Lt. Col. Ian Milne of Burnt Store Isles flew F-4 ‘Phantom’ jet with nuclear bombs during ‘Cold War’

For two decades, from 1973 to 1993, Lt. Col. Ian Milne of Burnt Store Isles south of Punta Gorda, Fla. flew some of the U.S. Air Force’s most lethal fighter planes in this nation’s arsenal from air bases around the world.

He began his aviation career as a graduate of the University of North Carolina. He also received an ROTC commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force upon graduation from college.

Milne attended pilot training at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ga. where he learn to fly the T-37 twin-engine jet and T-38 supersonic single-engine fighter plane. After graduation he relocated to California and flew the F-4 “Phantom.” It was a supersonic intercepter fighter-bomber produced by McDonnell-Douglas.

“My first operational assignment was in Spain in 1975,” the 65-year-old former local fighter pilot said. “My first squadron was the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron stationed Madrid. “We flew F-4Cs which were an older version of the ‘Phantom.’

His primary job, while flying in Europe during his first overseas assignment was every so often to be on call to deliver a single hydrogen bomb to a predesignated target behind the Soviet’s “Iron Curtain” if war was declared by the U.S against the Russians.

“Our life was split into three-month segments. We were in Madrid for six weeks. During that time we would fly to Aviano Air Force Base in northeastern Italy for two weeks. Five or six of the planes in our squadron would be designated the nuclear strike force. As part of the strike force we lived in a compound a short distance from our F-4s. If we got the call we had to be airborne in 10 or 15 minutes,” he explained.

Fortunately for Milne and the rest of the world they were never sent on a mission to drop nuclear bombs on targets in Russia or elsewhere in Europe.

After serving in the nuclear strike force his unit went to Turkey to practice aerial bombing runs for a month. Then it was back to Spain and start the rotation all over again. Milne spent three years in this assignment.

He was a 24-year-old second lieutenant when he was first flying his F-4 as a member of the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron.

“Then I was selected to be a member of the Air Force’s 527th Aggressor Squadron. The ‘Aggressor Squadrons’ played the role of enemy fighters during training programs all around the world,” Milne said. “It was quite a feather in my cap to be selected for this program.

“We flew F-5 ’Tiger’ fighters because it was very similar to the Soviet’s Mig-21 fighter. We traveled throughout Europe playing the aggressor for U.S. and NATO air forces in simulated air battles,” he said.

“Instead of using bullets it’s all done with our gun cameras. Every time we squeezed the trigger during a dog fight our camera turned on. The Air Force also came up with a system call ‘Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation.’ This system would send an electronic signal from an airplane to a ground tracking station. When the pilot got back on the ground he could see how he performed during an attack. It even showed a simulated missile being fired by an airplane. It provided a very good education for combat pilots.

“For 3 1/2 years I did this job which I really loved,” Milne said. “I got to travel around Europe and see all kinds of different countries.”

When he returned from Europe he was assigned to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

“My job there was to make assignments for fighter pilots. It wasn’t my favorite job in the Air Force but I did get to provide some of my friends with planes to fly.”

In the mid-1980s Milne got a plum assignment at Mac Dill Air Force Base in Tampa.

“I trained to fly the F-16 ‘Falcon’ fighter plane at Mac Dill. It was just coming on line and it was one of the top-of-the-line fighters flown by the Air Force at that time. I was relocated to an air base outside Soul, Korea flying F-16s. I dropped some real bombs in training exercises. I also got to fly against the South Korean Air Force that had some very good pilots.

Lt. Milne stands beside his Triumph TR-6 he still has in perfect condition parked in the garage of his home in Burnt Store Isles. In the background is the F-4 “Phantom” fighter-bomber he flew as a member of the 613th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Europe in 1975. Photo provided

“I did that for a year and enjoyed every minute of my time in Korea.

“I returned to Mac Dill as an F-16 instructor pilot. I did that for four more years.

“My final assignment with the Air Force I became the Air Force advisor to the Florida Air National Guard. They were flying F-16s at the time and I was stationed in Jacksonville. It was 1990 and the guard was flying air defense with their F-16s.”

He retired from the Air Force in 1993 after three years with the guard in Jacksonville. He had 20 years of service with the military by then and was a lieutenant colonel.

It wasn’t long after he was discharged from the Air Force Milne began flying corporate jets for the top brass running Florida-based insurance companies. He did that for seven years while living in the St. Petersburg area.

In 2009 he got a call from the Air Force. It was looking for retired fighter pilots who it could train to fly drones in combat in the Middle East. Seventeen years after he retired from the service Lt. Col. Ian Milne re-upped and became a “Predator Drone” pilot. While stationed in the U.S. he flew his drone in numerous fights in the desert from his base thousands of miles away in the U.S.A.

This is Milne today at 65. Sun photo by Don MooreName: Ian McCulloch Milne
D.O.B: 25 March 1951
Birthplace:  Leeds, England
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: Commissioned in 1973
Discharged: 31 Dec. 1993
Rank: Lt. Colonel
Unit: 613th Tatical Fighter Squadron, Spain; 527th Aggressor Squadron, Europe; 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, South Korea; 63rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla.;  Advisor Florida Air National Guard.
Commendations: Meritorious Service Medal w/4 Oak Leaf Clusters (OLC); AF Commendation Medal w/2 OLC; Small Arms Marksmanship Ribbon w/Pistol; Combat Readiness Medal w/2 OLC; AF Longevity Service Award Ribbon w/4 OLC; National Defense Service Medal w/1 Service Star; AF Overseas Long Tour Ribbon w/1 OLC; AF Overseas Short Tour Ribbon; AF Training Ribbon; AF Outstanding Unit Award
Battles/Campaigns: “Cold War,” Support Desert Shield/Storm

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 13, 2017 and is republished with permission.

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