In 1953, McDonnell Aircraft began work on revising its F3H Demon naval fighter, seeking expanded capabilities and increasing all-round performance. The company developed several projects, the three front runners including a variant powered by a Wright J67 engine, and variants powered by two Wright J65 engines, or two General Electric J79 engines. The J79-powered version promised a top speed of Mach 1.97 and was soon the leading contender. On 19 September 1953, McDonnell approached the United States Navy with a proposal for the "Super Demon”. 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 and Vought XF8U-1 met the requirements for a supersonic fighter.
Grumman XF9F-9 Vought XF8U-1
The McDonnell design was 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, the Navy presented the company with an entirely new set of requirements. Because the Navy already had the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk for ground attack and F-8 Crusader for dogfighting, the project now had to fulfil the need for an all-weather fleet defence interceptor. A second crewman was added to operate the powerful radar and weapons systems.
Douglas A-4 Skyhawk F-8 Crusader
The USAF received Phantoms as the result of Defence Secretary Robert McNamara'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 Convair 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's 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 flight.
The F-4 Phantom was primarily a tandem-seat fighter-bomber designed as a carrier-based interceptor to fill the U.S. Navy's fleet defence fighter role, however with the participation of McNamara in the project, this soon evolved into a multi-role multi-crew jet.
Despite imposing dimensions and a maximum take-off weight of over 60,000 lb (27,000 kg), the F-4 has a top speed of Mach 2.23 and an initial climb rate of over 41,000 ft/min (210 m/s). The F-4's nine external hardpoints have a capability of up to 18,650 pounds (8,480 kg) of weapons, including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, and unguided, guided, and thermonuclear weapons. 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 optimised for daylight air combat.
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. As a massive fighter aircraft designed to fire radar-guided missiles from beyond visual range, it lacked the agility of its Soviet opponents and was subject to adverse yaw during hard manoeuvring. Although thus subject to irrecoverable spins during aileron rolls, pilots reported the aircraft to be very responsive and easy to fly on the edge of its performance envelope. It proved to be a truly pilots’ aircraft.
In 1972, the F-4E model was upgraded with leading edge slats on the wing, greatly improving high angle of attack manoeuvrability at the expense of top speed.
The J79 engines produced noticeable amounts of black smoke (at mid-throttle/cruise settings), a severe disadvantage in that the enemy could spot the aircraft. This became the trademark of the Phantom. This was solved on the F-4S fitted with the −10A engine variant which used a smokeless combustor.
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 manoeuvring. In reality, engagements quickly became subsonic, as pilots would slow down in an effort to get behind their adversaries. Furthermore, the relatively new heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles at the time were frequently reported as unreliable and pilots had to fire multiple missiles (also known as ripple-firing), just to hit one enemy fighter. With the advent of a multi-purpose supersonic jet, a complete rethink was necessary on how to use the various weapon options and when to use them. The lack of a cannon was finally addressed by adding an internally mounted 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan on the F-4E.
The operational history within the various services
In USAF service, the F-4 was initially designated the F-110 Spectre prior to the introduction of the 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system. The USAF quickly embraced the design and became the largest Phantom user.
Unlike the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, which flew the Phantom with a Naval Aviator (pilot) in the front seat and a Naval Flight Officer as a radar intercept officer (RIO) in the back seat, the USAF initially flew its Phantoms with a rated Air Force Pilot in front and back seats. While the rear pilot (GIB, or "guy in back") could fly and ostensibly land the aircraft, he had fewer flight instruments and a very restricted forward view. The Air Force later assigned a rated Air Force Navigator qualified as a weapon/targeting systems officer (later designated as weapon systems officer or WSO) in the rear seat instead of another pilot, as the need for a specialist weapons operator evolved.
Although the F-4C was essentially identical to the Navy/Marine Corps F-4B in flight performance and carried the AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, USAF-tailored F-4Ds initially arrived in June 1967 equipped with AIM-4 Falcons. However, the Falcon, like its predecessors, was designed to shoot down heavy 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 warning receivers to detect the Soviet-built S-75 Dvina SAMs.
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 F-105 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 tactical ordnance delivery system.
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. Navy and Marine Corps losses of 233 Phantoms, 761 F-4/RF-4 Phantoms were lost in the Vietnam War.
