F-4 Phantom II

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Air & Sea transport; Military History and War

F-4 Phantom II
USAF F-4E from 347th Tactical Fighter Wing dropping 500-pound Mark 82 bombs.
Type Fighter-bomber
Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas
(née McDonnell Aircraft)
Designed by David S. Lewis, Jr.
Maiden flight 1958- 05-27
Introduced 1960- 12-30
Retired 1996 (USAF)
Status 1,100 active as drones and in foreign service as of 2001
Primary users United States Air Force
Marine Corps
Produced 1958-1981
Number built 5,195
Unit cost US$2.4 million when new (F-4E)

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a two-seat supersonic long-range all-weather fighter-bomber developed for the U.S. Navy by McDonnell Douglas. The Phantom flew in U.S. service from 1960 to 1996; it also served with the armed forces of eleven other nations. As of 2001, more than 1,000 F-4s remained in service around the world.


Entering service in 1960, the F-4 was designed as the first modern fleet defense fighter for the U.S. Navy. 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 with a run of 24 years. Innovations in the F-4 included an advanced pulse-doppler radar and extensive use of titanium in the airframe.

Despite the imposing dimensions and a maximum takeoff weight of over 60,000 pounds (27,000 kg), the F-4 was capable of reaching a top speed of Mach 2.23 and had an initial climb rate of over 41,000 feet per minute (210 m/s). Shortly after its introduction, the Phantom set 16 world records, including an absolute speed record of 1,606.342 miles per hour (2,585.086 km/h), and an absolute altitude record of 98,557 feet (30,040 m). Although set in 1959-1962, five of the speed records were not broken until 1975.

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. Created when air-to-air missiles were expected to eliminate the need for close air combat, the Phantom received an internal cannon only in the definitive F-4E variant.

Due to its widespread service with United States military and its allies and distinctive appearance, the F-4 is one of the best-known icons of the Cold War. It served with distinction in Vietnam War and Arab-Israeli conflicts, with F-4 crews achieving 393 aerial victories and completing countless ground attack sorties. It was also a capable tactical reconnaissance and Wild Weasel ( suppression of enemy air defenses) platform, seeing action as late as the Gulf War.

The F-4 Phantom II was also the only aircraft used by both of the USA's flight demonstration teams. The U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds (F-4E) and the U.S.N. 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 origins of McDonnell's F-4 can be traced to a 1953 request by the Navy for an upgrade of McDonnell F3H Demon carrier-borne fighter. Although the Vought F8U Crusader won the contract, the Super Demon (as McDonnell's entrant was dubbed) was developed as a ground attack aircraft under the designation AH, which by 1955 had evolved into an all-weather air superiority fighter designated F4H. The F4H first flew in 1958 and remained in production from 1959 until 1981. Dave Lewis was the chief of preliminary design, and ultimately, the Program Manager for the development and sales effort.

Super Demon

In 1953, McDonnell Aircraft began work on modernizing its F3H Demon naval fighter. Seeking expanded capabilities and better performance, the company developed several projects including the F3H-E with a Wright J67 engine, the F3H-G with two Wright J65 engines, and the F3H-H with two General Electric J79 engines. The J79-powered version promised a top speed of Mach 1.97. On 19 September 1953, McDonnell approached the United States Navy 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 millimeter cannon, or 56 FFAR unguided rockets in addition to the 9 hardpoints under the wings and the fuselage. The Navy was sufficiently interested to order a full-scale mockup of the F3H-G/H but felt that the upcoming Grumman XF9F-9 and Vought XF8U-1 already satisfied the need for the supersonic fighter. 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. The addition of powerful radar capabilities necessitated a second crewman. In a fateful decision, the aircraft was to be armed only with missiles.

Phantom origins

In 1952, McDonnell's Chief of Aerodynamics, Dave Lewis was appointed by CEO J.S. McDonnell to be the company's Preliminary Design Manager. The first of its kind in the aerospace industry, the group had no specific target other than to learn and understand all of the rapid technical advances being made in aeronautics, airframes, and engines.

