The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
is a tandem
two-seat, twin-engined, all-weather, long-range supersonic
jet interceptor fighter/fighter-bomber
originally developed for the U.S. Navy by McDonnell Aircraft
. Proving highly
adaptable, it became a major part of the air wings of the United States Navy
, Marine Corps
, and Air Force
. It was used extensively
by all three of these services during the Vietnam War
, serving as the principal air
superiority fighter for both the Navy and Air Force, as well as
being important in the ground-attack and reconnaissance
roles by the close of U.S.
involvement in the war.
First entering service in 1960, the Phantom continued to form a
major part of U.S. military air power throughout the 1970s and
1980s, being gradually replaced by more modern aircraft such as the
and F-16 Fighting Falcon
in the U.S. Air
Force; the F-14 Tomcat
and F/A-18 Hornet
in the U.S. Navy; and the F/A-18
in the U.S. Marine Corps. It remained in use by the U.S. in the
reconnaissance and Wild Weasel
the 1991 Gulf War
, finally leaving service
in 1996. The Phantom was also operated by the armed forces of 11
other nations. Israeli Phantoms saw
extensive combat in several Arab–Israeli conflicts, while
Iran used its large fleet of Phantoms in the Iran–Iraq War.
in front line service with seven countries, and in use as an
in the U.S.
Phantom production ran from 1958 to 1981, with a total of 5,195
built, making it the second most-produced Western jet fighter
behind the F-86 Sabre
The F-4 Phantom was designed as a fleet defense fighter
for the U.S. Navy
, and first entered service in 1960.
By 1963, it had been adopted by the U.S. Air Force
for the fighter-bomber
role. When production ended in 1981, 5,195 Phantom IIs had been
built, making it the most numerous American supersonic military
aircraft. Until the advent of the F-15 Eagle, the F-4 also held a
record for the longest continuous production for a fighter with a
run of 24 years. Innovations in the F-4 included an advanced
extensive use of titanium
Despite the imposing dimensions and a maximum takeoff weight
60,000 lb (27,000 kg), the F-4 had a top speed of
2.23 and an initial climb of
over 41,000 ft/min (210 m/s). Shortly after its
introduction, the Phantom set 15 world records, including an
absolute speed record of 1,606.342 mph (2,585.086 km/h),
and an absolute altitude record of 98,557 ft (30,040 m).
Although set in 1959–1962, five of the speed records were not
broken until 1975 when the F-15 Eagle came into service.
The F-4 could carry up to 18,650 pounds (8,480 kg) of weapons
on nine external hardpoints
air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, and unguided, guided, and
nuclear bombs. Since the F-8 Crusader
was to be used for close combat, the F-4 was designed, like other
interceptors of the day, without an internal cannon. In a dogfight,
(commonly called "backseater" or
"pitter") assisted in spotting opposing fighters, visually as well
as on radar. It became the primary fighter-bomber of both the Navy
and Air Force by the end of the Vietnam
Due to its distinctive appearance and widespread service with
United States military and its allies, the F-4 is one of the
best-known icons of the Cold War
. It served
in the Vietnam War and Arab–Israeli
conflicts, with American
F-4 crews claiming 277 aerial victories in Southeast Asia and
completing countless ground attack sorties
A formation of F-4 Phantom IIs fly
during a heritage flight demonstration to commemorate the 50th
Anniversary of the U.S.
The F-4 Phantom has the distinction of being the last United States
fighter flown to attain ace
status in the
20th century. During the Vietnam War, the USAF had one pilot and
two WSOs, and the USN one pilot and one RIO, become aces in
air-to-air combat. It was also a capable tactical reconnaissance
and Wild Weasel (suppression of enemy air
) platform, seeing action as late as 1991, during
Operation Desert Storm
The F-4 Phantom II was also the only aircraft used by both U.S.
flight demonstration teams. The USAF Thunderbirds
(F-4E) and the USN
(F-4J) both switched to the
Phantom for the 1969 season; the Thunderbirds flew it for five
seasons, the Blue Angels for six.
The baseline performance of a Mach 2-class fighter with long
range and a bomber-sized payload would be the template for the next
generation of large and light/middle-weight fighters optimized for
daylight air combat. The Phantom would be replaced by the F-15
Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon in the U.S. Air Force. In the U.S.
Navy, it would be replaced by the F-14 Tomcat and the F/A-18 Hornet
which revived the concept of a dual-role attack fighter.