On 31 January 1972, the 170th Tactical Fighter Squadron/183d Tactical Fighter Group of the Illinois Air National Guard became the first Air National Guard unit to transition to Phantoms from Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks which were found to have corrosion problems. Phantoms would eventually equip numerous tactical fighter and tactical reconnaissance units in the USAF active, National Guard, and reserve.
Republic F-84F Thunderstreak
On 30 December 1960, the VF-121 "Pacemakers" at NAS Miramar became the first Phantom operator with its F4H-1Fs (F-4As). The VF-74 "Be-devilers" at NAS Oceana became the first deployable Phantom squadron when it received its F4H-1s (F-4Bs) on 8 July 1961. The squadron completed carrier qualifications in October 1961 and Phantom's first full carrier deployment between August 1962 and March 1963 aboard Forrestal. The second deployable U.S. Atlantic Fleet squadron to receive F-4Bs was the VF-102 "Diamondbacks". The first deployable U.S. Pacific Fleet squadron to receive the F-4B was the VF-114 "Aardvarks".
During the Vietnam war, U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom squadrons participated in 84 combat tours with F-4Bs, F-4Js, and F-4Ns. The Navy claimed 40 air-to-air victories at a cost of 73 Phantoms lost in combat (seven to enemy aircraft, 13 to SAMs, and 53 to AAA).
In 1984, the F-4Ns had been retired, and by 1987 the last F-4Ss were retired in the U.S. Navy deployable squadrons. On 25 March 1986, an F-4S belonging to the VF-151"Vigilantes," became the last active duty U.S. Navy Phantom to launch from an aircraft carrier, in this case, Midway. On 18 October 1986, an F-4S from the VF-202 "Superheats", a Naval Reserve fighter squadron, made the last-ever Phantom carrier landing while operating aboard America. In 1987, the last of the Naval Reserve-operated F-4S aircraft were replaced by F-14As
The Marine Corps received its 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 squadron. Marine Phantoms from VMFA-531 "Gray Ghosts" were assigned to Da Nang airbase on South Vietnam's northeast coast on 10 May 1965 and were initially assigned to provide air defence for the USMC. They soon began close air support missions (CAS).
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. VMFP-3 disestablished in August 1990 after the Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System was introduced for the F/A-18D Hornet. The F-4 continued to equip fighter-attack squadrons in both Marine Corps active and reserve units throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and into the early 1990s. On 18 January 1992, the last Marine Corps Phantom, an F-4S in the Marine Corps Reserve, was retired by the "Cowboys" of VMFA-112, after which the squadron was re-equipped with F/A-18 Hornets.
Other Air Forces
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) leased 24 USAF F-4Es from 1970 to 1973 while waiting for their order for the General Dynamics F-111C to be delivered. They were so well-liked that the RAAF considered retaining the aircraft after the F-111Cs were delivered.
An unknown number of Phantom F4Es were delivered to the Egyptian Air Force. They were used in various roles, primarily as fighter and bomber aircraft. The lack of training proved to be evident, in various encounters they had with the Israeli Air Force and many were either shot down or destroyed as a result of enemy fire.
The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) initially ordered the reconnaissance RF-4E in 1969, receiving a total of 88 aircraft from January 1971. In 1982, the initially unarmed RF-4Es were given a secondary ground attack capability; these aircraft were retired in 1994.
In 1973, under the "Peace Rhine" program, the Luftwaffe purchased the F-4F (a lightened and simplified version of the F-4E) which was upgraded in the mid-1980s. 24 German F-4F Phantom IIs were operated by the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing of the USAF at Holloman AFB to train Luftwaffe crews until December 2004. In 1975, Germany also received 10 F-4Es for training in the U.S. In the late 1990s, these were withdrawn from service after being replaced by F-4Fs. Germany also initiated the Improved Combat Efficiency (ICE) program in 1983. The 110 ICE-upgraded F-4Fs entered service in 1992. All the remaining Luftwaffe Phantoms were based at Wittmund with Jagdgeschwader 71 (fighter wing 71) in Northern Germany and WTD61 at Manching. The German Air Force retired its last F-4Fs on 29 June 2013.
