Restoring historic or decommissioned military aircraft is more common than most people may believe. “It’s not unusual at all. There’s quite a culture involved in aviation history and preserving historic aircraft,” said historic renovation consultant Steve Thompson of Mattoon. “They often get the aircraft in flying condition and tour parts of the country with them” like the recent appearance of the 1920s “Tin Goose” in Jacksonville, he said. “We take the manuals that were issued the year the aircraft was built and try and spec out the materials and the components that they would have had during their period of significance,” Thompson said. “The aircraft are mobile, which in some instances makes it easier to work on because you can tow it around to different locations to work on different components, as opposed to a bridge or a house where you definitely have to bring all of the experts and materials to the resource.” “The F4 Phantom is a very important aircraft for U.S. military history,” Thompson said. “It was our top-of-the-line fighter-bomber in the 1960s and was designed to combat the Russian aircraft of the day. It was used very heavily during the Vietnam War.” A Montgomery County man has a scrapyard-rescue, high-mileage two-seater he’d like to show you, and although he’d be reluctant to sell it, the non-functioning machine could be yours for just $5 million, according to a classified ad running in The State Journal-Register. The public is invited to see Mark Hoehn’s 1964 Phantom during an open house July 4-8 just outside of Witt in the northeastern part of Montgomery County. That’s Phantom as in the McDonnel-Douglas F4C, the 1,600-mile-per-hour fighter jet that earned combat fame during the Vietnam War. Hoehn said he’s “always wanted” a Phantom, but the decommissioned Air Force jet he ended up with required some assembly. “The Air Force did not disassemble it, they took some kind of big saws to it and cut the wings, tail and nose off,” Hoehn said. “So it wasn’t like we could just bolt it back together. It took approximately 7 1/2 months to put the plane back together with three guys working five full days a week.” “When the Air Force decommissions a fighter jet, they don’t want it in civilian hands. They cut it up and figure it’s scrap metal that nobody could ever do anything with again,” Hoehn said. “But I saw pictures of it, and I had a vision that this could be put back together without going through the Air Force or anything. And my boss up here goes, ‘I could help put this thing back together for you.’” Hoehn is a retired major with the Illinois Air National Guard’s 183rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, and from 1980 through 2000 he flew F4 and F16 fighter jets from the base in Springfield. A few years into his retirement, Hoehn put the word out that he’d like to acquire an F4 Phantom. A friend put him in touch with an upstate New York man who had purchased the nine pieces of a decommissioned Phantom from the Air Force. The pieces had been sitting in the man’s pasture for approximately 10 years. “It was one of those moments where I made a decision, and I said ‘I’ll take it.’ I just wrote the check and made it happen,” Hoehn said. “It was a huge ordeal to get it to the commercial building I own outside of Witt. It took two full semis to haul this thing here. It’s so heavy, you can’t even imagine, it takes one of those heavy lifting machines just to get it off the truck.” It turned out that getting the pieces of the fighter jet from New York to central Illinois wasn’t the hardest part. “Rebuilding it was a challenge from the word ‘go.’ This thing has fought us all the way,” Hoehn said. “It was designed as a flying tank. Its fuselage is made entirely of titanium. I’ve seen titanium at work before, but never on an airplane.” The rebuilt Phantom lacks engines, armament and electronics, but it retains almost everything else, including the two ejection seats and canopies. It’s just a few coats of paint away from looking like it could take off, although Hoehn stressed that it is strictly a static, non-functioning aircraft. ‘Unobtainium’ Hoehn’s Phantom served with the Missouri National Guard and ended its service at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It was decommissioned there and sold for scrap to the man in New York from whom Hoehn purchased it. The F4 Phantom’s statistics are impressive even by modern military standards. It weighs 52,000 pounds fully loaded with fuel and armaments and can fly at Mach 2.5, or more than twice the speed of sound, with two jet engines that each generate more than 3,300 pounds of thrust. The plane’s great weight and payload capacity mean that the Phantom had to use its afterburner to take off and needed a trailing parachute to slow it down for non-aircraft carrier landings, former F4 pilot Hoehn said. His F4C is a special model made only in 1963 and 1964 and features an auxiliary flip-out fan that could assist in landing the plane if it had an electronic emergency, Hoehn said. Mike George of Springfield operates the Air Combat Museum at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport and is responsible for uniting Hoehn and his Phantom. “A guy I know in St. Louis called me up and said, ‘Hey, do you want an F4 Phantom?’ and I said, ‘No, but I know somebody who does want one,’” George said. “I also set him up with guys who can help find him some parts.” George and the Air Combat Museum have done restoration work on various types of aircraft, and said it’s a job for someone with a great deal of dedication and ingenuity. “A saying that we have is that sometimes parts are made of unobtainium,” George said. “That means you can’t get it, you have to make it yourself. You can’t have an attitude that it can’t be done. Whatever it takes, you do it.”

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