Design and development
Cockpit of F-4 Phantom II
In 1952, McDonnell's Chief of Aerodynamics, Dave Lewis
, was appointed by CEO
to be the company’s
Preliminary Design Manager. With no new aircraft competitions on
the horizon, internal studies concluded the Navy had the greatest
need for a new and different aircraft type: an attack
In 1953, McDonnell Aircraft began work on revising its F3H Demon
naval fighter, seeking expanded
capabilities and better performance. The company developed several
projects including a variant powered by a Wright J67 engine, and
variants powered by two Wright J65
engines, or two General Electric
engines. The J79-powered version promised a top speed of
1.97. On 19 September 1953,
McDonnell approached the United
with a proposal for the "Super Demon". Uniquely,
the aircraft was to be modular—it could be fitted with one- or
two-seat noses for different missions, with different nose cones to
accommodate radar, photo cameras, four 20 mm (.79 in)
cannon, or 56 FFAR
unguided rockets in addition to the nine hardpoints
under the wings and the fuselage. The
Navy was sufficiently interested to order a full-scale mock-up of
the F3H-G/H, but felt that the upcoming Grumman XF9F-9
already satisfied the need for the supersonic
The McDonnell design was therefore reworked into an all-weather
fighter-bomber with 11 external hardpoints for weapons and on 18
October 1954, the company received a letter of intent for two YAH-1
prototypes. On 26 May 1955, four Navy officers arrived at the
McDonnell offices and, within an hour, presented the company with
an entirely new set of requirements. Because the Navy already had
the A-4 Skyhawk
for ground attack and
F-8 Crusader for dogfighting, the project now had to fulfill the
need for an all-weather fleet defense interceptor. A second crewman
was added to operate the powerful radar.
The XF4H-1 was designed to carry four semi-recessed AAM-N-6 Sparrow III
radar-guided missiles, and
to be powered by two J79-GE-8 engines. As in the F-101 Voodoo
, the engines sat low in the
fuselage to maximize internal fuel capacity and ingested air
through fixed geometry intake
thin-section wing had a leading edge sweep of 45° and was equipped
with a boundary layer
for better low-speed handling.
testing had revealed lateral
instability requiring the addition of 5° dihedral
to the wings. To avoid
redesigning the titanium central section of the aircraft, McDonnell
engineers angled up only the outer portions of the wings by 12°,
which averaged to the required 5° over the entire wingspan. The
wings also received the distinctive "dogtooth" for improved control
at high angles of attack
all-moving tailplane was given 23° of anhedral
to improve control at high angles of
attack while still keeping the tailplane clear of the engine
exhaust. In addition, air intakes were equipped with movable ramps
to regulate airflow to the engines at supersonic speeds.
All-weather intercept capability was achieved thanks to the
radar. To accommodate carrier
operations, the landing gear was designed to withstand landings
with a sink rate of 23 ft/s (7 m/s), while the nose strut
could extend by some 20 in (50 cm) to increase angle of
attack at takeoff.
Naming the aircraft
There were proposals to name the F4H "Satan
", the Persian god of light. In
the end, the aircraft was given the less controversial name
"Phantom II", the first "Phantom" being another McDonnell jet
fighter, the FH-1 Phantom
. The Phantom II
was briefly given the designation F-110A and the name "Spectre" by
the USAF, but neither title was used.
On 25 July 1955, the Navy ordered two XF4H-1 test aircraft and five
YF4H-1 pre-production fighters. The Phantom made its maiden flight
on 27 May 1958 with Robert C. Little at the controls. A hydraulic
problem precluded retraction of the landing gear but subsequent
flights went more smoothly. Early testing resulted in redesign of
the air intakes, including the distinctive addition of 12,500
holes on each ramp; and the
aircraft soon squared off against the XF8U-3 Crusader III
. Due to operator
workload, the Navy wanted a two-seat aircraft and on 17 December
1958 the F4H was declared a winner. Delays with the J79-GE-8
engines meant that the first production aircraft were fitted with
J79-GE-2 and -2A engines, each having 16,100 lbf
(71.8 kN) of afterburning
In 1959, the Phantom began carrier suitability trials with the
first complete launch-recovery cycle performed on 15 February 1960
A flight of USAF F-4Cs refuel from a
KC-135 tanker before making a strike against targets in North
The Phantoms are fully loaded with 750-pound general purpose
bombs, Sparrow missiles and external fuel tanks.
Early in production, the radar was upgraded to a larger AN/APQ-72,
necessitating the bulbous nose, and the canopy was reworked to
improve visibility and make the rear cockpit less claustrophobic.
The Phantom underwent a great many changes during its career,
summarized in the "Variants" section below.
The USAF received Phantoms as the result of Defense Secretary
's push to create a
unified fighter for all branches of the military. After an F-4B won
the "Operation Highspeed" fly-off against the F-106 Delta Dart
, the USAF borrowed two
Naval F-4Bs, temporarily designating them F-110A "Spectre" in
January 1962, and developed requirements for their own version.
