HARB’s F-4 back to the paint barn

  • Published
  • By Mr. Robert H. Clark
  • 482nd Fighter Wing Historian

It is that time again to give the F-4D Phantom Sentry static display sentinel jet at the Homestead Air Reserve Base front gate a refurbish. The 482nd Maintenance Squadron’s Fabrication Flight removed the F-4 from its pedestal and transported it into the paint facility on a flatbed trailer on Oct. 28.

“This aircraft needs an in-depth refurbishment, which is expected to last until May timeframe when we can return it to the pedestal,” Senior Master Sgt. Warren Hillmuth, 482nd Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight chief, said.

The F-4 fighter jet was introduced to the Air Force in 1958 and retired in 1996.

Homestead, then an Air Force Base, hosted a squadron of F-4s from 1970 to 1986. When the 307th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing returned from Southeast Asia in October 1972, the 31st TFW became the host unit for Homestead AFB, flying F-4D and E model aircraft.

During the Vietnam War, all of the F-4s were painted in the standard Southeast Asia Camouflage Scheme, which was the norm for most F-4s in Air Force service at that time.

The significance of HARB’s F-4 is that it was flown by Capt. John A. Madden, Jr. and Capt. Charles B. DeBellevue, with the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Udorn Air Base, Thailand deployed for the Vietnam War.  

While flying this jet during Operation Linebacker in September 1972, DeBellevue became the second most high-scoring American Ace of the Vietnam War when he and his pilot, Madden, Jr., shot down two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 fighters of the Vietnam People’s Air Force.

After the Vietnam War, the aircraft was accessioned into the National Museum of the United States Air Force inventory and has been on loan to Homestead since 1988. The 482nd Fighter Wing is the custodian and administers the proper accountability, control, and care of the F-4.

While on display, the F-4 was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was reassembled with parts from other damaged Phantoms by a team of Reserve aircraft repair technicians from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio here in 1993 with some parts from another F-4 display at Avon Park Bombing and Gunnery Range.

The sentry returned to a pedestal display at Homestead Air Reserve Station in 1994. On March 4, 1994, the aircraft was re-dedicated with a new giant flag and flagpole in a ceremony attended by then Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall, Medal of Honor awardee Col. George “Bud” Day and Col. DeBellevue.

The wing recently signed a new five-year loan renewal agreement with the NMUSAF until April 30, 2026. The last time the F-4D was refurbished was in 2006.