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F-4 Phantom II
Information about F-4 Phantom IIThe 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 (57 years ago), the Phantom continued to form a major part of U.S. military air power throughout the 1970 (47 years ago) and 1980s, being gradually replaced by more modern aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle 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 roles in the 1991 (26 years ago) Gulf War, finally leaving service in 1996 (21 years ago). 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. Phantoms remain in front line service with seven countries, and in use as an unmanned target in the U.S. Air Force.
Phantom production ran from 1958 (59 years ago) to 1981 (36 years ago), with a total of 5,195 built, making it the second most-produced Western jet fighter behind the F-86 Sabre.
OverviewThe F-4 Phantom was designed as a fleet defense fighter for the U.S. Navy, and first entered service in 1960 (57 years ago). By 1963 (54 years ago), it had been adopted by the U.S. Air Force for the fighter-bomber role. When production ended in 1981 (36 years ago), 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 pulse-doppler radar and extensive use of titanium in its airframe.
Despite the imposing dimensions and a maximum takeoff weight of over 60,000 lb (27,000 kg), the F-4 had a top speed of Mach 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 (42 years ago) 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, including 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, the RIO or WSO (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 War.
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.
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 defenses) platform, seeing action as late as 1991 (26 years ago), 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 Blue Angels (F-4J) both switched to the Phantom for the 1969 (48 years ago) 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.
United States NavyOn 30 dec. 1960 (57 years ago), 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 Jul. 1961 (56 years ago). The squadron completed carrier qualifications in Oct. 1961 (56 years ago) and Phantom’s first full carrier deployment between Aug. 1962 (55 years ago) and Mar. 1963 (54 years ago) aboard USS Forrestal. The second deployable U.S. Atlantic Fleet squadron to receive F-4Bs was the VF-102 "Diamondbacks", who promptly took their new aircraft on the shakedown cruise of USS Enterprise. The first deployable U.S. Pacific Fleet squadron to receive the F-4B was the VF-114 "Aardvarks", which participated in the sep. 1962 (55 years ago) cruise aboard USS Kitty Hawk.
By the time of the Tonkin Gulf incident, 13 of 31 deployable Navy squadrons were armed with the type. F-4Bs from USS Constellation made the first Phantom combat sortie of the Vietnam War on 5 Aug. 1964 (53 years ago), flying bomber escort in Operation Pierce Arrow. The first Phantom air-to-air victory of the war took place on 9 Apr. 1965 (52 years ago) when an F-4B from VF-96 "Fighting Falcons" piloted by Lieutenant (junior grade) Terence M. Murphy and his RIO, Ensign Ronald Fegan, shot down a Chinese MiG-17 'Fresco'. 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 Jun. 1965 (52 years ago), an F-4B from VF-21 "Freelancers" 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 (45 years ago), Lieutenant Randy "Duke" Cunningham 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 of the 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 AAA). 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 Sidewinders.
By 1983 (34 years ago), the F-4Ns had been completely replaced by F-14 Tomcats, and by 1986 (31 years ago) the last F-4Ss were exchanged for F/A-18 Hornets. On 25 Mar. 1986 (31 years ago), an F-4S belonging to VF-151 Vigilantes became the last Navy Phantom to launch from an Aircraft Carrier (9 walls), in this case, the USS Midway. On 18 Oct. 1986 (31 years ago), an F-4S from the VF-202 "Superheats", a Naval Reserve fighter squadron, made the last-ever Phantom carrier landing while operating aboard USS America. In 1987 (30 years ago), 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 Centers. These were retired in 2004 (13 years ago).
United States Marine CorpsThe Marines received their first F-4Bs in Jun. 1962 (55 years ago), with the "Black Knights" of VMFA-314 at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California becoming the first operational squadron. In addition to attack variants, the Marines also operated several tactical reconnaissance RF-4Bs. Marine Phantoms from VMFA-531 arrived in Vietnam on 10 Apr. 1965 (52 years ago), 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 Jan. 1992 (25 years ago), 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 ForceIn USAF service the F-4 was initially designated the F-110 Spectre prior to the introduction of the 1962 (55 years ago) 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 Squadron, which arrived in dec. 1964 (53 years ago). Unlike the Navy, 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 Air Force initially flew its Phantoms with a rated pilot 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 officer 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 Jul. 1965 (52 years ago), 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 Jul. 1965 (52 years ago), another Phantom from the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron became the first American aircraft to be downed by an enemy SAM, and on 5 Oct. 1966 (51 years ago) 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 with aileron control cylinders, electrical connectors, and engine compartment fires. Reconnaissance RF-4Cs made their debut in Vietnam on 30 Oct. 1965 (52 years ago), 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 Jun. 1967 (50 years ago) equipped with AIM-4 Falcons. However, 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 (49 years ago), and by 1972 (45 years ago) 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 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 (52 years ago) and 1968 (49 years ago), the bombing role of the F-4 proportionately increased until after Nov. 1970 (47 years ago) (when the last F-105D was withdrawn from combat) it became the primary USAF ordnance delivery system. In Oct. 1972 (45 years ago) 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 (52 years ago) and 1973 (44 years ago), and 17 others deployed on temporary combat assignments. Peak numbers of combat F-4s occurred in 1972 (45 years ago), 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 Vietnam War.
On 28 Aug. 1972 (45 years ago), Capt Steve Ritchie became the first USAF ace of the war. On 9 sep. 1972 (45 years ago), WSO Capt Charles B. DeBellevue became the 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 Oct. 1972 (45 years ago). 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 Jan. 1972 (45 years ago), 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. The F-4's ANG service lasted until 31 Mar. 1990 (27 years ago), when it was replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
On 15 Aug. 1990 (27 years ago), 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 (SEAD) role since the EF-111 Raven lacked the 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 Mar. 1996 (21 years ago). The last operational flight of the F-4G Wild Weasel was from the 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard, in Apr. 1996 (21 years ago). 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 Targets Squadron, it being expected that the F-4 will remain in the target role with the 82d ATRS until 2013/14.
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