With no new aircraft competitions on the horizon, internal studies concluded that the Navy had the greatest need for a new and different aircraft type, an Attack Fighter. At the time, the Navy had separate Fighter and Attack branches, each with separate systems and operational requirements. After many iterations and various "enemy capability" assumptions, an "unwanted" Attack Fighter was presented to the Navy. The McDonnell design called for two engines. The primary air-to-air armament was provided by the new Sparrow III missiles semi-submerged in the fuselage. The air-to-ground armament was to be as many bombs as could be carried on stations that would be mounted under the wings and aft of the Sparrow stations on the fuselage. No guns were offered. It took two long years of hard work with the Bureau of Aeronautics and the Naval Air Warfare Division in the Pentagon, but the F-4 was sold with a similar configuration as was originally proposed.

XF4H-1 prototype

The XF4H-1 was designed to carry four semi-recessed AAM-N-6 Sparrow III radar-guided missiles and 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 intakes. The thin-section wing had a leading edge sweep of 45 degrees and was equipped with a boundary layer control system for better low-speed handling. Wind tunnel testing revealed lateral instability requiring the addition of 5 degrees 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 degrees which averaged to the required 5 degrees over the entire wingspan. The wings also received the distinctive "dogtooth" for improved control at high angles of attack. The all-moving tailplane was given 23 degrees of anhedral to improve control at high angles of attack and clear 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 AN/APQ-50 radar. To accommodate carrier operations, landing gear was designed for landings with a sink rate of 23 feet per second (7 m/s). The nose strut could extend by some 20 inches (50 cm) to increase angle of attack at takeoff.

Naming the aircraft

The F4H was initially going to be named " Satan" or " Mithras". Under pressure from the government, the aircraft was given the less controversial name "Phantom II", the first "Phantom" being another McDonnell jet fighter, the FH-1. Since the FH-1 was long out of service, the new aircraft was usually referred to simply as the "Phantom".

Flight testing

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 landing gear but subsequent flights went more smoothly. Early testing resulted in redesign of the air intakes, including the addition of distinctive 12,500 bleed air holes on each ramp, and the aircraft soon squared off against the Vought XF8U-3 Crusader III. The Navy wanted a two-seat aircraft and on 17 December 1958 the F4H was declared a winner. Due to delays with the J79-GE-8 engines, the first production aircraft had the J79-GE-2 and -2A engines with 16,100 pound-force (71.8 kN) of afterburner thrust. In 1959, the Phantom began carrier trials with the first complete launch-recovery cycle performed on 15 February 1960 from USS Independence (CV-62).

Into production

Early in production, the radar was upgraded to a larger AN/APQ-72, necessitating the bulbous nose, and the canopy was reworked to make the rear cockpit less claustrophobic. The changes did little to improve the Phantom's appearance. Overall, the Phantom underwent a great many changes during its career, summarized in the "Variants" section below.

The United States Air Force received Phantoms as the result of 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 F-106 Delta Dart, the USAF borrowed two Naval F-4Bs, temporarily designating them F-110A Spectre, and developed requirements for their own version. Unlike the Navy focus on air superiority, the USAF emphasized a fighter-bomber role. With unification of designations in 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.

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; the F-86 Sabre still remains the most numerous jet-powered warplane produced and exported by the United States. Of these, 2,874 went to the USAF, 1,264 to the Navy and Marine Corps, and the rest to foreign customers. The last US-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 in Japan. As of 2001, about 1,100 Phantoms remained in service worldwide, including QF-4 drones operated by the US military.

