Pack. From there the jet was flown by the 492nd TFS Blue Bolars of the 48th TFW Statue of Liberty Wing. Between 1976 and 1979 the 23rd TFS Fighting Hawks of the 52nd TFW had 66-8768 on charge. Then 66-8768 was flown by the 307th TFS Stingers of the 401st TFW. Up to this point after return from Vietnam the jet had been flown primarily in Europe. When the Outlaws began flying 66-8768 they rotated to Korea several times and attended Gunsmoke competitions at Nellis AFB in Nevada. The paint scheme last worn by the Phantom was applied for the 1987 version of Gunsmoke, where it was a huge hit at the meet.

66-8768 landing in Korea for Team Spirit 1985. Note the Texas colors on the baggage pod. Official US Air Force Photograph.

When the Outlaws jets were switched from F-4Ds to slightly younger F-4E models in 1989, 66-8768 became a candidate for gate guard duty. Many of the 704th TFS F-4Ds were transferred to South Korea. Host to several Phantom-phlying fighter and reconnaissance squadrons at one point, the AFB portion of Bergstrom closed down in 1993 leaving the fourth busiest commercial airport in Texas to enjoy only hum-drum airliner flights. 66-8768 sat outside a gate at Bergstrom for roughly six years until 1996. It was then that she was partially disassembled and trucked about 31 miles to her present location. The jet shows no signs of vandalism due at least in part to the stout fence that completely surrounds it. She needs some fresh paint and a cover to protect her from the relentless Texas sun and heat wouldn’t hurt either. But she’s all Phantom and still beautiful in a difficult to define way.

Close-up of the dedication plaque. Note the exclusion of a digit in the serial number. When the jet was brought to Bastrop all they saw was the 66-768 on the tail so that’s what’s on the plaque.

 

Fortunately the jet is free of graffiti and other human-caused negative effects so often found on displayed military hardware. The data block is visible in this shot, as is the faded 924th TFW insignia and unit award ribbon insignia.

 

The F-4D was equipped with GE J79-GE-15 engines. These look like they would still push this monster along pretty well. Note the heavily faded paint scheme and deployed air brakes.

 

Note that this F-4D does not have slatted stabilators but the “thick” wing is evident. Also note that the jet is not sitting on its tires…always a good thing.

 

A rear view of the aircraft reveals that the engine exhausts are not covered. I don’t know if I have ever photographed a Phantom without capturing this view. Unique!

 

The 704th TFS insignia is faded and cracked like the rest of the finish but the airplane is still attractive in that Phantom sort sort of way.

 

Look aft at the F-15-type center line drop tank. The plane has three tanks mounted. Also note the engine inlet cover protecting the innards of the jet.

 

No missing seats or obvious equipment removed from this jet. The cockpit probably still contains most of what was in there when the jet was retired and de-milled almost thirty years ago.

 

Closeup of the lumps and bumps associated with the AN/ALR-69 (v)-2 RHAW antennae (Herpes mod) and TACAN aft of the radome. That was once a Texas flag on the nosegear door.

 

All the probes and stuff modelers always break off are still there. Even the Remove Before Flight streamers are still in place. Remarkable.

 

The F-4Es that replaced the F-4Ds at the 704th retained the striking paint scheme first worn on their F-4Ds. To the best of my knowledge this was a unique paint scheme on US Phantoms. Official US Air Force Photograph

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.