The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps and the air forces of 12 other nations have flown the multi-role Phantom II. In this aircraft, then a Navy F-4J, on June 21, 1972, Cmdr. S. C. Flynn and his radar intercept officer, Lt. W. H. John, spotted three enemy MiG fighters off the coast of Vietnam and shot down one MiG-21 with a Sidewinder air-to-air missile. This Phantom also flew combat air patrols and bombing missions during the Linebacker II bombing campaign that same year.
Later assigned to the Marine Corps, this F-4J was extensively modernized and designated an F-4S. Changes included improving the engines (smokeless), hydraulics, electronics, and wiring; modifying the wings to increase maneuverability; and adding a radar homing and warning antenna, as well as formation tape lights on the fuselage and vertical tail.
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.
Preliminary design of what was to become the Phantom II began in 1953 as a single-place, long-range, attack aircraft designated by McDonnell as the F3H-G (company-financed mock-up). Its predecessors were the FH-l Phantom (the Navy's first jet-powered aircraft to be carrier-based), the F2H Banshee, and the F3H Demon. Working closely with the Navy, McDonnell engineers attempted to design into the F3H-G what it considered to be the Navy's requirements. The result was the AH-l. While there was no military requirement for such an airplane, the Navy did, at this time, explain the desired fleet air mission. McDonnell reconfigured the AM-1 design to meet the Navy's requirements.
The final outcome was designated the F4H-l, the Navy's first Mach 2 carrier-based aircraft, capable of carrying missiles (Sparrows). It could be a one- or two-place aircraft, and its primary mission was as an all-weather fleet air defense aircraft, although it retained its original initial attack capability. The F4H-l made its first flight on May 27, 1958, and later that year it entered into competition with the Chance/Vought F8U-3, then being proposed for the same primary mission. In December McDonnell was awarded a limited production contract for the F4H-l. One year later, the now-designated F-4B Phantom II joined the fleet and was assigned to Fighting Squadron 121. The Navy chose the two-seat version for production. The Phantom was qualified for both land and sea operations, and within a few years several versions were produced for the U.S. Air Force. Production for the USAF of the F-4C was authorized on 8 February 1963.
During the period 1959 to 1969, the F4H and its derivatives established many altitude and speed records. The aircraft had been redesignated the F4H-1F and still later in 1962, was assigned new designations as the F-4A, B, G, and J, with the USAF versions being the F-4C, D, and E. Like the F-4B, the F-4C had no built-in gun but carried Sparrow missiles as its primary attack weapon. A reconnaissance version, without armament but using the same basic configurations and engines, was designated the RF-4C. 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. The McDonnell Douglas F-4 found its way into the international market with the first delivery overseas to the British in September 1964. Later, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Australia, Israel, Japan, Greece, Turkey, and West Germany bought the F-4. The F-4E was the model preferred by overseas air forces. Specially designed for the Japanese was the F-4EJ that dispensed with most of the offensive systems and was fitted with advanced tail warning radar and air-to-air guided missiles. Japan also ordered the RF-4EJ, an unarmed reconnaissance version. Japan assembled eleven of its F-4s in Japan and built 126 under license. The Germans received the F-4F which had the air-to-ground weapon delivery system removed to save weight. The first truly export model was the F-4K, designed during 1964 for the Royal Navy. This version included the Rolls Royce RB168-25 R Spey 201 turbo-jet engine.
Production of the Phantom peaked at a rate of more than 70 aircraft a month and by 1979, when production ceased, 5,195 had been built. The last Navy F-4 made its final "trap" (carrier landing) aboard the USS America in October 1986. The German Air Force still operates several Phantoms at Holloman AFB as training platforms for its fighter pilots.
The basic F-4B weighs 44,600 lb. loaded, has a maximum range of 2,300 miles, a service ceiling of 62,000 feet, and a cruising speed of 575 mph, with a maximum speed of 1,485 mph at 48,000 feet. Two 17,000-lb.-thrust J79-GE-8 turbojets power it. Over the years this same aircraft, with modifications, developed into the F-4S that weighs somewhat more and has increased maneuverability.
The Museum's F-4S-44-McDonnell Douglas Phantom II, Bu. No. 157307, was accepted by the Navy on December 18, 1970. By June 22, 1971, it was assigned to Fighting Squadron 31 (VF-31) stationed at the Naval Air Station (NAS), Oceana, Virginia. Early in 1972, VF-31, (with F-4 Bu. No. 157307) went aboard USS Saratoga, and by April en route to the western Pacific for duty in the Vietnam War. On May 18, 1972, the squadron started combat operations on Yankee Station, off the coast of Vietnam. While on a flight on June 21, 1972, its last day on station, F-4 Bu. No. 157307 (Squadron No. 106) made its mark. It was launched that day on a MIGCAP (MiG Combat Air Patrol) with VF-31's Executive Officer, Cdr. S.C. Flynn, USN, as pilot, and Lt. W.H. John as the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO). This was not their regularly assigned airplane. They spotted 3 MiGs and in the ensuing engagement shot down one MiG-21 with a Sidewinder missile (AIM-9). This action marked a first for the Saratoga Air Wing and for an East Coast fighter squadron.
After the kill, the Museum Phantom's tour in Vietnam continued and was expanded to include support missions for B-52 raids on Hanoi and Haiphong. VF-31 completed its deployment to southeast Asia early in 1973, and returned to its home port at NAS, Oceana, Virginia.
The Phantom remained assigned to VF-31 until September 12, 1975, when it was transferred to VF-33. After a series of deployments aboard USS Independence, it was assigned to VF-74 on May 6, 1977, also based at Oceana. It left VF-74 on September 17, 1979, for VF-103, then to VF-171 on October 21, 1981. On April 8, 1983, F-4J Bu. No. 157307 was inducted into the Naval Air Rework Facility at North Island, California, for conversion from a J model to an S model.
The S conversion was an extensive modernization and service life extension overhaul for 250 F-4Js. It consisted mainly of modernizing the hydraulics, electronics, and wiring, and later included installation of leading edge maneuvering slats (like those on the F-4Es and F-4Fs), radar homing and warning (RHAW) antenna and formation tape lights on the fuselage and vertical tail.
When conversion was completed on December 27, 1983, F-4S 157307 joined U. S. Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 101, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Arizona. It remained there until May 11, 1987, when it was transferred to U. S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VFMA-232, Honolulu on its last squadron duty. On November 28, 1988, it left the Marines for the National Air and Space Museum, at which time it had amassed a total of 5,075 hours flight time with 6,804 landings (1,337 were arrested), and 1,163 catapult shots off the deck of a carrier. On November 29, 1988, this Phantom arrived at Dulles International Airport. It is now on display in the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The airplane is painted in the Vietnam-era colors and markings of Marine Squadron VFMA-232.
Wingspan: 38' 5"
Length: 58' 3"
Height: 17' 4"
Weight: Gross 54,600 Lbs.
References and Further Reading:
Francillon, Rene J., McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Naval Institute Press, 1990.
Gunston, Bill, and Mike Spick, Modern Air Combat, Crescent, 1983.
Angelucci, Enzo, and Peter Bowers, The American Fighter, Orion, 1987.
Swanborough, Gordon, and Peter M. Bowers,United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Smithsonian, 1989.
Gunston, Bill,The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament, Orion, 1988.
McDonnell F-4 Phantom: Spirit in the Skies. Airtime Publishing, 1992.
McDonnell F-4S Phantom II curatorial file, Aeronautics Division, National Air and Space Museum.