World record breaker

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 feet (30,040 m). The previous record of 94,658 feet (28,852 m) was set by a Soviet Sukhoi T-43-1 prototype. Commander Lawrence E. Flint Jr. accelerated his aircraft to Mach 2.5 at 47,000 feet (14,330 m) and climbed to 90,000 feet (27,430 m) at a 45 degree angle. He then shut down the engines and glided to the peak altitude. As the aircraft fell through 70,000 feet (21,300 m), Flint restarted the engines and resumed normal flight.
  • On 5 September 1960, an F4H-1 averaged 1,216.78 miles per hour (1,958.16 km/h) over a 500 kilometer (311 mi) closed-circuit course.
  • On 25 September 1960, an F4H-1 averaged 1,390.21 miles per hour (2,237.26 km/h) over a 100 kilometer (62 mi) closed-circuit course.
  • 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 in spite of several tanker refuelings. The fastest of the aircraft averaged 869.74 miles per hour (1,400.28 km/h) and completed the trip in 2 hours 47 minutes, earning the pilot Lt. Richard Gordon and navigator Lt. Bobbie Long the 1961 Bendix trophy.
  • Operation Sageburner: On 28 August 1961, a Phantom averaged 902.769 miles per hour (1,452.826 km/h) over a 3-mile (1.86 km) course flying below 125 feet (40 m) at all times. Navy Commander J.L. Felsman 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-methanol injection set an absolute world record speed of 1,606.342 miles per hour (2,585.086 km/h).
  • On 5 December 1961, another Phantom set a sustained altitude record of 66,443.8 feet (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 meters (9,840 ft), 48.787 seconds to 6,000 meters (19,680 ft), 61.629 seconds to 9,000 meters (29,530 ft), 77.156 seconds to 12,000 meters (39,370 ft), 114.548 seconds to 15,000 meters (49,210 ft), 178.5 seconds to 20,000 meters (65,600 ft), 230.44 seconds to 25,000 meters (82,000 ft), and 371.43 seconds to 30,000 meters (98,400 ft). Although not officially recognized, the Phantom zoom-climbed to over 100,000 feet (30,480 m) during the last attempt.

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.

Operational history

United States Navy

US Marine F-4S
US Marine F-4S

On 30 December 1960, the VF-121 Pacemakers 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 USS Forrestal (CVA-59). 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 the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65). The first deployable U.S. Pacific Fleet squadron to receive the F-4B was the VF-114 Aardvarks which participated in the September 1962 cruise aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63).

By the time of the Tonkin Gulf incident, 13 of 31 deployable Navy squadrons were armed with the type. F-4Bs from USS Constellation (CV-64) made the first Phantom combat sortie of the Vietnam War on 5 August 1964, flying bomber escort in Operation Pierce Arrow. The first Phantom air-to-air victory of the war took place on 9 April 1965 when an F-4B from VF-96 Fighting Falcons piloted by Lt JG Terence M. Murphy shot down a Chinese Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17. The Phantom was then shot down, apparently by an AIM-7 Sparrow from one of its wingmen. On 17 June 1965, an F-4B from VF-21 Freelancers piloted by Cdr Thomas C. Page and Lt John C. Smith shot down the first North Vietnamese MiG of the war.

On 10 May 1972, Randy "Duke" Cunningham and William P. Driscoll flying an F-4J called "Showtime 100" shot down three MiGs to become the first flying aces of the war. Their fifth victory is believed to be over the mysterious North Vietnamese ace Colonel Toon. On the return flight, the Phantom was damaged by an enemy surface-to-air missile. To avoid being captured, Cunningham and Driscoll flew upside-down (the damage made the aircraft uncontrollable in a conventional attitude) and on fire until they could eject over water. During the war, Navy Phantom squadrons participated in 84 combat tours with F-4Bs, F-4Gs, and F-4Js. The Navy claimed 41 air-to-air victories at the cost of 71 aircraft lost to enemy fire (5 to aircraft, 13 to SAMs, and 53 to AAA). An additional 54 aircraft were lost in accidents.

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 ( USS Midway (CV-41)). On 18 October 1986, an F-4S from VF-202 Superheats made the last-ever Phantom carrier landing aboard USS America (CV-66). In 1987, the last of the Naval Reserve-operated F-4Ss were replaced by F-14s. The only Phantoms still in service with the Navy are the QF-4 target drones operated by the Naval Air Warfare Centers.