Unlike the Navy focus on interception, the USAF emphasized a
fighter-bomber role. With McNamara's unification of designations on
18 September 1962, the Phantom became the F-4 with the Naval
version designated F-4B and USAF F-4C. The first Air Force Phantom
flew on 27 May 1963, exceeding Mach 2 on its maiden
Phantom II production ended in the United States in 1979 after
5,195 had been built (5,057 by McDonnell Douglas and 138 in Japan
by Mitsubishi), making it the second-most produced and exported
American military-jet after the F-86
. Of these, 2,874 went to the USAF, 1,264 to the Navy and
Marine Corps, and the rest to foreign customers. The last
U.S.-built F-4 went to Turkey, while the last F-4 ever built was
completed in 1981 as an F-4EJ by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
Japan. , 631 Phantoms remained in active service worldwide, while
the Phantom also remains in use as a drone operated by the U.S.
To show off their new fighter, the Navy led a series of
record-breaking flights early in Phantom development:
- Operation Top Flight: On 6 December 1959, the
second XF4H-1 performed a zoom climb to a world record
98,557 ft (30,040 m). The previous record of
94,658 ft (28,852 m) was set by a Soviet Sukhoi T-43-1 prototype. Commander Lawrence E.
Flint, Jr., USN accelerated his aircraft to Mach 2.5 at
47,000 ft (14,330 m) and climbed to 90,000 ft
(27,430 m) at a 45° angle. He then shut down the engines and
glided to the peak altitude. As the aircraft fell through
70,000 ft (21,300 m), Flint restarted the engines and
resumed normal flight.
- On 5 September 1960, an F4H-1 averaged 1,216.78 mph
(1,958.16 km/h) over a 500 km (311 mi)
- On 25 September 1960, an F4H-1 averaged 1,390.21 mph
(2,237.26 km/h) over a 100 km (62 mi) closed-circuit
- Operation LANA: To celebrate the 50th
anniversary of Naval aviation (L is the Roman numeral for 50 and ANA stood for
Anniversary of Naval Aviation) on 24 May 1961, Phantoms flew across
the continental United States in under three hours and included
several tanker refuelings. The fastest of the aircraft averaged
869.74 mph (1,400.28 km/h) and completed the trip in
2 hours 47 minutes, earning the pilot (and future NASA
Astronaut), Lieutenant Richard
Gordon, USN and RIO, Lieutenant Bobbie Long, USN, the 1961
- Operation Sageburner: On 28 August 1961, a
Phantom averaged 902.769 mph (1,452.826 km/h) over a
3 mi (4.82 km) course flying below 125 ft
(40 m) at all times. Commander J.L. Felsman, USN was killed
during the first attempt at this record on 18 May 1961 when his
aircraft disintegrated in the air after pitch damper failure.
- Operation Skyburner: On 22 December 1961, a
modified Phantom with water
injection set an absolute world record speed of
1,606.342 mph (2,585.086 km/h).
- On 5 December 1961, another Phantom set a sustained altitude
record of 66,443.8 ft (20,252.1 m).
- Operation High Jump: A series of
time-to-altitude records was set in early 1962; 34.523 seconds
to 3,000 m (9,840 ft), 48.787 seconds to
6,000 m (19,680 ft), 61.629 seconds to 9,000 m
(29,530 ft), 77.156 seconds to 12,000 m
(39,370 ft), 114.548 seconds to 15,000 m
(49,210 ft), 178.5 seconds to 20,000 m
(65,600 ft), 230.44 seconds to 25,000 m
(82,000 ft), and 371.43 seconds to 30,000 m
(98,400 ft). Although not officially recognized, the Phantom
zoom-climbed to over 100,000 ft (30,480 m) during the
All in all, the Phantom set 16 world records. With the exception of
Skyburner, all records were achieved in unmodified production
aircraft. Five of the speed records remained unbeaten until the
F-15 Eagle appeared in 1975.
F-4 Phantom II flight demonstration
In air combat, the Phantom's greatest advantage was its thrust,
which permitted a skilled pilot to engage and disengage from the
fight at will. The massive aircraft, designed to fire radar-guided
missiles from beyond visual
, lacked the agility of its Soviet opponents and was
subject to adverse yaw
maneuvering. Although thus subject to irrecoverable spins during
aileron rolls, pilots reported the aircraft to be very
communicative and easy to fly on the edge of its performance
envelope. In 1972, the F-4E model was upgraded with leading edge slats
on the wing, greatly
maneuverability at the expense of top speed.
The J79 engines produced copious amounts of black smoke at military
power which made the Phantoms easy to spot from a distance, a
severe disadvantage in air combat against smaller aircraft. Pilots
could eliminate the smoke by using afterburner
, but at the cost of fuel efficiency.
