USAF F-4 WSO recalls when during a drill he and his pilot were tasked in trying to steal a Phantom II fighter jet. They succeeded.

USAF F-4 WSO recalls when during a drill he and his pilot were tasked in trying to steal a Phantom II fighter jet. They succeeded.

By Dario Leone
Nov 14 2023
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Can a fighter jet be stolen?

Aircraft theft is an increasingly prevalent crime, often perpetrated in conjunction with drug smuggling. Owners need to step up preventive measures and investigation units need to better prepare themselves for aircraft theft crimes.

According to the US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, airplanes are relatively easy to steal as long as the thief knows how to fly and is familiar with airport procedures. If the owner does not leave the keys in the aircraft, the plane can be hotwired. After starting the aircraft, the thief simply contacts the airport control tower for takeoff instructions.

Given that aircraft can be stolen with ease, one may ask if stealing a fighter jet is possible too.

Tasked to steal a USAF F-4 Phantom II

Joe Montana, former US Air Force (USAF) F-4 Phantom II Weapon Systems Officer (WSO), answer to this question on Quora;

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‘Yes, as a test of flightline security a pilot and I were tasked to steal an F-4. A few people in maintenance and security were advised but were only to take action to prevent damage to the aircraft or use of deadly force. We convinced a crew chief that his plane was the spare aircraft and we were taking it. Tower did not notice we started engines. By the time tower realized we were taxing, we were on the parallel taxi way. The pilot gave tower some bogus information that confused them momentarily but gave use a few more seconds of taxi time. By then we could have taxied onto the active runway. We would have less than the length of the runway and takeoff would have been with a tail wind but it was possible. We called the exercise off and stopped taxing.’

The only way to steal a USAF fighter jet

Montana concludes;

‘This was possible only because of the aircraft’s parking spot on the ramp and that the parallel taxi way used part of the parking ramp. Also, the layout of the base put us at the most distant location for security to respond. Additionally, we knew the aircraft was fueled and that there were no maintenance holds.

‘Things were a lot more relaxed than today.’

Photo credit: Senior Airman Jesse Shipps / U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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