United States Marine Corps

The Marines received their first F-4Bs in June 1962, with the VMFA-314 Black Knights becoming the first operational squadron. In addition to attack variants, the Marines also operated several tactical reconnaissance RF-4Bs. Marine Phantoms from VMFA-531 Gray Ghosts arrived in Vietnam on 10 April 1965, flying close air support missions from land bases as well as from USS America (CVA-66). The Marines claimed 3 enemy MiGs at the cost of 75 aircraft lost in combat, mostly to ground fire, and 4 in accidents. On 18 January 1992, the last Marine Phantom, an F-4S, was retired by VMFA-112 Cowboys. The squadron was re-equipped with F/A-18 Hornets.

United States Air Force

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 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron Triple Nickel which arrived in December 1964. Unlike the Navy, the Air Force initially flew its Phantoms with a pilot rather than a radar intercept officer (RIO), later called weapon systems officer (WSO), in the back seat and all aircraft retained dual flight controls. USAF F-4Cs scored their first victory against a Vietnamese MiG-17 on 10 July 1965 using AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. On 24 July 1965, an Air Force F-4C from the 47th Tactical Fighter Squadron became the first American plane to be downed by an enemy SAM, and 54 F-4Cs were lost in combat by 1966. 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 October 1965, flying the hazardous post-strike reconnaissance missions. Although the F-4C, being essentially identical to the Navy F-4B, carried the Navy-designed Sidewinder missiles, the USAF-tailored F-4Ds initially arrived with AIM-4 Falcons. However, the Falcon was designed to shoot down slow bombers and proved virtually useless in combat against agile fighters, and F-4Ds quickly reverted to using Sidewinders under the Rivet Haste program. 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. The attrition resulted in a shortage of F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers and USAF pressed the Phantoms into the hazardous ground attack role. As the result, by 1972 the F-4 was second only to the F-105 in combat losses with 362 downed aircraft. On 28 August 1972, Steve Ritchie became the first USAF ace of the war. On 9 September 1972, WSO Charles B. DeBellevue became the highest-scoring American ace of the war with six victories. WSO Jeffrey Feinstein became the last USAF ace of the war on 13 October 1972.

"Wild Weasel" F-4G with an AGM-88 HARM missile under the wing
"Wild Weasel" F-4G with an AGM-88 HARM missile under the wing

On 31 January 1972, the 170th Tactical Fighter Squadron/183d Tactical Fighter Group of Illinois Air National Guard became the first Air National Guard unit to transition to Phantoms. The ANG service lasted until 31 March 1990, when the Phantom was replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Then, on 15 August 1990, 24 F-4G Wild Weasel Vs and 6 RF-4Cs were mobilized to the Middle East 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 AGM-88 HARM missiles. 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. In addition, the Collings Foundation operates a restored F-4D warbird which performs at airshows.

Flying the Phantom

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 range, lacked the agility of its Soviet opponents. Although the F-4 could enter spins during high-G and high-angle-of-attack maneuvers, 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 improving high-angle-of-attack 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. Pilots could eliminate the contrails by using afterburner, but at the cost of fuel efficiency.

The F-4's biggest weakness was its lack of a cannon. Because contemporary doctrine held that turning combat would be impossible at supersonic speeds, no effort was made to teach pilots air combat maneuvering. In reality, engagements quickly became subsonic; moreover, early missiles were inaccurate and unreliable. To compound the problem, rules of engagement in Vietnam precluded long-range missile attacks. Many pilots found themselves on the tail of an enemy aircraft but too close to fire short-range Falcons or Sidewinders. It did not take long for USAF F-4Cs to begin carrying SUU-16 or SUU-23 external gunpods containing a 20-millimeter M61 Vulcan Gatling cannon. Some Marine aircraft carried two pods for strafing. Combat showed the externally mounted cannon to be inaccurate, yet far more cost-effective than missiles. The lack of cannon was definitively addressed with the F-4E.


The costs are in 1965 United States dollars and have not been adjusted for inflation.