Some pilots adopted the procedure of running one engine in dry
thrust at normal power setting, and the other in afterburner,
resulting in the same total thrust as using both engines at full
rated military power without generating the tell-tale smoke
The F-4's biggest weakness, as it was initially designed, was its
lack of an internal cannon. For a brief period, doctrine held that
turning combat would be impossible at supersonic speeds and little
effort was made to teach pilots air combat maneuvering
. In reality,
engagements quickly became subsonic. Furthermore, the relatively
new heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles at the time were
frequently reported as unreliable and pilots had to use multiple
shots just to hit one target. To compound the problem, rules of engagement
in Vietnam precluded
long-range missile attacks in most instances, as visual
identification was normally required. Many pilots found themselves
on the tail of an enemy aircraft but too close to fire short-range
Falcons or Sidewinders. Although in 1967 USAF F-4Cs began carrying
SUU-16 or SUU-23 external gunpods containing a 20 mm
(.79 in) M61 Vulcan
USAF cockpits were not equipped with lead-computing gunsights,
virtually assuring a miss in a maneuvering fight. Some Marine Corps
aircraft carried two pods for strafing. In addition to the loss of
performance due to drag
showed the externally mounted cannon to be inaccurate unless
frequently boresighted, yet far more cost-effective than missiles.
The lack of cannon was finally addressed by adding an internally
mounted 20 mm (.79 in) M61 Vulcan on the F-4E.
|Unit R&D cost
||61,200 (1965) by 1973
(2008) by 1973
||22,700 (1965) by 1973
(2008) by 1973
||1.9 million (1965)
|2.3 million (1965)
|1.7 million (1965)
|2.4 million (1965)
||116,289 (1965) by 1973
(2008) by 1973
|55,217 (1965) by 1973
(2008) by 1973
|233,458 (1965) by 1973
(2008) by 1973
|7,995 (1965) by 1973
(2008) by 1973
|Cost per flying hour
|Maintenance cost per flying hour
Note: Original amounts were in 1965 United States dollars
. The figures in
these tables have been adjusted for inflation.
United States Navy
December 1960, the VF-121 "Pacemakers" at
Miramar became the first Phantom operator with its F4H-1Fs
(F-4As). The VF-74 "Be-devilers"
Oceana became the first deployable Phantom squadron when
it received its F4H-1s (F-4Bs) on 8 July 1961.
Navy F-4J Phantom II BuNo 153769 of VF-31 lands on the .
completed carrier qualifications in October 1961 and Phantom’s
first full carrier deployment between August 1962 and March 1963
aboard . The second deployable U.S. Atlantic Fleet
to receive F-4Bs was the VF-102
, who promptly took their new aircraft on the
of . The first
deployable U.S. Pacific Fleet
receive the F-4B was the VF-114 "Aardvarks"
which participated in the September 1962 cruise aboard .
By the time of the Tonkin Gulf
, 13 of 31 deployable Navy squadrons were armed with
the type. F-4Bs from made the first Phantom combat sortie of the
on 5 August 1964, flying
bomber escort in Operation Pierce
. The first Phantom air-to-air victory of the war took
place on 9 April 1965 when an F-4B from VF-96
piloted by Lieutenant (junior grade) Terence
M. Murphy and his RIO, Ensign Ronald Fegan, shot down a Chinese
. The Phantom
was then shot down, apparently by an AIM-7 Sparrow from one of its
wingmen. There continues to be controversy over whether the Phantom
was shot down by MiG guns or whether, as enemy reports later
indicated, an AIM-7 Sparrow III from one of Murphy's and Fegan's
wingmen. On 17 June 1965, an F-4B from VF-21
piloted by Commander Thomas C. Page and
Lieutenant John C. Smith shot down the first North Vietnamese MiG
of the war.
On 10 May 1972, Lieutenant Randy "Duke"
and Lieutenant (junior grade) William P. Driscoll
flying an F-4J, call sign
"Showtime 100", shot down three MiG-17s
to become the first flying aces
war. Their fifth victory was believed at the time to be over a
mysterious North Vietnamese ace, Colonel Nguyen Toon
, now considered mythical. On the
return flight, the Phantom was damaged by an enemy surface-to-air missile
. To avoid
being captured, Cunningham and Driscoll flew their burning aircraft
upside down (the damage made the aircraft uncontrollable in a
conventional attitude) until they could eject over water.
