Last F-4D Flight at 148th Fighter Wing 30-years Ago Today

The F-4D with tail number 65-608 (pictured), has been on display at the Duluth International Airport for several years and is a reminder to the important role it played in the wing's history.

The 148th Fighter Wing flew the F-4D from 1983 - 1990, with the last flight occurring on April 17, 1990. The F-4D with tail number 65-608 (pictured), has been on display at the Duluth International Airport for several years and is a reminder to the important role it played in the wing's history. (Photo from the Maj. Gen. Wayne Gatlin (Ret.) collection)

DULUTH, Minn. --

April 17, 1990 marked the last flight of a special F-4D at the 148th Fighter Wing, a Duluth-based Minnesota Air National Guard unit.  An F-4D bearing the tail number 608 flew for one last time then landed to stay in Duluth. 

608, built in 1965, carried the special red star that marked it as an aircraft that had shot down a Soviet-made MIG-21 fighter in combat. 

According to the 148th Fighter Wing base newspaper, the On-Five, February 1989-edition, aircraft 608 was flying an escort for a flight of twelve F-4Ds loaded with smart bombs destined for the railroad yards at Yen Bai in North Vietnam on September 12, 1972.

Capt. Michael J. Mahaffey was piloting 608; 1st. Lt. George Shields was the weapons system officer.  Their call sign was Robin Two in a four-ship escort flight out of Korat, Thailand. They had lost contact with Robin Three and Four and later found they had engaged MIGs and turned back because they were low on fuel.

At the time, the tactics used by the MIG-flying North Vietnamese were fairly standard.  Their goal was to harass bombing missions in order to break them up or force the aircraft to jettison bombs and fuel tanks.  Even though the MIGs possessed great maneuverability, they rarely engaged in dogfights. 

On that day, at approximately 10:00 a.m., Mahaffey was flying at 16,000-feet with scattered clouds and the green hills of North Vietnam below him.  Mahaffey’s flight lead, Robin One made a sharp left turn.  Mahaffey followed, initially unaware of the MIG-21 that was flying on his right side.  The MIG was so close, he doubted it was a MIG because it looked so much bigger than he thought it should.

The MIG was too close and turned almost directly in front of Robin Two.  Mahaffey completed a quick 40-degree right turn and got an immediate radar lock on the MIG’s tail and fired an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.  His next step was to fire a second missile as quickly as possible, but there was no time.  The first missile blew pieces off the MIG’s tail and popped the drag chute out causing an uncontrollable spin.  Robin Two watched the pilot attempt to control the MIG, but the kill was confirmed.

Mahaffey, a 1967 graduate of the Air Force Academy, spent 11-years in the Air Force.  Shields remained in the Air Force and later became an instructor at the Air Force Academy.

Aircraft 608 is now displayed at the entrance of the Duluth International Airport. 

“It is amazing to realize some of the men and women of the 148th who worked on aircraft 608 and flew the mighty F-4 Phantom are still working on the Duluth base today, said Col. Chris Blomquist, 148th Fighter Wing Commander. It’s humbling to know what a workhorse we had in the F-4 and how that history and our great people put us on a path to such incredible success in the F-16 we fly today.”

The 148th Fighter Wing flew the F-4D from 1983 to 1990 and now flies the Block 50, F-16.  The 148th Fighter Wing’s mission is to protect America’s global interests and defend the homeland with exceptional people, aircraft, equipment and capabilities.

Bibliography

Olson, Dennis L. “F4-D 608 – the Story of a MIG Kill” 148th Fighter Interceptor Group On-Five, February 1989

Olson, Dennis L. “148th Fighter Interceptor Group Annual History Report 1990” March 31, 1992

Futrell, Robert Frank, Willan H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob, and Charles A. Ravenstein.  ACES and AERIAL Victories, the United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965-1973.  Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.: Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Air University, 1976.  Assessed April 17, 2020. https://media.defense.gov/2010/Sep/21/2001329821/-1/-1/0/AFD-100921-010.pdf