F-4C RF-4C F-4D F-4E
Unit R&D cost 61,200 by 1973 22,700 by 1973
Airframe 1,388,725 1,679,000 1,018,682 1,662,000
Engines 317,647 276,000 260,563 393,000
Electronics 52,287 293,000 262,101 299,000
Armament 139,706 73,000 133,430 111,000
Ordnance 6,817 8,000
Flyaway cost 1.9 million 2.3 million 1.7 million 2.4 million
Modification costs 116,289 by 1973 55,217 by 1973 233,458 by 1973 7,995 by 1973
Cost per flying hour 924 867 896 896
Maintenance cost per flying hour 545 545 545 545

Phantom in non-US service

Phantoms in foreign service
Received In service as of 2001
Australia 24 F-4E None
Egypt 46 F-4E 30 F-4E
Germany 88 RF-4E
175 F-4F
145 F-4F
(110 upgraded to ICE)
Greece 121 F-4E and RF-4E 62 F-4E and RF-4E
(39 upgraded to Peace Icarus 2000)
Iran 32 F-4D
177 F-4E
16 RF-4E
Estimated 40 F-4D and F-4E
Israel 274 F-4E
12 RF-4E
40 F-4E
53 Kurnass 2000
Japan 140 F-4EJ
14 RF-4EJ
109 F-4EJ
South Korea 27 RF-4C
92 F-4D
103 F-4E
60 F-4D
70 F-4E
18 RF-4E
Spain 40 F-4C
18 RF-4C
14 RF-4C
Turkey 233 F-4E and RF-4E 163 F-4E
(54 upgraded to Terminator 2020)
44 RF-4E
United Kingdom 15 F-4J(UK)
50 F-4K
116 F-4M

The Phantom served with the air forces of many countries, including Great Britain, Australia, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel, Japan, Spain, South Korea and Turkey.


In 1963, McDonnell offered the Royal Australian Air Force an F-4C re-engined with SNECMA Atar 9 turbojets used in the RAAF's Dassault Mirage IIIO fighters. Although the RAAF opted for the General Dynamics F-111C instead, production delays forced them to lease 24 USAF F-4Es from 1970 to 1973. The Phantoms were so well-liked that the RAAF actually considered adopting the F-4E. However, acquisition of the Phantom would have required disbanding at least one Dassault Mirage III squadron in order to provide the necessary aircrew ( No. 82 Wing's aircrew were to be converted to the F-111). One F-4E was lost in an accident during Australian service off Evans Head, New South Wales.


Although the Egyptian Air Force was initially interested in the F-5 Tiger, in 1979 they purchased 35 former USAF F-4Es along with a number of Sparrow, Sidewinder, and Maverick missiles for US$594 million as part of the Peace Pharaoh program. The Egyptians were used to the simpler Soviet MiG fighters and found the Phantom to be a maintenance nightmare, with only 9 aircraft remaining in flying condition during the early 1980s. A rigorous training program solved most of the difficulties by 1985. An additional 8 surplus USAF aircraft were purchased in 1988, along with three replacements for crashed aircraft.


The German Luftwaffe initially ordered the reconnaissance RF-4E in 1969. One of these aircraft was fitted with ELINT equipment and flew under the Peace Trout program. In 1982, the initially unarmed RF-4Es were given a secondary ground attack capability through modifications by Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm. The Luftwaffe RF-4Es were retired in 1994.

To fill the gap between the F-104 Starfighter and the Panavia Tornado, in 1973 the Luftwaffe purchased the lightened and simplified F-4F with a smaller radar and no aerial refueling or AIM-7 Sparrow capabilities under the Peace Rhine program. In 1983, Germany initiated the ICE (Improved Combat Efficiency, German name KWS - Kampfwertsteigerung) program which outfitted the F-4Fs with the same AN/APG-65 radar as in the F/A-18 Hornet, and added the ability to fire AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, digital avionics, and smokeless engines. The ICE-upgraded F-4Fs began entering service in 1992. It is worth noting that 24 F-4Fs were operated by the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing of the USAF at Holloman AFB to train Luftwaffe crews. The ICE F-4Fs are expected to remain in service until full implementation of the Eurofighter Typhoon.


