F-4B PHANTOM II

On Loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation

LENGTH: 58′ 4″ f4
WING SPAN: 38′ 5″
HEIGHT: 16′ 3″
EMPTY WEIGHT: 28,000 LBS
MAX WEIGHT: 44,600 LBS
ENGINES: GE J79
MAX SPEED: 1,485 MPH (845 MPH AT SEA LEVEL)
RANGE: 2,300
CEILING: 62,000
RATE OF CLIMB: 28,000
Text Markings: VF-101, AD, 8400, 110, F-4B, 148400

Description by Kyle Kirby:

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom is usually described as the greatest fighter of its era. I am going to take it a step further as perhaps the greatest fighter ever made!!! This of course can be argued but lets look at what this incredible aircraft accomplished and is STILL accomplishing in its incomparable career. Comparatively a young company by other aircraft manufacturer standards, McDonnell aircraft had produced the Navy’s first jet fighter to take off of a carrier in the FH-1 Phantom. This was followed by the F2H Banshee of Korean War fame that served for over a decade and was robust and durable. During this time they developed the XF-85 Goblin parasite fighter and XF-88 for the USAF. These led to the futuristic and underpowered F3H Demon interceptor for the US Navy and awesome F-101 family for the USAF. These aircraft would lay the foundation for the mighty F-4 that would follow.

Company rival Vought won the major Navy contract of the 1950s when their fabulous XF8U-1 Crusader was selected as the new naval fighter. James McDonnell’s response was to set up a design team under Herman Barkey to start design on a new aircraft while he traveled to Washington to question naval aviators and their wives about what they wanted in a new aircraft. One item continued to come to the front, twin engined safety!! The F-8 as it became known was a single engined machine. The Phantom’s original genesis started as an attack aircraft instead of a fighter. It truly owes much of its success to the F3H Demon as it was chosen as the platform to launch from and was actually designated F3H-G/H early on. This was later changed to the AH-1 in regard to its air to ground mission. It was to have two Wright J-65 Sapphire engines and was ironically armed with 4 20mm cannon plus hardpoints for ground pounding munitions. This forever changed on 25 July 1955, when the Navy specified a fleet defense interceptor. The design team had been watching the J-79 engine being developed for the USAFs new supersonic B-58 Hustler. Luckily the Navy adopted the mighty J-79 for the new interceptor instead of the J-65 of the stillborn AH-1. The new aircraft was known as the F4H-1. It went through a tremendous amount of research and change before its final unorthodox configuration was settled upon. McDonnell was set to go, but the Navy gave Vought a crack at the contract with an uprated version of the Crusader. It was known as the XF8U-3 and was one of the greatest aircraft that ever flew and didn’t receive a contract. It was FAST, with some pilots saying they thought they could crack Mach 3 except for the speed restriction placed on the single piece windscreen. It had the awesome P&W J-75 and had a great thrust to weight ratio. As a fighter it was hands down much better than the F4H-1, but the F4H-1 had some plusses of its own. Early on, the McDonnell team decided to use twin engines and a two man crew for the new fighter to be. The Vought entry had one of each. The F4H-1 retained hard points for external carriage of weapons and was judged to be a much more versatile airframe and the Navy decided in favor of the McDonnell entry. It is still controversial to this day. One oversight in these two designs was an all missile armament with no guns. It was felt that the dogfight was over by the experts in Washington. They would soon be proven wrong in the skies over Vietnam!!
The first flight was made at the company’s plant in St. Louis, Mo. at Lambert Field on 27 May 1958 with Robert Little at the controls. They had hoped to go supersonic like they did with the F-101 on its maiden flight, but a hydraulic problem forced Little to make the flight with the gear down. Things would soon get much better. After fixing the problem, pilots began to explore the envelope of the Phantom and found it to be very exceptional. As the navy began accepting the new fighter and discovered how incredible it performed, they set out on a world record breaking campaign that was and still is unprecedented. When the dust had settled the F-4 had broken 15 world records that included all time to climb marks as well as previous speed records. They didn’t just beat them…they shattered them!!! This feat had been accomplished with basically stock airframes with the exception of water injection for a couple of attempts. There was little question in anybody’s mind that as far as all out performance was concerned, the new bent and crooked Navy and Marine Corps SUPERJET was the hottest flying machine on the planet Earth……period!!!

