McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom

F-4 Phantom II
F-4E from 347th TFW dropping 500 lb kg) Mark 82 bombs
RoleInterceptor fighter, fighter-bomber
National originUnited States
ManufacturerMcDonnell Aircraft/
McDonnell Douglas
First flight27 May 1958
Introduction30 December 1960
Status631 active in non-US service. Also in US service as drones as of 2009
Primary usersUnited States Air Force
United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Produced1958–1981
Number built5,195
Unit costUS$2.4 million when new (F-4E)

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 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 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. 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 to 1981, with a total of 5,195 built. This extensive run makes it the second most-produced Western jet fighter, behind the F-86 Sabre at just under 10,000 examples.

Overview

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 pulse-doppler radar and extensive use of titanium in its airframe.

The Blue Angels flew F-4Js from 1969 to 1974.

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 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.

A formation of F-4 Phantom IIs fly during a heritage flight demonstration to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.

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, during Operation Desert Storm.

The F-4 Phantom II was also the only aircraft used by both US flight demonstration teams. The USAF Thunderbirds (F-4E) and the USN Blue Angels (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.