During the war, Navy Phantom squadrons participated in 84 combat
tours with F-4Bs, F-4Js, and F-4Ns. The Navy claimed 40 air-to-air
victories at the cost of 71 Phantoms lost in combat (5 to aircraft,
13 to SAMs
, and 53 to
). An additional 54
Phantoms were lost in accidents. Of the 40 aircraft shot down by
Navy and Marine Phantom crews, 22 were MiG-17s, 14 MiG-21s
, two Antonov An-2s
, and two MiG-19s
. Of these, eight aircraft
were downed by AIM-7 Sparrow missiles and 31 by AIM-9
By 1983, the F-4Ns had been completely replaced by F-14 Tomcats
, and by 1986 the last F-4Ss were
exchanged for F/A-18 Hornets
. On 25
March 1986, an F-4S belonging to VF-151 Vigilantes became the last
Navy Phantom to launch from an aircraft carrier, in this case, the
. On 18 October 1986, an F-4S from the VF-202
, a Naval Reserve fighter squadron, made the
last-ever Phantom carrier landing while operating aboard . In 1987,
the last of the Naval Reserve-operated F-4Ss were replaced by
F-14As. The last Phantoms in service with the Navy were QF-4 target
drones operated by the Naval
Air Warfare Center
. These were retired in 2004.
United States Marine Corps
Marines received their first F-4Bs in June 1962, with the "Black
Knights" of VMFA-314 at Marine Corps Air
Station El Toro, California becoming the first operational
In addition to attack variants, the Marines also
operated several tactical reconnaissance RF-4Bs. Marine Phantoms
arrived in Vietnam on 10
April 1965, flying close air support missions from land bases as
well as from America
. Marine F-4 pilots claimed three
enemy MiGs (two while on exchange duty with the USAF) at the cost
of 75 aircraft lost in combat, mostly to ground fire, and four in
accidents. On 18 January 1992, the last Marine Phantom, an F-4S,
was retired by the "Cowboys" of VMFA-112
The squadron was re-equipped with F/A-18 Hornets.
United States Air Force
USAF F-4 Summary for Vietnam War action
||20 mm gun
||20 mm gun
||AIM-9+20 mm gun
||20 mm gun
In USAF service the F-4 was initially designated the F-110 Spectre
"Fact sheet discussing the F-110." National
Museum of the U.S. Air Force
. Retrieved: 26 May 2008. prior to
the introduction of the 1962
United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system
. At first
reluctant to adopt a Navy fighter, the USAF quickly embraced the
design and became the largest Phantom user. The first Air Force
Phantoms in Vietnam were F-4Cs from the 555th "Triple Nickel" Tactical Fighter
, which arrived in December 1964. Unlike the Navy,
which flew the Phantom with a Naval
(pilot) in the front seat and a Naval Flight Officer
as a radar
intercept officer (RIO) in the back seat, the Air Force initially
flew its Phantoms with a rated
in the back seat. This policy was later changed to using
a navigator qualified as a weapon/targeting systems officer (later
designated as weapon systems
or WSO) in the rear seat. However, because they
originally flew with pilots in the rear seat, all USAF Phantoms
retained dual flight controls throughout their service life.
On 10 July 1965, F-4Cs of the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron, on
temporary assignment in Vietnam, scored the USAF's first victories
against North Vietnamese MiG-17s using AIM-9 Sidewinder
air-to-air missiles. On 24
July 1965, another Phantom from the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron
the first American aircraft to be downed by an enemy SAM
, and on 5 October 1966 an
8th Tactical Fighter Wing
F-4C became the first U.S. jet lost to an air-to-air missile
, fired by a MiG-21 "Fishbed"
Early aircraft suffered from leaks in wing fuel tanks that required
re-sealing after each flight and 85 aircraft were found to have
cracks in outer wing ribs and stringers. There were also problems
control cylinders, electrical
connectors, and engine compartment fires. Reconnaissance RF-4Cs
made their debut in Vietnam on 30 October 1965, flying the
hazardous post-strike reconnaissance missions.
Although the F-4C was essentially identical to the Navy F-4B in
flight performance and carried the Navy-designed Sidewinder
missiles, USAF-tailored F-4Ds initially arrived in June 1967
equipped with AIM-4 Falcons
the Falcon, like its predecessors, was designed to shoot down
bombers flying straight and level. Its reliability proved no better
than others, and its complex firing sequence and limited
seeker-head cooling time made it virtually useless in combat
against agile fighters. The F-4Ds reverted to using Sidewinders
under the "Rivet Haste" program in early 1968, and by 1972 the
AIM-7E-2 "Dogfight Sparrow" had become the preferred missile for
USAF pilots. Like other Vietnam War Phantoms, the F-4Ds were
urgently fitted with radar homing and warning
(RHAW) antennae to detect the Soviet-built SA-2 Guideline
From the initial deployment of the F-4C to Southeast Asia, USAF
Phantoms performed both air superiority and ground attack roles,
supporting not only ground troops in South Vietnam but also
conducting bombing sorties in Laos and North Vietnam. As the
force underwent severe
attrition between 1965 and 1968, the bombing role of the F-4
proportionately increased until after November 1970 (when the last
F-105D was withdrawn from combat) it became the primary USAF
ordnance delivery system. In October 1972 the first squadron of
EF-4C Wild Weasel
aircraft deployed to
Thailand on temporary duty. The "E" prefix was later dropped and
the aircraft were simply known as F-4C Wild Weasels.
