Before the F-16s became the drone target conversion of choice for the USAF, the F-4 was the jet. The contract for conversion was run by Tracor which ultimately ended up being part of BAE Systems at the time I saw these jets. They did the conversion program at Mojave Airport in California. We were a bit of a distance from the ramp where they were parked but it was early in the day and the heat haze was not yet a problem so a long shot was feasible. Looking at these, I think they were both RF-4C jets that had either been converted or were about to be.
Another opportunity that Richard organized for us while at Mojave was the chance to shoot Orbital Science’s Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. This is an airframe that was modified to provide the launch platform for their Pegasus orbital launch vehicle. The underside of the fuselage is modified to mount the Pegasus which is then taken to altitude and dropped before the booster ignites. The TriStar is a type that disappeared from service far faster than its rival, the DC-10, so seeing one in great condition was pretty cool.
A few years ago, my friend, Richard, had arranged a visit for a number of us to Mojave Airport. This airport does not have a reputation for being photographer friendly but Richard had made the necessary contacts to get us some time out on the field near the taxiways and runways. One of the operators at Mojave is the National Test Pilot School. NTPS operate a wide variety of types on various flight test training activities and some of them were up and about early on this particular morning.
One type that really caught our eye was the deHavilland Dove. An old piston small transport type, the Dove is not something you see around very often these days. This one is kept in excellent condition and appears to have some modifications for flight test purposes and to assist the training of test pilots and flight test engineers. It took off on a runway that brought it towards us nicely. When it returned, it used another runway so we got to see it from several angles.