McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom
McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
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The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a tandem two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber originally developed for the United States Navy by McDonnell Aircraft. It first entered service in 1960 with the U.S. Navy. Proving highly adaptable, it was also adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force, and by the mid-1960s had become a major part of their air arms.
The Phantom is a large fighter with a top speed of over Mach 2.2. It can carry more than 18,000 pounds (8,400 kg) of weapons on nine external hardpoints, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and various bombs. The F-4, like other interceptors of its time, was initially designed without an internal cannon. Later models incorporated an M61 Vulcan rotary cannon. Beginning in 1959, it set 15 world records for in-flight performance, including an absolute speed record, and an absolute altitude record.
The F-4 was used extensively during the Vietnam War. It served as the principal air superiority fighter for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps and became important in the ground-attack and aerial reconnaissance roles late in the war. During the Vietnam War, one U.S. Air Force pilot, two weapon systems officers (WSOs),[ one U.S. Navy pilot and one radar intercept officer (RIO) became aces by achieving five aerial kills against enemy fighter aircraft. The F-4 continued to form a major part of U.S. military air power throughout the 1970s and 1980s, being gradually replaced by more modern aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon in the U.S. Air Force, the F-14 Tomcat in the U.S. Navy, and the F/A-18 Hornet in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
The F-4 Phantom II remained in use by the U.S. in the reconnaissance and Wild Weasel (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) roles in the 1991 Gulf War, finally leaving service in 1996. It was also the only aircraft used by both U.S. flight demonstration teams: the USAF Thunderbirds (F-4E) and the US Navy Blue Angels (F-4J). The F-4 was also operated by the armed forces of 11 other nations. Israeli Phantoms saw extensive combat in several Arab–Israeli conflicts, while Iran used its large fleet of Phantoms, acquired before the fall of the Shah, in the Iran–Iraq War. Phantom production ran from 1958 to 1981, with a total of 5,195 built, making it the most produced American supersonic military aircraft. As of 2018, 60 years after its first flight, the F-4 remains in service with Iran, Japan, South Korea, Greece, and Turkey. The aircraft has most recently been in service against the Islamic State group in the Middle East.
In 1952, McDonnell’s Chief of Aerodynamics, Dave Lewis, was appointed by CEO Jim McDonnell to be the company’s preliminary design manager. With no new aircraft competitions on the horizon, internal studies concluded the Navy had the greatest need for a new and different aircraft type: an attack fighter.
In 1953, McDonnell Aircraft began work on revising its F3H Demon naval fighter, seeking expanded capabilities and better performance. The company developed several projects including a variant powered by a Wright J67 engine, and variants powered by two Wright J65 engines, or 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 mm (.79 in) cannon, or 56 FFAR unguided rockets in addition to the nine hardpoints under the wings and the fuselage. The Navy was sufficiently interested to order a full-scale mock-up of the F3H-G/H, but felt that the upcoming Grumman XF9F-9 and Vought XF8U-1 already satisfied the need for a 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 Douglas 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. A second crewman was added to operate the powerful radar.
The XF4H-1 was designed to carry four semi-recessed AAM-N-6 Sparrow III radar-guided missiles, and to be powered by two J79-GE-8 engines. As in the McDonnell 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° and was equipped with blown flaps for better low-speed handling.
Wind tunnel testing had revealed lateral instability requiring the addition of 5° 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°, which averaged to the required 5° 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° of anhedral to improve control at high angles of attack while still keeping the tailplane clear of the engine exhaust. In addition, air intakes were equipped with variable geometry 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, the landing gear was designed to withstand landings with a sink rate of 23 ft/s (7 m/s), while the nose strut could extend by some 20 in (51 cm) to increase angle of attack at takeoff.
On 25 July 1955, the Navy ordered two XF4H-1 test aircraft and five YF4H-1 pre-production examples. The Phantom made its maiden flight on 27 May 1958 with Robert C. Little at the controls. A hydraulic problem precluded retraction of the landing gear but subsequent flights went more smoothly. Early testing resulted in redesign of the air intakes, including the distinctive addition of 12,500 holes to “bleed off” the slow-moving boundary layer air from the surface of each intake ramp. Series production aircraft also featured splitter plates to divert the boundary layer away from the engine intakes. The aircraft soon squared off against the XF8U-3 Crusader III. Due to operator workload, the Navy wanted a two-seat aircraft and on 17 December 1958 the F4H was declared a winner. Delays with the J79-GE-8 engines meant that the first production aircraft were fitted with J79-GE-2 and −2A engines, each having 16,100 lbf (71.8 kN) of afterburning thrust. In 1959, the Phantom began carrier suitability trials with the first complete launch-recovery cycle performed on 15 February 1960 from Independence.