Sixteen squadrons of Phantoms were permanently deployed between
1965 and 1973, and 17 others deployed on temporary combat
assignments. Peak numbers of combat F-4s occurred in 1972, when 353
were based in Thailand. A total of 445 Air Force Phantom
fighter-bombers were lost, 370 in combat and 193 of those over
North Vietnam (33 to MiGs, 30 to SAMs, and 307 to AAA).
The RF-4C was operated by four squadrons, and of the 83 losses, 72
were in combat including 38 over North Vietnam (seven to SAMs and
65 to AAA). By war's end the U.S. Air Force had lost a total of 528
F-4 and RF-4C Phantoms. When combined with U.S. Naval and Marine
losses of 233 Phantoms, 761 F-4/RF-4 Phantoms were lost in the
On 28 August 1972, Capt Steve
became the first USAF ace of the war. On 9 September
1972, WSO Capt Charles B.
highest-scoring American ace of the war with six victories. and WSO
Capt Jeffrey Feinstein became the last USAF ace of the war on 13
October 1972. Upon return to the United States, DeBellevue and
Feinstein were assigned to pilot training (Feinstein was given a
vision waiver) and requalified as USAF pilots in the F-4. According
to the USAF, its F-4s scored 107½ MiG kills in Southeast Asia (50
by Sparrow, 31 by Sidewinder, five by Falcon, 15.5 by gun, and six
by other means).
On 31 January 1972, the 170th Tactical Fighter Squadron/183d
Tactical Fighter Group of the Illinois Air National Guard
became the first Air National
unit to transition to Phantoms. The F-4's ANG service
lasted until 31 March 1990, when it was replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon
On 15 August 1990, 24 F-4G Wild Weasel Vs and six RF-4Cs were
mobilized to Shaikh Isa AB, Bahrain, for Operation Desert Storm
. The reason for this was
that the F-4G was the only aircraft in the USAF inventory equipped
for the suppression of enemy air defenses
since the EF-111 Raven
offensive capability of the AGM-88 HARM
missile, while the RF-4C was the only aircraft equipped with the
ultra-long-range KS-127 LOROP (long-range oblique photography)
camera. In spite of flying almost daily missions, only one RF-4C
was lost in a fatal accident before the start of hostilities. One
F-4G was lost when enemy fire damaged the fuel tanks and the
aircraft ran out of fuel near a friendly airbase. The last USAF
Phantoms, F-4G Wild Weasel Vs from 561st Fighter Squadron
, were retired
on 26 March 1996. The last operational flight of the F-4G Wild
Weasel was from the 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Air National
Guard, in April 1996. The last operational USAF/ANG F-4 to land was
flown by Maj Mike Webb and Maj Gary Leeder, Idaho ANG. Like the
Navy, the Air Force continues to operate QF-4 target drones,
serving with the 82d Aerial
, it being expected that the F-4 will remain in
the target role with the 82d ATRS until 2013/14.
Non-U.S. air forces
Phantom served with the air forces of many countries, including
Australia, Egypt, Germany, United Kingdom, Greece, Iran, Israel, Japan, Spain, South Korea and Turkey.
The Royal Australian Air
(RAAF) leased 24 USAF F-4Es from 1970 to 1973 while
waiting for their order for the General Dynamics F-111C
delivered. They were so well-liked that the RAAF considered
adopting the F-4E instead. They were operated from RAAF Amberley by No.1 Squadron and No.6 Squadron.
In 1979, the Egyptian Air Force
purchased 35 former USAF F-4Es along with a number of Sparrow,
Sidewinder, and Maverick missiles from the U.S. for $594 million as
part of the "Peace Pharaoh" program. An additional seven surplus
USAF aircraft were purchased in 1988. Three attrition replacements
had been received by the end of the 1990s.
Phantoms in non-U.S. service.
||In service as of 2001
||None (returned to U.S.)
(110 upgraded to ICE)
||121 F-4E and RF-4E
||62 F-4E and RF-4E
(39 upgraded to Peace Icarus 2000)
53 Kurnass 2000 (all retired)
|14 RF-4C (F-4Cs employed as spares since 1989)
||233 F-4E and RF-4E
(54 upgraded to Terminator 2020)
The German Luftwaffe
ordered the reconnaissance RF-4E in 1969, receiving a total of 88
aircraft which were delivered from January 1971. In 1982, the
initially unarmed RF-4Es were given a secondary ground attack
capability, and were retired in 1994.
