McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
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McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

For a quarter-century, the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II has risen from land and sea to take command of the air, to carry out the strike mission, to fight MiGs, and to join the Thunderbolt, Mustang and Sabre among the immortals of American fighter aviation. Its bent wings, drooped tail and twin-engine configuration a trademark, the Phantom was the first aircraft which could detect, intercept and destroy any target within its radar range without assistance from surface-based radar. Built as an interceptor, it became a MiG killer, but it also excelled at ground attack, 'fast FAC', reconnaissance, and other duties.

The F-4A (US Navy F4H-1F) was a developmental variant, the first making its maiden flight at St Louis on 27 May 1958. It was followed by the US Navy's operational F-4B (F4H-1), powered by two 7711kg afterburning thrust General Electric J79-GE-8 engines. The F-4B model attained an altitude record of 30040m on 6 December 1959, a speed record of 2585km/h on 22 November 1961, and a low-altitude speed record of 1452km/h on 20 August 1962, the last-named not being beaten for 16 years!

The EF-4B designation went to one airframe used for ECM training, and two modified, development airframes bore the NF-4B designation. The QF-4B is a drone conversion. The RF-4B reconnaissance derivative served only with the US Marine Corps.

The F-4C (F-110A) was the US Air Force's first Phantom, the first example being flown on 27 May 1963. The F-4C became operational with the 12th and 15th Tactical Fighter Wings at MacDill AFB, Florida, in January 1964. Some 583 were built, 40 being transferred to Spain. The service-test YRF-4C (YRF-110A) led to the RF-4C (RF-110A), 499 of which were constructed for the photo-reconnaissance role. The F-4D Phantom fighter-bomber introduced a capability to deliver precision-guided munitions (PGM), or 'smart' bombs. Some 825 were built, including 32 delivered new to Iran and 36 transferred to South Korea.

Once in action in Vietnam in 1965, the Phantom seemed to need a gun to augment its missile armament in close-quarter battles with MiGs. The SUU-16/A 20mm external gun pod was an interim measure. The F-4E, first flown on 7 August 1965, introduced more powerful J79-GE-17 engines but its principal change was the internally-mounted M61A1 20mm cannon. Although superior pilot training would later prove more important than the cannon in establishing a 2.5-to-1 kill advantage over North Vietnamese MiG-17, MiG-19 and MiG-21 fighters, the F-4E became the definitive Phantom, and 1,397 rolled off the line. Examples were supplied to Australia (on loan), Greece, Iran, Israel, Turkey, South Korea and West Germany; and 140 F-4EJs were licence-built by Mitsubishi in Japan. The RF-4E was an export reconnaissance derivative, supplied to Greece, Iran, Israel, Japan and West Germany.

By the mid-1960s, the Phantom was just about the best-known fighter in the world. On 2 January 1967 in Operation 'Bolo', F-4Cs of the 8th TFW under Colonel Robin Olds shot down seven North Vietnamese MiGs. Increasingly, F-4Ds took over from the Republic F-105 the job of bringing ordnance to bear on Vietnamese ground targets. Visitors to St Louis, where McDonnell took over Douglas in 1967, wanted not merely to see the heavy, complex fighter put together by Herman Barkey's design team, but to buy it.

The F-4F was a specialised air superiority version for the West German Luftwaffe, and 175 were delivered. The F-4G designation had been used initially for 12 aircraft taken from the US Navy F-4B production line. They had the two-way ASW-21 data-link system for automated carrier landings, and all later reverted to F-4B standard. In the 1970s, the F-4G appellation was used again for the US Air Force's 'Advanced Wild Weasel' electronic warfare aircraft, 116 of which were converted from F-4E standard. Originally seen as a counter to enemy SAM missile sites and associated radars, the F-4G now carries out a wide portfolio of electronic missions. Aircraft are stationed as far afield as the 3rd TFW Clark Field, Philippines, and 52nd TFW, Spangdahlem AB, West Germany.

The F-4J was an improved production fighter for the US Navy with 8119kg afterburning thrust J79-GE-10 engines, enlarged wing and improved avionics. The F-4K was developed for the UK's Royal Navy and the F-4M for the Royal Air Force, though both are now operated by the latter service which, with expanded commitments following the 1982 Falklands war, has also inherited 15 ex-US Navy F-4Js. The F-4N is an upgraded 'rebuild' of the F-4B, and has in turn been converted to the QF-4N drone. The F-4S is an upgraded F-4J with wing manoeuvre slats and was the final Phantom variant to serve aboard an aircraft carrier, with VF-151 and -161 aboard the USS Midway.

