Reborn on the Fourth of July

The Story of Phantom #63-7637

by Tom “20mm” Hayden

Reborn on the Fourth of July

The F-4 Phantom II first flew on May 27, 1958. The aircraft saw combat operations in the Viet Nam war and in Operation Desert Storm. During its life span, F-4’s were responsible for 280 air-to-air victories and over 200 antiaircraft sites destroyed. 5,195 Phantoms were produced until their retirement in 1996. One of the most recognized and respected airframes ever made, the Phantom remains a favorite of military aircraft lovers everywhere.

In the summer of 1988, United States Air Force F-4C Phantom II, S/N 63-7637 took off for her final flight, roughly 1,100 miles from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Tucson, Arizona. The aircraft was leaving her duty at the 184th Tactical Fighter Squadron, AR ANG in Forth Smith and being retired to “The Boneyard”, the Aerospace Maintenance And Regeneration Center (AMARC) in Tucson. She was entered into inventory there on June 15, 1988. It was the end of the line for the supersonic military jet and although the details of her operational history are somewhat of a mystery, the fact that she was an operational aircraft to the end says quite a bit. Many were not so fortunate.

For almost nine years Phantom 63-7637 sat in the hot desert sun as a sort of aircraft organ donor while her systems and components were removed for spare and replacement parts on other operational aircraft. On January 16, 1997, she was removed from the AMARC inventory, sold to a scrap dealer and the end literally was near. What had once been a magnificent powerful aircraft soaring over the land and oceans of the world would soon be shredded into unrecognizable metal scrap, piled with similar scrap and sold to the highest bidder.

Or would it? Because Phantom 63-7637 was about to meet up with Ben Gimbert, longtime aviation mechanic, race car builder and owner, military aviation enthusiast, and computer flight simulation hobbyist. And what happened thereafter is truly remarkable.

This is the story of one Air Force jet fighter from 1963 and the rescue mission to save her. It is a story of one man with a dream, and a labor of love.

Ben Gimbert is 49 years old, raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and lives in the small town of Troutville, VA. A graduate of Emery Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, Ben received an Airframe and Powerplant FAA certificate with a 2 yr. degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology. He holds a private pilots license and has been an A&P Mechanic for 22 years. He has worked on aircraft including the B767, DC-8, the Convair 580, most Beechcraft, Piper, Mooney and Cessna types, Jetstream J31 & 32, EMB 120, DC-3, Lear 35, Bell 206L, Bell 222, Metro II & III, and the Shorts 230.

His interests include street race cars, and he has built several, including a couple 427SC Roadsters and owned a 68 GT500KR Shelby. He is a military aviation enthusiast and a self-described computer flight simulation junkie.

We are pleased to have the opportunity to talk with Ben about his aviation pursuits, and in particular a project with a completion goal on the Fourth of July 2005.

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