In 1973, under the "Peace Rhine" program, the Luftwaffe
purchased the lightened and simplified F-4F which was upgraded in
the mid-1980s. 24 German-owned F-4Fs were operated by the
49th Tactical Fighter Wing of the USAF at Holloman AFB to train Luftwaffe crews until
In 1975, Germany also received 10 F-4Es for training
in the U.S. In the late 1990s, these were withdrawn from service,
being replaced by F-4Fs. Germany also initiated the "ICE" (Improved
Combat Efficiency) program in 1983. The 110 ICE-upgraded F-4Fs
entered service in 1992, and are expected to remain in service
until 2012. All the remaining Luftwaffe's Phantoms are now based at
Wittmund with Jagdgeschwader 71 (fighter wing 71) in Northern
In 1971, the Hellenic Air Force
ordered brand new F-4E Phantoms, with deliveries starting in 1974.
In the early 1990s the Hellenic AF acquired surplus RF-4Es and
F-4Es from the Luftwaffe
and U.S. ANG.
Following the success of the German ICE program, on 11 August 1997,
of Germany received a
contract to upgrade 39 aircraft to the very similar "Peace Icarus
2000" standard. The Hellenic AF operates 35 upgraded
(338 and 339 Squadrons) and 22 RF-4E aircraft
(348 Squadron) as of May 2008.
In the 1960s and 1970s, then U.S.-friendly Iran purchased 225 F-4D,
F-4E and RF-4E Phantoms. The Islamic Republic of Iran Air
Phantoms saw action in the Iran-Iraq war
1980s and are kept operational by overhaul and servicing from
Iran’s aerospace industry.
The Israeli Air Force
largest foreign operator of the Phantom, flying both newly built
and ex-USAF aircraft, as well as several one-off special
reconnaissance variants. The first F-4Es, nicknamed
" (Heavy hammer), and RF-4Es, nicknamed
" (Raven), were delivered in 1969 under the "Peace
Echo I" program. Additional Phantoms arrived during the 1970s under
"Peace Echo II" through "Peace Echo V" and "Nickel Grass" programs.
Israeli Phantoms saw extensive combat during Arab–Israeli conflict
, first seeing
action during the War of Attrition
In the 1980s, Israel began the "Kurnass 2000" modernization program
which significantly updated avionics. The last Israeli F-4s were
retired in 2004.
From 1968, the Japan Air
purchased a total of 140 F-4EJ Phantoms
without aerial refueling and ground attack capabilities. Mitsubishi
built 138 under license in Japan and 14 unarmed reconnaissance
RF-4Es were imported. Of these, 96 F-4EJs have since been modified
to the F-4EJ Kai (改、"modified") standard. 15 F-4EJs have been
converted to reconnaissance aircraft designated RF-4EJ, with
similar upgrades as the F-4EJ Kai. Japan has a fleet of 90 F-4s in
service as of 2007 and studies are underway to replace them with
either the Eurofighter Typhoon
, or one of several
The Republic of Korea Air
purchased its first batch of ex-USAF F-4D Phantoms in
1968 under the "Peace Spectator" program. The ex-USAF F-4Ds
continued to be delivered until 1988. The "Peace Pheasant II"
program also provided newly-built and ex-USAF F-4Es. Currently
F-4Ds are being replaced in service by new F-15K Slam Eagles
The Spanish Air Force
first batch of ex-USAF F-4C Phantoms in 1971 under the "Peace Alfa"
program. Designated C.12, the aircraft were retired in 1989. At the
same time, the SAF received a number of ex-USAF RF-4Cs, designated
CR.12. In 1995–1996, these aircraft received extensive avionics
upgrades. Spain retired its RF-4s in 2002.
The Turkish Air Force
F-4Es in 1974, with a further 32 F-4Es and 8 RF-4Es in 1977-78
under the "Peace Diamond III" program, followed by 40 ex-USAF
aircraft in "Peace Diamond IV" in 1987, and a further 40 ex-U.S.
Air National Guard Aircraft in 1991. A further 32 RF-4Es were
transferred to Turkey after being retired by the Luftwaffe between
1992 and 1994. In 1995, IAI
of Israel implemented an
upgrade similar to Kurnass 2000 on 54 Turkish F-4Es which were
dubbed the F-4E 2020 Terminator.
Kingdom bought versions based on the USN F-4J for use with
the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air
Phantom FG.1 of No.
The main differences were the use of the British
engines and of
British-made avionics. The RN and RAF versions were given the
designation F-4K and F-4M respectively, and entered service as the
Phantom FG.1 (fighter/ground attack) and Phantom FGR.2
After the Falklands War
, 15 upgraded
ex-USN F-4Js, known as the F-4J(UK) entered RAF service to
compensate for one interceptor squadron redeployed to the
Around 15 RAF squadrons received various marks of Phantom, many of
them based in Germany. The first to be equipped was 6 Squadron at
Leuchars in July
One noteworthy deployment was to 43 Squadron where
Phantom FG1s remained the squadron equipment for a remarkable
twenty years, arriving in September 1969 and departing in July
1989. During this period the squadron was based throughout at
The interceptor Phantoms were replaced by the Panavia Tornado F3
from the late 1980s
onwards, and the last British Phantoms were retired in October 1992
when 74 Squadron disbanded.