In 1971, the Hellenic Air Force purchased F-4E and RF-4E Phantoms, which were supplemented by surplus RF-4Es and F-4Es from Luftwaffe and US ANG in the early 1990s. Several of the aircraft were modified to the F-4G Wild Weasel V standard and fitted with AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles. Following the success of the German ICE program, on 11 August 1997, DASA of Germany received a contract to upgrade 39 aircraft to the very similar Peace Icarus 2000 standard. The upgrade included an AN/APG-65GY radar, Honeywell H-764G navigation system which is a combination of laser inertial navigation system (LINS), Global Positioning System (GPS), and Elbit Systems Modular Multi-Role Computer (MMRC), the LITENING targeting pod, and the ability to launch the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and the AGM-130 stand-off weapon.


In the 1960s and 1970s, then US-friendly Iran purchased 225 F-4D, F-4E and RF-4E Phantoms. Like the F-14 Tomcat, many of the Iranian F-4s have since fallen to attrition and lack of spare parts. The surviving aircraft are believed to have benefited from clandestine shipments of spares from Israel and the United States (during the Iran-Contra Affair), as well as from locally-designed and reverse-engineered components and weapons, and incorporation of ex-Soviet and Chinese technology. Iranian F-4s are operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force and are kept operational by overhaul and servicing from Iran's aerospace industry.

Kurnass 2000
Kurnass 2000

The Israeli Air Force has been the largest foreign user 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 (Heavy hammer), 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 first Kurnass air-to-air victory came on 1969- 11-11 against an Egyptian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21. The first air combat loss, also to a MiG-21, happened on 1970- 04-02. Over the course of the conflicts, IDF claimed 116 air victories to 56 losses, mostly to ground fire.

Israeli F-4s underwent an extensive modification program to adapt them for local weapons and avionics. In the 1980s, Israel began the Kurnass 2000 modernization program which significantly updated avionics, including the APG-76 radar and cockpit with multi-function displays and HOTAS, and added the ability to launch the Popeye missiles. Kurnass 2000 aircraft, which first flew on 11 August 1987 and began entering service on 5 February 1991, can be recognized by small strakes above the air intakes and a "probe-and-drogue" refueling probe plumbed directly into the boom receptacle on the spine of the aircraft. Israel also created a Pratt & Whitney PW1120-engined version which first flew on 30 July 1986. The aircraft was capable of supercruise, had 17 percent better thrust-to-weight ratio, 15 percent better sustained turn rate, 36 percent greater climb rate, and 27 percent better acceleration, all with improved fuel efficiency. It was demonstrated at the 1987 Paris Air Show but the project was deemed too expensive for the aging airframes. The last Israeli F-4s were retired 12 May 2004.


In 1968, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force purchased 140 F-4EJ Phantoms without the aerial refueling and ground attack capabilities (restored in subsequent upgrades). 138 were built under license in Japan by Mitsubishi. 14 unarmed reconnaissance RF-4Es were imported.

Of these, 96 F-4EJs have since been modified to the F-4EJ Kai (改、 "modified") standard with laser inertial navigation system, APG-66J radar, and other avionics upgrades. 17 F-4EJs converted reconnaissance aircraft. These aircraft received a similar F-4EJ Kai upgrade and called RF-4EJ.

South Korea

The Republic of Korea Air Force 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. In 1993, RoKAF evaluated an upgrade program for 38 F-4Es but settled on the less costly service life extension upgrades and the addition of Pave Tack electro-optical targeting pods and AGM-142 Have Nap missiles.


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 SAF received a number of ex-USAF RF-4Cs, designated RC.12. In 1995-1996, these aircraft received extensive avionics upgrades, including the APQ-172 radar and the ring laser gyroscope inertial navigation system.

