F-4 and RF-4: In about 36 years of service, 4,089 produced for U. S. forces (AF, Navy, and Marines) with 458 (USAF) combat losses over SE Asia. One combat loss in Desert Storm. A Class A mishap results in loss of the airframe or damage over some threshold, about a million dollars. Measuring the mishap rate as function of flying hours yields the following numbers: F/RF-4: 4.64 (since 1971) – by far the lowest
The biggest advantage the Phantom would have over its contemporaries would be the safety margin introduced by having two engines. In combat, two sets of eyes was also an advantage at times.
Nicknamed “Rhino” and “Double Ugly,” the angular Phantom is perhaps the most classic jet design of all time. This incredibly rugged and versatile aircraft has served with distinction for some 40 years in a wide variety of capacities.
In 1952 McDonnell was tasked with producing a supersonic fighter-bomber for Navy carrier operation to replace the McDonnell F3H Demon. The prototype emerged in 1958 as the AH1, incorporating one of the most distinctive appearances ever given a warplane. The new craft was a twin-engine, sweptback monoplane with upswept wingtips and downturned tailplanes. The crew consisted of a pilot in front and a weapon systems operator in back. Its sinister appearance belied world class ability, however, and in 1960 it entered naval service as the Phantom II. Two years later it made history by becoming the first Navy jet to be adopted by the U. S. Air Force.
The McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, destined to become one of the most successful naval aircraft ever deployed. It was a large, two-seat, twin-engined aircraft powered by two 10,900 pounds static thrust (17,000 pounds static thrust with afterburner) General Electric J79 turbojets, giving it a top speed of 1,485 miles per hour and a combat radius of 600 miles. It was armed with missiles exclusively, carrying up to six Sparrows or a mix of four Sparrows and four Sidewinders. It also could carry up to 16,000 pounds of external ordnance. The combination of powerful radar, efficient long-range missiles, and great load-carrying capacity made the Phantom II the first effective multirole carrier aircraft, successful both as an interceptor or strike package escort and a tactical strike platform.
The first F-4C Phantoms of the USAF arrived in Vietnam at the same time as those of the Marines, in April 1965, with the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron, followed by those of the 12th TFW, in November, and of the 8th TFW, which was stationed at the Ubon base in Thailand in December of the same year. The Phantoms were detailed to play a defensive fighter role, escorting the F-105s weighted down with their bomb-loads, but when the ranks of the latter began to thin out, the Phantoms also took on attacking roles, achieving excellent results with their precision bombing. Although many units covered themselves with glory in eight years of war, it was the 8th TFW, among the first to reach Vietnam, which was most highly distinguished in battle. On January 2, 1967, F-4Cs of this Wing played a key role in the biggest aerial encounter of the war, shooting down seven MiG-21s without loss; and the 555th TFS (which with the 432nd and 433rd formed the 8th TFW) achieved more victories than any other USAF squadron, with a tally of 39 MiGs. In such dogfights the radar-controlled Sparrow air-to-air missiles and heat-sensitive Sidewinders proved invaluable, but the lack of a traditional cannon, notably for strike missions, soon became evident. It was for this reason that the F-4E version, sent into action toward the end of the war, was equipped with a rotary 20mm cannon, soon proving its worth not only in hitting the enemy on the ground but also in shooting down six enemy jets. By the end of the war the F-4s of the USAF boasted a record of 82 victories in air duels with MiGs, the success ratio in favour of the Phantom pilots being more than two to one.
The F4 was the workhorse of the Vietnam War and served as fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance platform. In April 1966 a Phantom won the world’s first supersonic dogfight by shooting down a North Vietnamese MiG21. Significantly, the only Navy and Air Force aces of this war, Randy Cunningham and Steve Ritchie, flew the hulking aircraft to victory. In 1968 a new version was introduced, the F4G Wild Weasel, which was specifically designed to knock out enemy radar and antiaircraft defenses.
By the time production of the F4 ended, more than 5,000 had been built-2,600 for the Air Force and 1,200 for the Navy and Marine Corps. The rest were employed by Germany, Japan, Greece, Iran, Israel, Egypt, Spain, Turkey, and South Korea. During the 1991 Gulf War, F4G Wild Weasels flew 2,683 sorties against Iraqi defenses without loss. Though retired from frontline American service in 1996, updated Phantoms continue flying with Marine Corps Reserve and Air National Guard units.
Aircraft: McDonnell F-4C
Manufacturer: McDonnell Aircraft Corp.
Engine: 2 x General Electric J79GE-15
Power: 17,000 lb (7,711 kg)
Wingspan: 38ft 5in (11.70m)
Length: 58ft 3 3/4in (17.78m)
Height: 16ft 3in (4.95m)
Wing area: 530sq ft (49.23m²)
Max take-off weight: 51,441 lb (23,334 kg)
Empty weight: 28,496 lb (12,926 kg)
Max speed: 1,433mph at 40,000ft (2,306km/h at 12,192m)
Service ceiling: 56,100ft (17,099m)
Range: 538mi (866km)
Load-armament: 4 missiles; 16,000 lb (7,275 kg)