The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom made its maiden flight on 27 May 1958 with Robert C. Little at the controls. The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a tandem two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor aircraft/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 respective air wings. 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 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.
During the Vietnam War, the F-4 was used extensively; it served as the principal air superiority fighter for both the Navy and Air Force, and became important in the ground-attack and aerial reconnaissance roles late in the war. The Phantom has the distinction of being the last U.S. fighter flown to attain ace status in the 20th century. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force had one pilot and two weapon systems officers (WSOs), and the US Navy had one pilot and one radar intercept officer (RIO) become 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 in the U.S. Air Force, the Grumman 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 used by two 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 in the Iran–Iraq War. Phantoms remain in front line service with seven countries, and in use as a target drone in the U.S. Air Force. Phantom production ran from 1958 to 1981, with a total of 5,195 built, making it the most numerous American supersonic military aircraft. It was first suggested In 1952, after 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 delivering 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 aircraft soon squared off against the XF8U-3 Crusader III. the Navy wanted a two-seat aircraft and in 1958 they chose the F4H. 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. VF-74 was the first operational U.S. Navy Phantom squadron in 1961 and during its career the Phantom has undergone many changes and developments. The USAF received Phantoms 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 navy’s focus on interception, the USAF emphasized a fighter-bomber role. In 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 USN operated the F4H-1 (re-designated F-4A in 1962)
In 1961 The USN and USMC received the first definitive Phantom, the F-4B 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 F-4J had improved air-to-air and ground-attack capability; deliveries begun in 1966 and ended in 1972 the F-4J was the first fighter in the world with operational look-down/shoot-down capability), new integrated missile control system and an expanded ground attack capability. The F-4N (updated F-4Bs) with smokeless engines and F-4J aerodynamic improvements started in 1972. The F-4S model resulted from the refurbishment of 265 F-4Js with improved performance avionics and reliability. 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. As of 2008, 631 Phantoms were in service worldwide, while the Phantom also remains in use as a target drone operated by the U.S. military.
The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom also set a number of record breaking flights early in it’s development Five of which remained unbeaten until the F-15 Eagle appeared in 1975. On 6 December 1959, the second XF4H-1 performed a zoom climb to a world record 98,557 ft (30,040 m).Commander Lawrence E. Flint, Jr., USN accelerated his aircraft to Mach 2.5 (1,650 mph; 2,660 km/h) at 47,000 ft (14,330 m) and climbed to 90,000 ft (27,430 m) at a 45° angle. He then shut down the engines and glided to the peak altitude. As the aircraft fell through 70,000 ft (21,300 m), Flint restarted the engines and resumed normal flight. On 5 September 1960, an F4H-1 averaged 1,216.78 mph (1,958.16 km/h) over a 500 km (311 mi) closed-circuit course. On 25 September 1960, an F4H-1F averaged 1,390.24 mph (2,237.37 km/h) over a 100 km (62.1 mi) closed-circuit course. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Naval aviation on 24 May 1961, Phantoms flew across the continental United States in under three hours and included several tanker refuelings. The fastest of the aircraft averaged 869.74 mph (1,400.28 km/h) and completed the trip in 2 hours 47 minutes, earning the pilot (and future NASA Astronaut), Lieutenant Richard Gordon, USN and RIO, Lieutenant Bobbie Young, USN, the 1961 Bendix trophy. On 28 August 1961, a F4H-1F Phantom II averaged 1,452.777 kilometers per hour (902.714 miles per hour) over a 3 m(4.82 km) course flying below 125 feet (38.1 m) at all times. Commander J.L. Felsman, USN was killed during the first attempt at this record on 18 May 1961 when his aircraft disintegrated in the air after pitch damper failure. On 22 December 1961, a modified Phantom with water injection set an absolute world record speed of 1,606.342 mph (2,585.086 km/h).On 5 December 1961, another Phantom set a sustained altitude record of 66,443.8 feet (20,252 m). A series of time-to-altitude records was set in early 1962: 34.523 seconds to 3,000 meters (9,840 ft), 48.787 seconds to 6,000 meters (19,700 ft), 61.629 seconds to 9,000 meters (29,500 ft), 77.156 seconds to 12,000 meters (39,400 ft), 114.548 seconds to 15,000 meters (49,200 ft), 178.5 seconds to 20,000 meters (65,600 ft), 230.44 seconds to 25,000 metres (82,000 ft), and 371.43 seconds to 30,000 metres (98,400 ft).