Turkish F-4E
Turkish F-4E

The Turkish Air Force received its first Phantoms in 1974 under the Peace Diamond III program, followed by ex-USAF aircraft in Peace Diamond IV. In 1995, IAI of Israel implemented an upgrade similar to Kurnass 2000 on 54 Turkish F-4Es. Dubbed Terminator 2020, the aircraft are optimised for ground attack missions with AGM-142 Popeye/Have Nap integration, Litening-II targeting pods, and the capability to launch AGM-65D/G Maverick, AGM-88 HARM, GBU-8 HOBOS, LGBs, general purpose and cluster bombs for air-to-ground missions, while retaining the capability to launch AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. It is also possible to install Pave Spike targeting pods and rocket pods of all sizes. The capability to launch AIM-120 AMRAAM wasn't included in the Terminator 2020 upgrade program, as greater emphasis was given on the air-to-ground role. The upgrade includes an advanced ELTA EL/M-2032 radar with SAR capability, adopted from the abortive IAI Lavi technology demonstrator of the early 1990s. Even though the Terminator 2020 upgrade program was largely based on IAI's Kurnass 2000 project, it included numerous improvements in many areas such as the Kaiser/E1-OP HUD, HOTAS, INS/GPS, MFDs, secure UHF/VHF communication systems, DTC, new EW suites, new RWR, Chaff/Flare dispensers, Elisra SPS self protection jammer, Elisra upgraded ALQ-119 pods for the latest double-digit SAMs, new wiring, improvements on the structure and updated General Electric J79 engines.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom bought the F-4 for use with the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm in the wake of the cancellation of home-grown projects such as the BAC TSR-2 and the Hawker Siddeley P.1154. British versions were based on the USN F-4J and were given the designation F-4K and F-4M respectively. They entered service as the FG.1 and FGR.2, replacing the Hawker Hunter and de Havilland Sea Vixen. British Phantoms were fitted with the larger and more powerful Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines with 20,515 pound-force (91.25 kN) of afterburning thrust each for improved take-off performance, and many of the subsystems were replaced with British-manufactured equivalents. The larger engines required more air which necessitated 20 percent larger air intakes and compromised top speed and high altitude performance. Range improved, however, due to the turbofans' better fuel efficiency. The Fleet Air Arm Phantoms were fitted with a double-telescoping front landing gear strut which could extend 40 inches (102 cm), the increased angle of attack being necessary for catapult launches from the smaller British carrier HMS Ark Royal (R09). The first British-spec YF-4K flew on 27 June 1966, with YF-4M joining it on 17 February 1967. After the Falklands War, British-spec Phantoms were joined by 15 former US Navy F-4J(UK) upgraded to the F-4K/M standard to compensate for one interceptor squadron that was moved to the islands.

The Fleet Air Arm order was cut down with the cutting back of the Royal Navy carrier force. As the result, the majority of the 160 British Phantoms flew with the RAF in ground attack and long range interception roles. In the late 1970s, RAF Phantoms were replaced by the SEPECAT Jaguar for ground attack roles and the FAA Phantoms were given over to the RAF. The interceptor Phantoms were replaced by the Panavia Tornado F3. The last British Phantoms were retired in 1993 as a result of the Options for Change spending cuts.

Phantom culture

Phantom nicknames

The Phantom gathered a number of nicknames during its career. It was the "Rhino" because of the long nose and tough titanium construction, the "Double Ugly" and "DUFF" (Double-Ugly Flying Fucker) in reference to its dihedral wings and anhedral tail as well as a joke on its two crew members, the "World's Leading Distributor of MiG Parts" in tribute to its claimed record of downing 277 Soviet-built MiGs in US service and additional 116 with Israel, the "Flying Anvil", the "Big Iron Sled", and the "Louisville Slugger." 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 "Eisensau" (Iron Sow), "Fliegender Ziegelstein" (Flying Brick), and "Luftverteidigungsdiesel" (Air Defense Diesel). Imitating the spelling of the aircraft's name, McDonnell issued a series of patches. Pilots became "Phantom Phlyers;" 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 Spook

As famous as the aircraft itself is its emblem, a whimsical cartoon ghost called The Spook. It was created by a 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 Spook sometimes wears a bowler hat and smokes a pipe.