There were proposals to name the F4H “Satan” and “Mithras“. In the end, the aircraft was given the less controversial name “Phantom II”, the first “Phantom” being another McDonnell jet fighter, the FH-1 Phantom. The Phantom II was briefly given the designation F-110A and the name “Spectre” by the USAF, but neither name was officially used.
Early in production, the radar was upgraded to the Westinghouse AN/APQ-72, an AN/APG-50 with a larger radar antenna, necessitating the bulbous nose, and the canopy was reworked to improve visibility and make the rear cockpit less claustrophobic. During its career the Phantom underwent many changes in the form of numerous variants developed.
The USN operated the F4H-1 (re-designated F-4A in 1962) with J79-GE-2 and -2A engines of 16,100 lbf (71.62 kN) thrust and later builds receiving -8 engines. A total of 45 F-4As were built and none saw combat and most ended up as test or training aircraft. The USN and USMC received the first definitive Phantom, the F-4B which was equipped with the Westinghouse APQ-72 radar (pulse only), a Texas Instruments AAA-4 Infra-red search and track pod under the nose, an AN/AJB-3 bombing system and powered by J79-GE-8,-8A and -8B engines of 10,900 lbf (48.5 kN) dry and 16,950 lbf (75.4 kN) afterburner (reheat) with the first flight on 25 March 1961. 649 F-4Bs were built with deliveries beginning in 1961 and VF-121 Pacemakers receiving the first examples at NAS Miramar.
The USAF received Phantoms as the result of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara‘s push to create a unified fighter for all branches of the US military. After an F-4B won the “Operation Highspeed” fly-off against the Convair F-106 Delta Dart, the USAF borrowed two Naval F-4Bs, temporarily designating them F-110A “Spectre” in January 1962, and developed requirements for their own version. Unlike the US Navy’s focus on air-to-air interception in the Fleet Air Defense (FAD) mission, the USAF emphasized both an air-to-air and an air-to-ground fighter-bomber role. With McNamara’s unification of designations on 18 September 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.
The F-4J had improved air-to-air and ground-attack capability; deliveries begun in 1966 and ended in 1972 with 522 built. It was equipped with J79-GE-10 engines with 17,844 lbf (79.374 kN) thrust, the Westinghouse AN/AWG-10 Fire Control System (making the F-4J the first fighter in the world with operational look-down/shoot-down capability), a new integrated missile control system and the AN/AJB-7 bombing system for expanded ground attack capability.
The F-4N (updated F-4Bs) with smokeless engines and F-4J aerodynamic improvements started in 1972 under a U.S. Navy-initiated refurbishment program called “Project Bee Line” with 228 converted by 1978. The F-4S model resulted from the refurbishment of 265 F-4Js with J79-GE-17 smokeless engines of 17,900 lbf (79.379 kN), AWG-10B radar with digitized circuitry for improved performance and reliability, Honeywell AN/AVG-8 Visual Target Acquisition Set or VTAS (world’s first operational Helmet Sighting System), classified avionics improvements, airframe reinforcement and leading edge slats for enhanced maneuvering. The USMC also operated the RF-4B with reconnaissance cameras with 46 built.
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). Of these, 2,874 went to the USAF, 1,264 to the Navy and Marine Corps, and the rest to foreign customers. The last U.S.-built F-4 went to South Korea, while the last F-4 built was an F-4EJ built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan and delivered on 20 May 1981. As of 2008, 631 Phantoms were in service worldwide, while the Phantoms were in use as a target drone (specifically QF-4Cs) operated by the U.S. military until 21 December 2016, when the Air Force officially ended use of the type.
The F-4 Phantom is a tandem-seat fighter-bomber designed as a carrier-based interceptor to fill the U.S. Navy’s fleet defense fighter role. Innovations in the F-4 included an advanced pulse-Doppler radar and extensive use of titanium in its airframe.
Despite imposing dimensions and a maximum takeoff weight of over 60,000 lb (27,000 kg), the F-4 has a top speed of Mach 2.23 and an initial climb rate of over 41,000 ft/min (210 m/s). The F-4’s nine external hardpoints have a capability of up to 18,650 pounds (8,480 kg) of weapons, including air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, and unguided, guided, and thermonuclear weapons. Like other interceptors of its day, the F-4 was designed without an internal cannon.
The baseline performance of a Mach 2-class fighter with long range and a bomber-sized payload would be the template for the next generation of large and light/middle-weight fighters optimized for daylight air combat.