Phantoms serve widely with the Reserve and Air National Guard and are likely to remain in front-line service with some air forces into the 21st century.

F4H-1 Phantom (1962)

 ENGINE2 x GE J-79-GE-17, 52.8kN
    Take-off weight20282 kg44714 lb
    Wingspan11.7 m38 ft 5 in
    Length19.4 m64 ft 8 in
    Height5.0 m16 ft 5 in
    Wing area49.2 m2529.58 sq ft
    Max. speed2300 km/h1429 mph
    Ceiling18420 m60450 ft
    Range w/max.payload700 km435 miles
 ARMAMENT1 x 20mm cannon, missiles

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIA three-view drawing (1648 x 1190)

Comments1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120 121-140 141-160 161-180 181-200
James Hathorn, 28.09.2009

After 42 years I still feel the thunder of my birds burning down the psp at Cam Ranh Bay (1966-1968). Then the test ops straight up at over mach I at McDill before discharge. Went to college for degree to get USAF commission... graduated too old to fly. Oh, well. Magnificant flying machines F4C-F. Weapons Control System Mechanic USAF 1966-1969.

Sam Lassiter, 23.07.2009

Was with the 431st at Homestead with the E models in '71/72, then the D model in the 479th (13th Panther Pack)in Udorn, Thailand, in '72/73. Got to do two FCFs for rudder actuator changes (I was a crew chief). Bought a Super 8mm movie camera (no sound) while was in Udorn and filmed a lot - I put together an awesome DVD summarizing my tour at Udorn and put music to it - precious memories!

d.jay, 04.07.2009

One of the greatest war planes of all time but not realy a good fighter more of a supersonic missile base.Only the high skill of U.S. and Isrealy crew and the poor skill of North Vietnamise and Arab pilots made this plane efective in air to air combat.But it made up by having a good range and being a good strike plane.

David Cook, 22.06.2009

Oh yeah, and the RF-4C at Kadena 1981-1985.

David Cook, 22.06.2009

Worked on F-4E's at Homestead AFB, Udorn, Clark AB - 1971-1973 1975-1979 and F-D's at Ubon 1973-74.

A real pain to work on but they were an honest jet. When they were fixed they stayed that way. Got my share of Phantom bites!

J Kelly, 12.04.2009

I have to say, im british and you'd think my fav plane would be the spitfire or concorde or something. But no, its the F4E. It seems such a shame that the us are using them as target drones. At the very least, they should keep a couple flying as a tribute to vietnam. Does the USAF have anything like the battle of britian memorial flight or do they leave that to the CAF? Like the german tiger tank, it really looks the part - big bad and ugly, like a tank/warplane should.

leo rudnicki, 07.04.2009

When Dean Martin's son died in this machine, there was mention of a handling quirk indigenous to the design which was never specified.Is there someone," a Deep Throat" out there who can reveal or hint at the truth?

Harry DoBell, CDR USNR, 28.10.2008

As a RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) in squadron VF-151 Embarked aboard the Coral Sea CVA -43 I completed 101 combat missions starting in mid February, 1965 until Late October the same year. We received very little classroom air to air training, mostly arranged between pilots off the shore of San Diego, with experienced pilots training new pilots. Our first strike missions in North Vietnam we used the same race track pattern that we used in training at bombing ranges. That didn't last long. The migs didn't come up to chalenge us until we bombed the Kep Railroad bridge north of Kep. Our squadron, LCDR Dan Macintire got one mig and a probable. The F4 couldn't turn but had power and speed. We had only missiles which did not have a good reliable performance. We were extended for 6 monyhs and completed the longest carrier cruise of 332 days. During ourcruise we lost many aircraft to combat and operational accidents. We had a small deck and over the 8-9 mos of combat operations we propably lost approximately 40% of our aircraft. We only had six killed and two captured. We were very lucky and had been in training for two years before going to Vietnam. VF-151 was a great squadron and Airgroup 15 was a great Airgroup. We wee somebody!

