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Road trip: Former Thunderbird rides

by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor

Col. (ret.) Gary Younglove is on a unique trip on his bike across America to visit the remaining nine F-4 Phantoms that flew as Thunderbirds.

Shown here in 1972, Capt. Gary Younglove poses for a publicity shot for the Thunderbirds.

Top photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

From the roar of the jet engines to the rumble of a V-twin, one former Thunderbird can't get enough of life on the road.

Gary Younglove, retired administrative officer for the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron, made his first stop at MacDill Tuesday on his nationwide journey to visit each of the original F-4 Phantom Thunderbirds, one of which is on display at MacDill’s Memorial Park.

It all got started in Monett, Miss., where Mr. Younglove, was visiting "Ole Number three." There, Michael Jacobssen, the unofficial historian of the F-4 era, told him there are nine F4Es still around.

"My number on the team was nine. There are nine F-4Es still around. My mind started clicking. ‘I could, as number nine, visit all nine aircraft and pay my respects," said Mr. Younglove, who began riding in 2003. "I realized this may be a major trip... but I have only one life to live."

As the administrative officer, he was not assigned to any particular aircraft on the team and was able to ride in all of the aircraft during his tour from 1970 to 1972.

"I've actually been in the back of this airplane when it was with the Thunderbirds," said Mr. Younglove.

Tail number 66-0302, also known as Thunderbird Number One, has a rich history including assignments to MacDill in 1968 and again in 1975. Its most high profile assignment was from 1969 until 1973, when it flew in the lead position for the Thunderbirds. It has been on display at MacDill since 1985.

The Phantom was the first multi-service aircraft, flying concurrently with the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. According to Boeing.com it is the first and only aircraft ever to be flown concurrently by both the Thunderbirds, and the Navy's Blue Angels.

The Air Force used 11 aircraft during that period. Two of the aircraft were lost to crashes. The remaining nine aircraft still exist, and seven of them are on display around the United States. The other two are still in mothball storage at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.

Mr. Younglove maintains a website dedicated to documenting his journey, which can be accessed at www.gdyounglove.net/thunderbirdsondisplay/index.htm. The Web address is a little long, but well worth typing if someone is interested in seeing history unfold before their eyes.

The trip is in two parts with several legs to each part. Part one is the Eastern segment and part two is the Western segment. Destination points and tail numbers for the first segment include MacDill (66- 0302), the VFW post in Athens, Tenn. (66- 0319) and the city park of Monett, Miss. (66- 0315). Mr. Younglove will rack up about 3,300 miles on this segment.

The second part of the trip will take him to American Legion Post #109 (66-0294), Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. (66-0291 and 66-0377), Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Ariz. (66-0329 ), Castle Air Museum in Atwater, Calif. (66-0289) and Battle Mountain, Nev. (66-0286). The Yamaha V-Star Mr. Younglove is riding will roll over another 3,900 miles on this segment of the trip.

On his way out the gate toward Tennessee, Mr. Younglove was all smiles and gave a big thumbs-up. The remainder of his trip promises plenty of time in the saddle, with beautiful scenery and adventure along the way. When finished, his adventure is slated to be published in Roadbike magazine.

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