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, a contract was signed between DASA of Germany and Hellenic Aerospace Industry for the upgrade of 39 aircraft to the very similar "Peace Icarus 2000" standard. The Hellenic AF operated 34 upgraded F-4E-PI2000 (338 and 339 Squadrons) and 12 RF-4E aircraft (348 Squadron) as of September 2013.
On 5 May 2017, the Hellenic Air Force officially retired the RF-4E Phantom II during a public ceremony.
In the 1960s and 1970s when the U.S. and Iran were on friendly terms, the U.S. sold 225 F-4D, F-4E, and RF-4E Phantoms to Iran. The Imperial Iranian Air Force saw at least one engagement, resulting in a loss, after an RF-4C was rammed by a Soviet MiG-21 during Project Dark Gene, an ELINT operation during the Cold War.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force Phantoms saw heavy action in the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s. Notable operations of Iranian F-4s during the war included Operation Scorch Sword, an attack by two F-4s against the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor site near Baghdad on 30 September 1980, and the attack on H3, a 4 April 1981 strike by eight Iranian F-4s against the H-3 complex of air bases in the far west of Iraq, which resulted in many Iraqi aircraft being destroyed or damaged for no Iranian losses.
Iranian F-4s were in use as of late 2014; the aircraft reportedly conducted air strikes on ISIS targets in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala
The Israeli Air Force was amongst the largest foreign operators 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 "Kurnass" (Sledgehammer), and RF-4Es, nicknamed "Orev" (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 conflicts, first seeing action during the War of Attrition.
The last Israeli F-4s were retired in 2004
From 1968, the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) purchased a total of 140 F-4EJ Phantoms without aerial refuelling, AGM-12 Bullpup missile system, nuclear control system or ground attack capabilities. Mitsubishi built 138 under license in Japan and 14 unarmed reconnaissance RF-4Es were imported.
One of the aircraft (17-8440) was the very last of the 5,195 F-4 Phantoms to be produced. It was manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on 21 May 1981. "The Final Phantom" served with Squadron and later transferred to the 301st Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Of these, 96 F-4EJs were modified to the F-4EJ Kai (modified) standard. 15 F-4EJs were converted to reconnaissance aircraft designated RF-4EJ, with similar upgrades as the F-4EJ Kai. Japan had a fleet of 90 F-4s in service in 2007. After studying several replacement fighters the F-35 Lightning II was chosen in 2011. Delays with the F-35 program meant that some F-4s remained in service. The remaining two squadrons, the 301st Tactical Fighter Squadron and 501st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (both based at Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki prefecture north of Tokyo), are schedule to retire their F-4EJ Kais and RF-4EJs in 2020.
The Republic of Korea Air Force purchased its first batch of second-hand USAF F-4D Phantoms in 1968 under the "Peace Spectator" program. The F-4Ds continued to be delivered until 1988. The "Peace Pheasant II" program also provided new-built and former USAF F-4Es.
The Spanish Air Force acquired its 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 air arm 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 (TAF) received 40 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, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) implemented an upgrade similar to Kurnass 2000 on 54 Turkish F-4Es which were dubbed the F-4E 2020 Terminator.
Turkey was reported to have used F-4 jets to attack PKK separatists and the ISIS capital on 19 September 2015.
The United Kingdom bought versions based on the U.S. Navy's F-4J for use with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. The UK was the only country outside the United States to operate the Phantom at sea, launching them from HMS Ark Royal. The main differences were the use of the British Rolls-Royce Spey engines and of British-made avionics.
The RN and RAF versions were given the designation F-4K and F-4M respectively, and entered service with the British military aircraft designations Phantom FG.1 (fighter/ground attack) and Phantom FGR.2 (fighter/ground attack/reconnaissance). Initially, the FGR.2 was used in the ground attack and reconnaissance role, primarily with RAF Germany, while 43 Squadron was formed in the air defence role using the FG.1s that had been intended for the Fleet Air Arm for use aboard HMS Eagle. The superiority of the Phantom over the English Electric Lightning in terms of both range and weapon load, combined with the successful introduction of the SEPECAT Jaguar, meant that, during the mid-1970s, most of the ground attack Phantoms in Germany were redeployed to the UK to replace air defence Lightning squadrons. .