Luis, 06.09.2008

I don not really like this aircraft, and this site has a mistake: It says a crew of 1 not 2

Mark Cook, 17.08.2008

I spent two years with the IIAF (Imperial Iranian Air Force) flying the slatted wing F-4E out of Mehrabad AB, Tehran, Iran. I was Chief of Operations for the MAAG. We rode out to the airplanes in a Russian made truck; it loved to overheat in the desert climate. The Iranian pilots were afraid to enter the clouds when they flew. So we got to fly on the bad days and it scared the devilout of them. A close friend, another US Air Force Colonel, was assasinated in the streets of Tehran while I was there...the year 1975. I guess that was about the start of our war with the Muslims. I have some very unpleasant memories of that tour of duty, so I'll say no more.

steven jump, 08.07.2008

as part of the 31st TAC Fighter Wing, Homestead AFB,Fl if memory serves me correctly we had about 70 or 80 D models stationed there. maybe three or four E models. but i sure did love refueling these planes. fuel specialist in POL. STILL my favorite fighter aircraft.

stephen russell, 15.06.2008

Sat in mock F4 cockpit on the USS
It was some Insturment procedures Training Sim Cockpit.
See USS Midway in San Diego CA.

Steve Sixsmith, 30.05.2008

I did Weapons Control (32251P)on Cs, Ds, and Es at George AFB (1967-70). To Jim Brennan's comment regarding drop tanks being converted to carry luggage, etc., I recall opening many a radome and pinning the antenna so the crew had a place to carry their golf clubs when they were off to a weekend extra section of flying for "training." Love the Phantom !

Dan Lucero, 27.05.2008

I was a "weapons troop" in the Air Force for 22 years. I worked on the F-4C and F-4D at Spangahlem AB, Germany. I worked on the F-4E (my favorite) at Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. Although my career included the F-111D, OV-10, F-5, A-10, and B-1B, the F-4 was, and always will be, my favorite. Even though replacing an aft Aero-7/A missile launcher could try your patience, and replacing the Armament Control Relay Panel was the worst job in the world, I wouldn't trade the "Bent Winged Beauty" for anything, no matter how high tech. My only regret is that I didn't get to see the F-4 perform as the Thunderbirds. I bet that was magnificent!

Jorge Machado, 16.05.2008

The "thing" the Phantom needed most, in the Vietnam war, were better trained pilots. The performance of US pilots left a lot to be desired, in that regard. See, iranian pilots shot down at least 81 iraqi fighters, including 2 Mig 25's, if I remember it correctly. Yeah, it just doesn't maneuver like a Mig 19, and it might have itīs problems, but it's just a hell of a fighter. Long live to the "Smoker"!!!

Ken Langford, 15.05.2008

I flew the F-4B, F-4N, F-4J and F-4S for over 2500 flight hours and still marvel at the F-4S. Surely the Phantom will go down in annals of airplane history as one of the greatest engine to aiframe mates of all time.

Jim Brennan, 11.05.2008

External wing tank capacity was 370 gallons.
When modified by talented sheet-metal fabrication specialists they served as roomy "travel pods" -- held lots of luggage and shopping spree treasures. Fond memories!

Butch Owens, 09.05.2008

Worked several different models of the F-4 at Homestead AFB, FL and Udorn RTAFB, Thailand 1971 - 1973. What a nightmare to maintain but what a nightmare for MIGS when in the hands of pilots like Duke Cunningham and Steve Richey. Probably the most feared aircraft by enemy forces in history.

Jeff Weber, 28.04.2008

I worked on C&D models' Weapons Control Systems (radar, gunsight, bombing systems, AIM-7 guidance) while in Korea, Thailand and various US bases.

The two wing tanks shown in most pictures were 270 USgal each and both would emptied during normal takeoffs. With battle loading they would take off with almost dry tanks so they could get enough bomb weight into the air and hit a tanker ASAP.

They were built like tanks to take the pounding of carrier landings. You'll never see wrinkles in an F4.

Because of the mods required to convert them to a 'jack of all trades' they were a bitch to work on. There was always something in the way.

There are many critical comments about how poorly it flew. It was never built or designed to be fighter. It was a fleet interceptor, just like the F14 was. Thus, handling wasn't a priority, speed in a straight line was, along with weapons. It's strongest asset was its big engines.
To say 'it seemed' to need a gun is a wild understatement and a very dumb omission by the McNamara boys. But don't get me started about those guys...

Matt Feiertag, 26.04.2008

All versions of the F/RF-4 had a crew of 2, not 1.

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