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. As a massive fighter aircraft designed to fire radar-guided missiles from beyond visual range, it lacked the agility of its Soviet opponents and was subject to adverse yaw during hard maneuvering. Although thus subject to irrecoverable spins during aileron rolls, 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 noticeable amounts of black smoke (at mid-throttle/cruise settings), a severe disadvantage in that the enemy could spot the aircraft. This was solved on the F-4S fitted with the −10A engine variant which used a smokeless combustor.
The F-4’s biggest weakness, as it was initially designed, was its lack of an internal cannon. For a brief period, doctrine held that turning combat would be impossible at supersonic speeds and little effort was made to teach pilots air combat maneuvering. In reality, engagements quickly became subsonic, as pilots would slow down in an effort to get behind their adversaries. Furthermore, the relatively new heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles at the time were frequently reported as unreliable and pilots had to fire multiple missiles (also known as ripple-firing), just to hit one enemy fighter. To compound the problem, rules of engagement in Vietnam precluded long-range missile attacks in most instances, as visual identification was normally required. Many pilots found themselves on the tail of an enemy aircraft but too close to fire short-range Falcons or Sidewinders. Although by 1965 USAF F-4Cs began carrying SUU-16 external gunpods containing a 20 mm (.79 in) M61A1 Vulcan Gatling cannon, USAF cockpits were not equipped with lead-computing gunsights until the introduction of the SUU-23, virtually assuring a miss in a maneuvering fight. Some Marine Corps aircraft carried two pods for strafing. In addition to the loss of performance due to drag, combat showed the externally mounted cannon to be inaccurate unless frequently boresighted, yet far more cost-effective than missiles. The lack of a cannon was finally addressed by adding an internally mounted 20 mm (.79 in) M61A1 Vulcan on the F-4E.
- Crew: 2
- Length: 63 ft 0 in (19.2 m)
- Wingspan: 38 ft 5 in (11.7 m)
- Height: 16 ft 5 in (5 m)
- Wing area: 530 sq ft (49.2 m2)
- Aspect ratio:77
- Airfoil: NACA 0006.4–64 root, NACA 0003-64 tip
- Empty weight: 30,328 lb (13,757 kg)
- Gross weight: 41,500 lb (18,824 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 61,795 lb (28,030 kg)
- Maximum landing weight: 36,831 lb (16,706 kg)
- Fuel capacity: 1,994 US gal (1,660 imp gal; 7,550 l) internal, 3,335 US gal (2,777 imp gal; 12,620 l) with 2x 370 US gal (310 imp gal; 1,400 l) external tanks on the outer wing hardpoints and either a 600 or 610 US gal (500 or 510 imp gal; 2,300 or 2,300 l) tank for the center-line station.
- Powerplant: 2 × General Electric J79-GE-17A after-burning turbojet engines, 11,905 lbf (52.96 kN) thrust each dry, 17,845 lbf (79.38 kN) with afterburner
- Maximum speed: 1,280 kn; 1,473 mph (2,370 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,000 m)
- Maximum speed: Mach 2.23
- Cruise speed: 508 kn; 584 mph (940 km/h)
- Combat range: 367 nmi; 423 mi (680 km)
- Ferry range: 1,457 nmi; 1,677 mi (2,699 km)
- Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,000 m)
- Rate of climb: 41,300 ft/min (210 m/s)
- Wing loading: 78 lb/sq ft (380 kg/m2)
- Thrust/weight:86 at loaded weight, 0.58 at MTOW
- 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)
- E-model has a 20 mm (0.787 in) M61A1 Vulcan cannon mounted internally under the nose, 640 rounds (the internal autocannon was exclusive to the “E” variant and certain foreign exports — all other variants relied on externally-mounted guns)
- 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-ship missiles, gun pods, and nuclear weapons. Reconnaissance, targeting, electronic countermeasures and baggage pods, and external fuel tanks may also be carried.
- 4× AIM-9 Sidewinders on wing pylons, Israeli F-4 Kurnass 2000 carried Python-3, Japanese F-4EJ Kai carry AAM-3
- 4× AIM-7 Sparrow in fuselage recesses, upgraded Hellenic F-4E and German F-4F ICE carry AIM-120 AMRAAM, UK Phantoms carried Skyflash missiles
- 6× AGM-65 Maverick
- 4× AGM-62 Walleye
- 4× AGM-45 Shrike, AGM-88 HARM, AGM-78 Standard ARM
- 4× GBU-15
- 18× 82, GBU-12
- 5× 84, GBU-10, GBU-14
- 18× CBU-87, CBU-89, CBU-58
- Nuclear weapons, including the B28EX, B61, B43 and B57