USS Midway


F-4 Phantom Killed by a Sparrow

By Bruce Lonardo



A few days before my scary encounter with the coral reef, a much more frightening calamity occurred to one of the F-4 Phantoms in VF-151. The incident occurred in the evening shortly after dusk after a long day on the VA-115 flight line. Those of us who were still on duty were securing our squadron planes for the evening and most of us were anticipating a partying night of liberty in Olongapo. I myself was going about the last few chores of securing the A-6 Intruder I had been assigned to that day and was just completing the last task of placing plastic red intake covers over the A-6's two jet intake openings.

The runway was about 50 yards to my right and on an adjacent incline elevated about thirty feet or so higher than the flight line area where I was. As I was finishing up for the night, an F-4 Phantom was getting ready to takeoff on a night flight. The scene of an F-4 Phantom taking off on a night flight is a pretty spectacular sight. During take off, the forward landing wheels are elevated by a huge hydraulic strut on the landing gear assembly. This elevates the whole forward portion of the aircraft into a dragster-like position. The aircraft’s twin afterburner exhausts (each about four feet in diameter) blast out a blue and pinkish orange, 15 foot tail fire to the tune of two huge turbine engines, which are louder than a half a dozen locomotive trains.

As this F-4 roared to life and was about to takeoff, I stopped for a moment to watch after I secured the intake covers in place on the A-6. Because of the almost total darkness of the secured Cubi flight line, the only thing I could see as the Phantom roared down the runway was its afterburners’ fiery tails glowing in the night time blackness. Suddenly I heard the engine kind of cough down and all of a sudden at the end of the runway, the sound of a gargantuan explosion and a huge orange mushroom fireball that completely illuminated the area near the runway for a few brief seconds. I could vaguely make out the canopies of two parachutes floating down back toward the ground (the F-4 Phantom carries a flight crew of two – a pilot and a Radar Intercept Officer, or RIO).

The next morning when I was returning to the base from liberty via base taxi, I saw the F-4 Phantom or what was left of it. It looked like a piece of charred toast! Thank God that the flight crew safely ejected! Later I learned what had happened - this particular F-4 had a “Hot Sparrow” on one of its ordinance pylons. A “Hot Sparrow” is an AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile which is about to detonate. Apparently when the flight crew realized this, they attempted to eject the Sparrow from the aircraft but the missile would not disengage from the pylon. The only option of safety left available to the flight crew was for them to eject, which they both did safely.