The big F-4 fighter-bomber was gradually evolved from the F3H, with which it had no more than a configurational similarity. Despite its size and bulky look, the F-4 had excellent performance and good manoeuvrability; it was adopted by both the USN and the USAF. Early F-4’s had no fixed gun, but this was corrected after combat experience in Vietnam showed the need for one. Over 5000 were built, making the F-4 one of the most numerous modern combat aircraft. Many are still in service. Now and then, plans are announced to upgrade the F-4 with new engines and electronics. The RF-4 is a recce version of the F-4 fighter with a camera nose. Currently retired F-4s are being converted into QF-4 target drones.
The 28th May 2008 is the anniversary of the F-4 Phantom II’s maiden. Fifty years ago on 27 May 1958 Bob C. Little had the great honour to lift off in the prototype of probably the most well known fighter aircraft in the western world, the XF4H-1 into the skies over St Louis, Missouri. Actually intended as an interceptor for the US Navy, the new aircraft’s good in flight performance soon made headlines so that a short time later in 1961, the USAF ordered a comparison fly off, code named “Operation Highspeed” against operational counterparts of the day such as the F-104 Starfighter, F-105 Thunderchief und F-106 Delta Dart.
The performance it achieved was so overwhelming that the Phantom, at this time still designated F-110A, left its opponents far behind. In March 1962 the USAF signed initial contracts to procure the Phantom. Only two months later all three Arms of the US Forces changed to a common nomenclature for aircraft types. The F4H-1 became the F-4B and the F-110A was renamed F-4C. The later had minor technical differences in comparison with the “B” version to comply with the requirements of the US Air Force. These included the modified radar unit AN/APQ-100 with improved air-to-ground ability, improved avionics, joy-stick and throttle in the rear cockpit for the WSO. Wider tyres required a deeper wing profile giving an increase in all-up-mass allowing the use of circular under-wing pylons which were to become a characteristic of all later versions of the USAF F-4’s. After the first regular USAF units were deployed to south-east Asia in 1964 the F-4C received its baptism of fire.
The first loss off an F-4 happened on 9 June 1965 as 64-0685 of the 45th TFS ran out of fuel after a air-to-ground mission and the crew had to abandon the aircraft. At the end of the ‘70s’ after USAF Units received the advanced Phantom F-4D and F-4E variants, many F-4C’s were allocated to Squadrons of the US Air National Guard (USANG), where they saw service well into the ‘90s’. Altogether 583 F-4C’s were produced. Even though the F-4C at first sight appears identical to the F-4D, the successor to the ‚C’ model is an autonomous aircraft.
The F-4D Fighter was in reality the version which the USAF wanted in their inventory after the trial flights of 1961 but the requisite technical components were at that time not ready for action. The F-4D had a completely new avionics fit, a new for air-to-ground optimised AN/APQ-109A radar unit, more powerful engines, an improved radar warning suite, a completely re-designed cockpit and the ability to carry LGB’s (Laser Guided Bombs) and other modern Stand-off weapons. Delivery of the first of a total 825 F-4D to operational Units followed in March 1966. One by one it replaced the F-4C on the Front in Vietnam from the spring of 1967 onwards. As more modern aircraft such as the F-15 and the F-16 became available to the US Air Forces in large numbers the remaining F-4D were distributed amongst units of the USANG. As well as the USA, South Korea and Iran also received some models of this variant of the F-4 Phantom II.