The Blue Angels fly their F-4J Phantoms cross-country between show sites in a line abreast formation.
The Blue Angels fly their F-4J Phantoms cross-country between show sites in a line abreast formation.
F-4A, B, J, N, and S
Variants for the US Navy and the US Marines. F-4B were upgraded to F-4N, and F-4J were upgraded to F-4S.
F-110 Spectre, F-4C, D, and E
Variants for the US Air Force. F-4E introduced an internal M61 Vulcan cannon. F-4D and E were widely exported.
F-4G Wild Weasel V
A dedicated SEAD variant with updated radar and avionics, converted from F-4E. The designation F-4G was earlier applied to an entirely different Navy Phantom.
F-4K and M
Variants for 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.
Proposed reconnaissance variant with water injection capable of exceeding Mach 3.
QF-4B, E, G, and N
Retired aircraft converted into remote-controlled target drones used for weapons and defensive systems research.
RF-4B, C, and E
Tactical reconnaissance variants.

Specifications (F-4E)

Orthographically projected diagram of the F-4B Phantom II.

Data from The Great Book of Fighters, Quest for Performance, and Encyclopedia of USAF Aircraft.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 63 ft 0 in (19.2 m)
  • Wingspan: 38 ft 4.5 in (11.7 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 6 in (5.0 m)
  • Wing area: 530.0 ft² (49.2 m²)
  • Airfoil: NACA 0006.4-64 root, NACA 0003-64 tip
  • Empty weight: 30,328 lb (13,757 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 41,500 lb (18,825 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 61,795 lb (28,030 kg)
  • Powerplant: General Electric J79-GE-17A axial compressor turbojets, 17,845 lbf (79.6 kN) each
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0224
  • Drag area: 11.87 ft² (1.10 m²)
  • Aspect ratio: 2.77
  • Fuel capacity: 1,994 US gal (7,549 L) internal, 3,335 US gal (12,627 L) with three external tanks
  • Maximum landing weight: 36,831 lb (16,706 kg)


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.23 (1,472 mph, 2,370 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,190 m)
  • Cruise speed: 506 knots (585 mph, 940 km/h)
  • Combat radius: 367 nm (422 mi, 680 km)
  • Ferry range: 1,403 nm (1,615 mi, 2,600 km) with 3 external fuel tanks
  • Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,300 m)
  • Rate of climb: 41,300 ft/min (210 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 78 lb/ft² (383 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.86
  • Lift-to-drag ratio: 8.58
  • Takeoff 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)


  • 1x 20 mm M61 Vulcan gatling cannon, 639 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-runway weapons, anti-ship missiles, targeting pods, recce pods, and nuclear weapons. Baggage pods may also be carried . External fuel tanks of 370 US gal (1,420 l) capacity for the outer wing hardpoints and either a 600 or 610 US gal (2,310 or 2,345 l) fuel tank for the centerline station can be fitted to extend the range.
  • 4x AIM-7 Sparrow in fuselage recesses plus 4x AIM-9 Sidewinders on wing pylons; upgraded Hellenic F-4E and German F-4F ICE carry AIM-120 AMRAAM, Japanese F-4EJ Kai carry AAM-3, Hellenic F-4E will carry IRIS-T in future. Iranian F-4s could potentially carry Russian and Chinese missiles.

Related content

Related development

  • F3H Demon

Comparable aircraft

  • English Electric Lightning
  • F-8 Crusader
  • Sukhoi Su-15
  • Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21
  • Shenyang J-8

Designation sequence

  • Pre-1962:
    • Navy A sequence: A4D - AF - A2F - AH - AJ - A2J - A3J
    • Navy F sequence: FH - F2H - F3H - F4H - FJ - FL - F2L
    • Air Force sequence: F-106 - YF-107 - XF-108 - F-110 - F-111 - F-117
  • Post-1962:
    • F-1 - F-2 - F-3 - F-4 - F-5 - F-6 - F-7

Related lists

  • List of fighter aircraft
  • List of military aircraft of the United States
  • List of units using the F-4 Phantom


Retrieved from " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F-4_Phantom_II"