Sandia National Laboratories used an F-4 mounted on a "rocket sled"
in a crash test to see the results of an aircraft hitting a
reinforced concrete structure, such as a nuclear power plant.
One aircraft, an F-4D (civilian registration NX749CF), is operated
by the Massachusetts-based non-profit organization
Foundation as a "living history
exhibit. Funds to maintain and operate the aircraft,
which is based in Houston,
Texas, are raised through donations/sponsorships from
public and commercial parties.
Flight Research Center acquired an F-4A Phantom II on 3 December
It made fifty-five flights in support of short
programs, chase on X-15
and lifting body flights. The F-4A also supported a biomedical
monitoring program involving 1,000 flights by NASA Flight Research
Center aerospace research pilots and students of the USAF Aerospace
Research Pilot School flying high-performance aircraft. The pilots
were instrumented to record accurate and reliable data of
electrocardiogram, respiration rate and normal acceleration. In
1967, the F-4A supported a brief military-inspired program to
determine whether an airplane's sonic boom could be directed and
whether it could possibly be used as a weapon of sorts, or at least
an annoyance. NASA also flew an F-4C in a spanwise blowing study
from 1983 to 1985, after which it was returned to the Air
- F-4A, B, J, N and S
- Variants for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines. F-4B was
upgraded to F-4N, and F-4J was upgraded to F-4S.
- F-110 Spectre, F-4C, D and E
- Variants for the U.S. Air Force. F-4E introduced an internal
M61 Vulcan cannon. F-4D and E were widely exported. These versions
of the aircraft were extensively used under the Semi Automatic Ground
Environment (SAGE) air defense system.
- F-4G Wild Weasel V
- A dedicated SEAD variant with updated radar
and avionics, converted from F-4E. The designation F-4G was applied
earlier to an entirely different Navy Phantom.
- F-4K and M
- Variants for the British military re-engined with Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans.
- Simplified F-4E exported to and license-built in Japan.
- Simplified F-4E exported to Germany.
- QF-4B, E, G, N and S
- Retired aircraft converted into remote-controlled target drones
used for weapons and defensive systems research.
- RF-4B, C, and E
- Tactical reconnaissance variants.
The Phantom gathered a number of nicknames during its career. Some
of these names included "Rhino", "Double Ugly", the "Flying Anvil",
"Flying Footlocker", "Flying Brick", "Lead Sled", the "Big Iron
Sled" and the "St. Louis Slugger
In recognition of its record of downing large numbers of Soviet-built MiGs
, it was called the "World’s
Leading Distributor of MiG Parts" As a reflection of excellent
performance in spite of bulk, it was dubbed "the triumph of thrust
over aerodynamics." German Luftwaffe crews called their F-4s the
Eisenschwein ("Iron Pig"), Fliegender Ziegelstein
("Flying Brick") and Luftverteidigungsdiesel ("Air Defense
Imitating the spelling of the aircraft’s name, McDonnell issued a
series of patches. Pilots became "Phantom Phlyers", backseaters
became "Phantom Pherrets", fans of the F-4 "Phantom Phanatics", and
call it the "Phabulous Phantom". Ground crewmen who worked on the
aircraft are known as "Phantom Phixers".
The aircraft's emblem is a whimsical cartoon ghost called "The
Spook", which was created by McDonnell Douglas technical artist,
Anthony "Tony" Wong, for shoulder patches. The name "Spook" was
coined by the crews of either the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing or the
4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing at MacDill AFB.
The figure is ubiquitous, appearing on
every imaginable item associated with the F-4. The Spook has
followed the Phantom around the world adopting local fashions; for
example, the British adaptation of the U.S. "Phantom Man" is a
Spook that sometimes wears a bowler hat and smokes a pipe.
Worldwide there are a number of F-4 Phantom IIs on display.
example, a Phantom II F-4C-15-MC 37699, which is on loan from the
USAF Museum, is on display at the Midland Air Museum, Coventry, England, UK; a Phantom II F4H-1, BuNo 145310, U.S.
located at French
Valley Airport, Murrieta, California, USA; and there is a dwindling number of reserve
F-4s stored at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, USA.
aircraft, an F-4D, is operated by the Massachusetts-based non-profit
organization Collings Foundation as a "living history" exhibit. Funds to maintain and
operate the aircraft, which is based in Houston, Texas, USA. are raised through donations/sponsorships
from public and commercial parties.
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