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Two flying veterans together again

Howard Stroupe stands on a trailer that carries a front section of an F-4 Phantom II fighter jet that he is planning to display at air shows. Stroupe flew the F-4 Phantom II in the Air Force from 1974 to 1978 at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska.
Howard Stroupe stands on a trailer that carries a front section of an F-4 Phantom II fighter jet that he is planning to display at air shows. Stroupe flew the F-4 Phantom II in the Air Force from 1974 to 1978 at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. The Olympian

They served together during the Vietnam War, scouting the skies for Russian invaders and chasing them out of American airspace.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Howard Stroupe III gave up his status as a fighter pilot in 1978, settling into a long career as an airline pilot with a penchant for collecting.

Space memorabilia, movie posters, fossils – you name it, Stroupe has boxes of it at his Federal Way home.

After decades of amassing such items, he last month added the crowning glory to his massive collection.

It’s his old flying partner – an F-4 Phantom II jet, one of the most versatile fighters ever built.

“I never dreamed you could own anything like this,” said Stroupe, 62. “I like sitting and looking at it. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.”

He estimates there are only five F-4s in private hands nationwide and his is the only one with functioning canopies.

Stroupe doesn’t have the whole jet, just the front of the Phantom with the cockpit area.

Even so, it’s 27 feet long, 9 feet tall and weighs 7,740 pounds. The refurbished jet squeezed into the Tacoma garage where it is being stored with mere inches to spare.

It was nearly a decade ago that Stroupe decided to start collecting something that held meaning for him.

His first acquisition took place at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center in Tucson, Ariz., better known as the “Boneyard.”

After a tour of the Air Force facility, Stroupe bought a control stick and instrument panel from an old Phantom.

Then he scoured eBay and junkyards to find 20 mm M-61 “Vulcan” cannon shells and random panels.

“It’s an opportunity to preserve history for people,” Stroupe said.

Four years ago, he rescued the decrepit jet from a scrap yard. It was rusted, missing its nose and full of dents.

His new pride and joy cost $9,000. Stroupe refuses to count the cost of manpower that has added up over the years but said another pilot offered him $125,000 for it.

He paid an Air Force sheet metal mechanic in St. Louis to rebuild the missing panels, fill in the dents and paint the jet in tri-color camouflage.

Whatever the total cost, Stroupe thinks it was worth it.

Sometimes he comes to his storage garage and stares at the Phantom, which looks exactly as it did when he was a fighter pilot.

Stroupe’s name is painted on the pilot’s door canopy frame and the 43rd TFS’ (tactical fighter squadron) symbol – a hornet – has been airbrushed near the middle of the jet.

It was duplicated from an old squadron patch on the green Air Force jacket Stroupe still wears.

His dad, Howard Stroupe II, is a collector himself, but marvels that his son bought and rebuilt the old jet.

“I couldn’t believe he did this,” said the elder Stroupe. “I thought the kid had gone off the deep end.”

For now, Stroupe is catching up with his old flying partner and showing it off to friends and family.

He hopes to display it at air shows next year.

“It’s the real thing,” Stroupe said.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

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