When the mighty F-4 started becoming operational in squadron service with the maritime air arms, its capabilities were staggering. It was the first aircraft ever to be able to fly out, detect, and intercept and destroy an enemy aircraft without help from ground or other airborne radar assistance. It suddenly started replacing the F3H Demons on Navy carriers. Some of the early squadrons, like VF-74, started exploring and developing new tactics for the interceptor role. In the meantime, it couldn’t be ignored that the new F-4B was capable of carrying a huge amount of ordnance a long way. This was a necessary task for the Marines who were also bringing the new Mach 2 plus fighter on board in large numbers. Soon, the F-4 was being cleared to carry about every weapon in the inventory and was surrounded by an almost ‘rock star’ aura wherever it went. The fighter jocks in the F-8 side of the community looked on with interested eyes.
With all of the record breaking going on and new capabilities being explored by the new Phantom II as it was to be known, the US Air Force was paying close attention to the new nautical worldbeater. They had just fielded a new group of fighters that flew basically specialized missions and were very capable and advanced. Known as the Century Series because of their 100 series designations, they were the first production aircraft to benefit from the X-planes at Edwards AFB (Muroc) and their incredible advances in aerospace technology. They were exceptional performers and covered all possible missions that a tactical fighter might be asked to perform, from CAS to nuclear strike and air superiority. The F-4 couldn’t be ignored by the USAF and they decided to evaluate it against their new fighters. The Phantom was faster, had a better radar and carried more missiles than their best interceptor (F-106), could carry more bombs further than the best fighter-bomber (F-105), and outperformed all of the others in almost every category. By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, the USAF had two F-4C wings at their disposal. This was the first and only time EVER that a US Navy fighter was bought by the Air Force to serve as a frontline aircraft!!! The Air Force had swallowed it’s pride, but it only justifies what a tremendous aircraft McDonnell had created.

Not long after the Cuban Crisis (in which our F-4B participated) and to some degree before, things were heating up in Southeast Asia in a tiny nation called Vietnam. This would lead to a decade long confrontation which tested our mighty nation both militarily and domestically. It would last through three administrations and prove the most controversial conflict in US history. It was similar to Korea in that it pitted us against the Soviet Union and China in a small theatre conflict where we fought indirectly against each other in a battle of Cold War wills. This was to be a controversial war for the F-4 and its crews as well. This pretty much included all service men and women. There were strict and absurd Rules of Engagement put into place that basically hand-cuffed all of our aircrews, especially over North Vietnam. To keep it from being a book I will highlight some of the F-4s action here. The F-4 rose from land and sea to protect freedom in this conflict with all three fast-mover services (a first and only again). Although it had many successes, there were some difficulties that came to light. The North Vietnamese enjoyed every advantage an air force could want. They employed hit-and-run tactics with their MiG-17/19/21 fighters and usually concentrated on heavily laden bomb toting Phantoms and F-105s. This resulted in a very lackluster kill-to-loss-ratio early on in the war. Also, pilot training had been woefully inadequate prior to hostilities and our pilots suffered accordingly. Every advantage that the F-4 brought to the table had been negated by the ridiculous Rules of Engagement mandated by politicians. Instead of ramming AIM-7 Sparrows down the MiGs throats from long range, the F-4s and all other types had to visually identify their targets before they could shoot at them!!! This for a fighter that didn’t even have a gun! I have a tremendous amount of respect for these brave flyers in Vietnam as they were so handicapped by OUR government in their methods of operation and a lot of lives were lost because of this lunacy!!! Also there was a very poor showing in missile performance early on. We’re talking below 20% success here. Many kills were lost when missiles just fell off the aircraft or never tracked their target at all!!
While the air-to-air campaign was going poorly, Phantoms were also hauling bombs up north and down south as well. The USMC basically employed their F-4Bs and later Js in the CAS (Close Air Support) supporting the Marines in the field. Marine phantoms carried everything in the arsenal including napalm, rockets, slick and retarded bombs, as well as pod mounted cannon. Although not the best CAS platform (no fast jet ever is),I have spoken to many ground guys that said the F-4 saved their life more than once!! The USAF was using the F-4 in the ground pounding role all along as was the Navy. A new version, the F-4D, was adopted by the USAF. Their F-4C had basically been a Navy B model with minimal change to fit Air Force requirements. The D brought new capabilities to the table. F-4s of the 8th TFW pioneered the use of Precision Guided Munitions (Laser Guided Bombs) during Vietnam and revolutionized air combat forever. Virtually every technology utilized in Desert Storm came from our hard working crews in Vietnam!!! While all this was taking place, reconnaissance versions of the Phantom (USMC RF-4B, USAF RF-4C) were taking pictures of events for intelligence purposes.

