McDonnell F-4A Phantom II "Sageburner"

Some aircraft are remembered for the large number produced, others for their length of time in service, and others for their ability to perform their mission. When one aircraft is known to be one of the leaders in all three categories, it stands out among others. The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is such an aircraft.

During the period 1959 to 1969, the F4H and its derivatives established many altitude and speed records. Like the F-4B, the F-4C had no built-in gun but carried Sparrow missiles as its primary attack weapon. The F-4J was the last fighter version to be placed in quantity production for the US Navy and Marine Corps.

In 1968 the Navy chose the F-4J for its "Blue Angels" flight demonstration team and in 1969 the USAF chose the F-4E for its "Thunderbird" team. England, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Australia, Israel, Japan, Greece, Turkey, and West Germany have purchased the F-4. The F-4E was the model preferred by overseas air forces.

In 1961, as part of the commemoration of 50 years of Naval Aviation, the Navy sponsored a project known as Sageburner. This project was designed to set new speed records at low altitudes flying F-4A Phantoms (F4H-1). On May 18, the initial attempt ended in tragedy when Commander J. L. Felsman was killed when pitch dampener failure led to pilot-induced oscillations (PIO), causing his Phantom to break up in flight and explode. The second attempt to set a new low-altitude speed record succeeded on August 28, 1961, when Lt. Huntington Hardisty (pilot) and Lt. Earl De Esch (RIO) flew F4H-1F BuNo 145307 at an average speed of 902.760 mph over a 3 km low-altitude course at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The maximum altitude reached during this flight was only 125 feet, fully living up to the name of the project-Sageburner. The F-4A (BuNo 145307) was later turned over to the National Air and Space Museum and is preserved in storage at the Paul Garber Restoration Facility at Suitland, Maryland.