Smithsonian TechQuest: Eye in the Sky

McDonnell F-4S Phantom II

The F-4S Phantom II was the third stop on your mission. Remember looking at its wings from the balcony?


The F-4S Phantom II was originally built for the United States Navy. It first flew in May of 1958, and set eight new aviation records during its career. Some of those included, altitude (98,557 feet), speed (1,390 mph), and time to climb (9,000 feet in 34.5 seconds). Though very reliable and powerful, unfortunately, the Phantom II had an important problem: a smoky engine which required much maintenance and time to repair. This enabled the enemy to see the F-4S before the F-4S pilot could see the enemy, putting the F-4S at a disadvantage in combat. The problem was later fixed.

FUN FACT The F-4S Phantom was used by two prestigious United States military flight demonstration squadrons, the United States Navy Blue Angels and the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.


We Were There

Name: Buz Carpenter
Artifact: F-4C Phantom
From: 1970-1975

What was your role in the F-4 program? In the RF-4C, I was an aircraft commander (pilot) and an instructor pilot. I flew out of Saigon, Vietnam, Udorn Air Base in Thailand, Osan Air Base in Korea, and Kadena Air Base in Japan.

What made you want to be a pilot? My father was a test pilot in World War II. He and two of my uncles were aeronautical engineers who often talked about aviation. This stimulated my interest to become a pilot. In the late 1950s, I saw advertisements for the brand new U.S. Air Force Academy (USAF) and that sealed my determination to become a USAF military pilot.

What is your most memorable moment in the F-4 program? I got to fly a special United Nations mission to take aerial photographs of the ancient Cambodian city of Ankor Wat. The ruins of this ancient city in the jungle were an absolutely remarkable sight to behold.


Name: Phil Soucy
Artifact: F-4 Phantom
From: 1974-1985

What was your role in the F-4 program? I was a Weapon System Officer (WSO). A WSO flies in the backseat of the F-4 and is in charge of navigation, radar, and weapons.

What made you want to join the military? In college I wanted to be a military pilot, but before graduation my eyesight fell below the 20/20 requirement. I then learned that the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom had a two-man crew. The second crew member had a full set of flight controls with responsibilities for navigation, radar operation, weapons employment, and assisting the pilot with normal and emergency procedures. It was about as close as you could get to being a fighter pilot without actually being one.

What is your most memorable moment in the F-4 program? My most memorable experience was serving as an exchange officer in a Navy Fighter Squadron. I was an instructor in the F-4 Phantom where I trained new F-4 pilots and radar intercept officers (RIO, the Navy version of WSO). The Navy relied heavily on instructor pilots to train these new aviators, which in turn made us better pilots and RIO’s. The greatest experience for me was taking new F-4 student pilots to the aircraft carrier for carrier qualifications.