In 1968, a bomb halt was ordered by the Johnson administration and only armed reconnaissance flights were flown up north. There was a hiatus and several significant events took place. The Ault report pinpointed serious flaws in the Navy and missile and training issues were addressed. Top Gun was established at Miramar NAS to develop better tactics for Navy aircrews. The Air Force also got in on the act and upped its training and actually procured a gun-toting F-4E for air combat duties. After a long lull in the fighting, the bomb halt was actually lifted in 1972, and the new Nixon administration began to take the gloves off and show the North Vietnamese and their Communist allies what the US was made of. Rules of Engagement were softened and the USAF got Combat Tree F-4Ds that were capable of positively identifying targets at stand off AIM-7 range. The newly trained Navy aircrews kill-to-loss ratio went up to 12-to-1 and North Vietnamese pilots were warned not to tangle with white Phantoms (the color of Navy F-4s) at all. The USAF achieved much better results as well and the last American aces came from the Vietnam War. There were a total of five, two form the Navy and three from the Air Force. There were several major campaigns after the bomb halt, culminating in the Linebacker campaigns, which resulted in the total devastation of North Vietnamese targets, including the mining of Haiphong Harbor. The Phantom played the major role in Vietnam as far as a fighter type aircraft was concerned. There obviously were other significant types, but the sheer number of F-4s in all three services guaranteed its use on a major scale and due to this many, many, were lost. The Phantom and its gallant crews had given as much as any fraternity of aircrew in this costly war. I should note that the Soviet Union and China were given an idea of our tremendous capabilities during the Linebacker campaigns. Although usually considered a loss, the war actually provided our Cold War enemies an insight into what we could do if they crossed the Iron Curtain in Europe. New technologies were incorporated and new weapons, such as the F-111, A-6 and SMART F-4s that would play significantly into the next couple of decades as well as tactics and training that would make our air arms the best in the world. In retrospect, it took North Vietnam until 1975 to take Saigon!!! Hard to call that a loss in my book. Our Vietnam vets (all of them) should be held in the highest regard for facing stiff opposition here at home as well as from a determined enemy. They actually made America more secure by waking our military services up to the realities of this type of conflict and providing the necessary training which would bring America back to the top on the World stage!!! The F-4 would play a very significant part as we will see.