In 1982, during the Falklands War, three Phantom FGR2s of No. 29 Squadron were on active Quick Reaction Alert duty on Ascension Island to protect the base from air attack. 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 Falklands.
Around 15 RAF squadrons received various marks of Phantom, many of them based in Germany. The first to be equipped was No. 228 OCU at RAF Coningsby in August 1968. One noteworthy operator was No. 43 Squadron where Phantom FG1s remained the squadron equipment for 20 years, arriving in September 1969 and departing in July 1989. During this period the squadron was based at Leuchars.
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 No. 74 Squadron was disbanded.
The Phantom proved to be a great success in the various services of the UK and many a present and retired military pilot has fond memories of their days in them.
Length: 63 ft 0 in (19.2 m)
Wingspan: 38 ft 5 in (11.7 m)
Height: 16 ft 5 in (5 m)
Wing area: 530 sq ft (49.2 m2)
Aspect ratio: 2.77
Airfoil: NACA 0006.4–64 root, NACA 0003-64 tip
Empty weight: 30,328 lb (13,757 kg)
Gross weight: 41,500 lb (18,824 kg)
Max take-off weight: 61,795 lb (28,030 kg)
Maximum landing weight: 36,831 lb (16,706 kg)
Fuel capacity: 1,994 US gal (1,660 imp gal; 7,550 l) internal, 3,335 US gal (2,777 imp gal; 12,620 l) with 2x 370 US gal (310 imp gal; 1,400 l) external tanks on the outer wing hardpoints and either a 600 or 610 US gal (500 or 510 imp gal; 2,300 or 2,300 l) tank for the centre-line station.
Powerplant: 2 × General Electric J79-GE-17A after-burning turbojet engines, 11,905 lbf (52.96 ken) thrust each dry, 17,845 lbf (79.38 ken) with afterburner
Maximum speed: 1,280 kn; 1,473 mph (2,370 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,000 m)
Maximum speed: Mach 2.23
Cruise speed: 508 kn; 584 mph (940 km/h)
Combat range: 367 nmi; 423 mi (680 km)
Ferry range: 1,457 nmi; 1,677 mi (2,699 km)
Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,000 m)
Rate of climb: 41,300 ft/min (210 m/s)
Wing loading: 78 lb/sq ft (380 kg/m2)
Thrust/weight: 0.86 lbf/lb (0.0084 kN/kg) at loaded weight, 0.58 lbf/lb (0.0057 kN/kg) at MTOW
Take-off roll: 4,490 ft (1,370 m) at 53,814 lb (24,410 kg)
Landing roll: 3,680 ft (1,120 m) at 36,831 lb (16,706 kg)
E-model has a 20 mm (0.787 in) M61A1 Vulcan cannon mounted internally under the nose, 640 rounds
Up to 18,650 lb (8,480 kg) of weapons on nine external hardpoints, including general purpose bombs, cluster bombs, TV- and laser-guided bombs, rocket pods, air-to-ground missiles, anti-ship missiles, gun pods, and nuclear weapons. Reconnaissance, targeting, electronic countermeasures and baggage pods, and external fuel tanks may also be carried.
4× AIM-9 Sidewinders on wing pylons, Israeli F-4 Kurnass 2000 carried Python-3, Japanese F-4EJ Kai carry AAM-3
4× AIM-7 Sparrow in fuselage recesses, upgraded Hellenic F-4E and German F-4F ICE carry AIM-120 AMRAAM, UK Phantoms carried Skyflash missiles
6× AGM-65 Maverick
4× AGM-62 Walleye
4× AGM-45 Shrike, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-78 Standard ARM
18× Mk.82, GBU-12
5× Mk.84, GBU-10, GBU-14
18× CBU-87, CBU-89, CBU-58
Nuclear weapons, including the B28EX, B61, B43 and B57
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). 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 South Korea, while the last F-4 built was an F-4EJ built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan and delivered on 20 May 1981. the Phantoms were in use as a target drone (specifically QF-4Cs) operated by the U.S. military until 21 December 2016, when the Air Force officially ended use of the type.
F4 Phantom A pilot’s story by Robert Prest
Various sources obtained via Internet