After Vietnam, the military began procuring new types of aircraft that were superior to the Phantom in most respects. But, the F-4 was STILL the most numerous fighter in our inventory. Along with Top Gun, the USAF set up the 57th Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB in Nevada. As with the Navy, it was basically set up for the F-4 and pilots actually got college credits for the school if they were going for a PhD, etc. This involved very strict live scenarios for both air-to-air and air-to-ground courses. The F-4 was being packed with more and more equipment to add more capabilities to the airframes. USAFE was basically all F-4 until the mid eighties when enough F-15s and F-16s came on line to replace them. Another type of F-4 was fielded for the Wild Weasel mission which knocked out enemy SAM and radar sites. One of the most hazardous missions in the world was yet again entrusted to the venerable and irreplaceable F-4. It was known as the F-4G and was actually the second Weasel F-4 as a few F-4C Wild Weasels had been deployed to Vietnam to help the mighty F-105F/G Wild Weasels that were being worked extremely hard as all Thud units were!! The M-61 carrying F-4Es also got maneuvering leading edge slats to improve their turning ability. This was also true in the Navy and Marines. Old F-4Bs were upgraded to F-4N status and F-4Js were also upgraded and given slats like its E model USAF cousin. As F-14s began pouring from Grumman’s facility, the Phantom began disappearing from US carriers, except for the smaller classes that retained the Phantom until the F/A-18 came on line. F-4s actually flew cover for the botched rescue attempt of the Iranian hostages.
As well as domestic service, the Phantom was also chosen by several of the world’s elite air arms. This included the UK’s RAF and RN where it actually flew off of the HMS Ark Royal!!! Another first and only. As well, the mighty Luftwaffe chose the F-4F as their fighter of the future with RF-4Es to replace older types. They still fly there with significant updates including the F/A-18s radar and AMRAAM missile capability. More significantly the Israeli Air Force also bought the F-4E and RF-4E to help defend them in this troubled region. One of their first acts was to fly a supersonic two-ship over Cairo to show Egypt their new capabilities. The F-4s service there is legendary and Israel made many significant changes to the Phantom that were implemented into the US fleet!! Recently retired, the F-4 is held in the highest regard by all Israelis and several F-4 aces were made there. Japan, who also modified their F-4EJs, built the F-4 under license at their Mitsubishi plant and they were the only foreign built Phantoms, where they still serve. South Korea, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Australia, and Iran also flew this very sophisticated aircraft. The history of Iran’s F-4 is shrouded in secrecy, but it is known that the F-4 has also produced several aces there and was used very interestingly in conjunction with their F-14s to field a very formidable force indeed. Turkey has the largest number of Phantoms today and actually produced the very capable Terminator version with many upgrades.
Into its later days with the US, the mighty F-4 continued its excellent service and remained a large component of the Guard and Reserves into the early nineties! The final combat swansong in the US was Desert Storm operations where RF-4Cs, F-4G Wild Weasels, and a few GBU-15 capable F-4Es, lived up to the mighty F-4s legend by performing tremendously. Amid major controversy, the Weasel F-4G finally bowed out of service in 1996 as the last US operational Phantom just behind RF-4C units. It still soldiers on in many of the air arms listed above and some are still very capable even by todays standard. The USAF still uses the F-4 in its QF version to this day. It is just impossible to put this aircraft completely to pasture. The QF-4 is an unmanned drone that is expended during live fire missile test by various user services. Its performance is still great enough to provide a realistic target for new weapons including the F/A-22 Raptor!!! It is still contributing to our national defense.
Our F-4B BuNo 148400 is an early production aircraft whose history is included below. It represents the entire legendary ‘phamily’ of this incomparable aircraft here at Hickory. There will probably never be an aircraft that equals all of the accomplishments of the F-4. Not only did it form the backbone of American airpower for over two decades, almost all of our current fighter tactics were written from its cockpits. I’m afraid to guess at how many versions were created (there were subversions as well) but it was so adaptable and capable to fulfill almost all requirements. It has shot down over 300 enemy aircraft and was the ONLY aircraft ever to be used by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds simultaneously!! There were almost 5200 examples built and they pioneered so many new technologies. Also, the F-4 might have been its own worst enemy in respect to new models. It was so good and being pumped out at such large levels that major upgrades were never attained. There was actually a swing-wing version planned!!! Also, it took an entire armada of new aircraft to replace it (F-14, F-15, F-16, F/A-18 , F-111, A-10, etc, etc.) But probably the most incredible statistic of all, is that the USAF, Air National Guard, and USAF Reserve alone attained over 10,000,000 flight hours in the F-4 before it was retired!!!! If you include USN, USMC, and foreign users it is probably in the 17-20,000,000 hr range. All of this stands testament to how incredible an aircraft the F-4 turned out to be. The mighty Teen-series of fighters stand squarely on its shoulders!! It was the world’s first true SUPERFIGHTER and set the precedent for all following designs. We are very proud to have this fantastic aircraft in our collection and it stands silent vigil for those who flew, maintained , and built her as well as those on the ground toting rifles whose mission was afterall the very reason for aircraft in the first place!!!

Military Service:

148400 – F4H-1 – C/N 600134

02 Aug 1961 – BWR FR – St. Louis, MO

13 Oct 1961 – (VF-101?) Det 2 – NAS Oceana, VA

04 Dec 1961 – VF-102 – NAS Oceana, VA

28 Feb 1962 – VF-102 – USS Enterprise ( Mediterranean & Caribbean)

30 Nov 1962 – Redesignate as F-4B

23 Jan 1963 – (VF-101?) Det A – NAS Oceana, VA

13 Feb 1963 – VF-101 – NAS Key West, FL

10 Jul 1963 – O&R BUWEPS FR – MCAS Cherry Point, NC

16 Jul 1963 – BWR FR – St. Louis, MO

15 Oct 1964 – VF-101 – NAS Key West, FL

29 Jun 1970 – VF-101 – NAS Oceana, VA

01 Jul 1971 – Stricken – 2S

1896 – Total Hours