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F-4 Phantom II Flight Route in Turkey & World

Issue 98

Phantom’s story began in 1952 when David S. Lewis was appointed as the preliminary design manager of McDonnell Douglas (MDD). With the team he established, he started working on the new aircraft model requested by the U.S. Navy. The aircraft would be a supersonic fighter jet. MDD started the “Super Demon” project based on the existing F3H Demon model. MDD’s rivals the Grumman XF9F-9 and the Vought XF8U-1 Crusader were already meeting the supersonic fighter requirements. In response, they started to work on the more advanced YAH-1 project in 1954. The planned design criteria were a single-seat fighter/bomber that could operate in any weather conditions (all-weather). The project was launched with these needs, but on May 29, 1955, new requirements were sent to the company by the Navy. Everything had changed suddenly. Now, the Navy wanted a tandem-seat fighter jet that could fly CAP (Combat Air Patrol) missions at 300 miles for 2 hours with the capability to detect and engage hostile aircraft at extended ranges. 

The YAH-1 project was later revised. A second crewman was added to operate the radar, the internally mounted cannon was removed, the fuselage was modified to carry four semi-active homing missiles, and the General Electric J79-GE-8 engine was selected to power the aircraft. The J79 was also used on the McDonnell Douglas F-101 Voodoo aircraft, and as in Voodoo, the engines sat low in the fuselage to maximize internal fuel capacity and ingested air through fixed geometry intakes. With all these changes, the first XF4H-1 prototype was finished and became ready for new trials. On July 25, 1955, the Navy ordered two XF4H-1 test aircraft and five YF4H-1 pre-production examples. The first test aircraft made its maiden flight on May 27, 1958, with test pilot Robert C. Little at the controls. The plane was officially named Phantom II on July 3, 1959, at the 20th anniversary of the factory to honor FH-1 Phantom, the first jet aircraft produced by McDonnell Douglas. The F4H-1 first entered service in 1960 with the U.S. Navy. In the meantime, the United States Air Force also requested a new plane. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara wanted the same aircraft to be used in all aviation branches (Air Force, Navy, Marines) of the military. The Navy wanted the Phantom as an interceptor, while the Air Force wanted it for its fighter-bomber missions. The new Phantoms produced for the Navy are considered more successful than the Convair F-106 aircraft used by the Air Force and was selected by the USAF as well. The plane was initially designated F4H (later F-4A) by the United States Navy, while the original designation by the USAF was the F-110A Spectre (later F-4C). The F-4 designation came about in 1962 when the designation systems for all branches of the U.S. military were unified by order of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The first Air Force F-4C Phantom flew on May 27, 1963, exceeding Mach 2 on its maiden flight. 

The first Phantom model used by the Navy in real terms was the F-4B. In 1961 both the Navy and Marine Corps began to add F-4Bs to their inventories. The aircraft is equipped with J79-GE-8 axial-flow turbojet engines, AN/APQ-72 radar, AAA-4 infrared search & track (IRST) system, and AN/AJB-3 bombing computer. A total of 649 F-4Bs were produced. In the following years, this model began to be replaced with the F-4J, and between 1966 and 1972, 552 F-4J aircraft were delivered in total. The 288 F-4B aircraft were upgraded to the F-4N standard. 

The F-4B Phantom II aircraft went to Vietnam on August 5, 1964, to conduct bomber escort missions. On April 9, 1965, the Phantom II won its first air victory. During the war, U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom squadrons participated in 84 combat tours with F-4Bs, F-4Js, and F-4Ns. The Navy claimed 40 air-to-air victories at the cost of 73 Phantoms lost in combat (7 to enemy aircraft, 13 to SAMs, and 53 to AAA). In 1987 the last Phantoms were retired from deployable USN squadrons. Phantoms continued to serve as target drones (QF-4) at the Naval Air Warfare Center until their subsequent retirement in 2004.  

The Air Force F-4Cs arrived in Vietnam in December 1964. On July 10, 1965, F-4Cs of the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron scored the USAF’s first victories against North Vietnamese MiG-17s using AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. In 1962, the U.S. Air Force wanted to replace its RF-101 reconnaissance aircraft and started the RF-4C development program. The prototypes were concerted from the existing F-4C airframes, and the production aircraft made its initial flight in May 1964. The nose section was redesigned and extended by 33 inches, and the AN/APQ-116 terrain-following radar (TFR) was installed on the aircraft. For photography, the plane was equipped with a KS-87 forward oblique camera, two KS-87 side-looking cameras, and a KS-56 panoramic camera pointing straight down. The aircraft’s sensor suite was also upgraded with the AN/APQ-102 side-looking radar and the AN/AAS-18A infrared reconnaissance system for easier navigation in adverse weather conditions and night missions. In 1971, the RF-4E was produced by combining the RF-4C nose and the F-4E airframe for the German Air Force. The RF-4E was the unarmed export version offered to allied air forces. It was designed strictly for export and never served with the USAF.

The F-4D model was put into service in 1967. Although the F-4C was virtually identical to the Navy/Marine Corps F-4B in performance, the F-4Ds were explicitly tailored for the needs of the USAF. The D models were later upgraded using the experience gained in Vietnam. They were integrated with a new optical sight and lead-computing gunsight. The aircraft could carry 20mm SUU-16/A and SUU-23/A external gun pods. Also, they started to use laser-guided munition for the first time with the AN/AVQ-10 Pave Knife targeting pod. 

In the late 50s and early 60s, the U.S. Air Force thought that the era of close-range dog fights with aircraft guns was over. This because the USAF believed that newly introduced radars and air-to-air missiles would replace the cannons, and the hostile aircraft would be engaged at 10-15 miles without getting closer to the enemy. Phantom II was built on this theory. Unfortunately, this theory soon found to be a mistake, and USAF learned the hard way in the Vietnam War. The relatively new heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles at the time were frequently reported as unreliable, so the cannon was still needed for close engagements. To overcome this problem, USAF F-4Cs began carrying external gun pods; however, the desired hit rate could not be achieved as the aircraft was not equipped with lead-computing gunsights. The lack of a cannon was addressed by adding an internally mounted 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan on the F-4E using the extended nose section of the RF-4C. The combined weight of the gun and ammunition shifted the center of gravity of the plane forward. To fix this, a seventh fuel cell was added to the rear, the radar was replaced with the new AN/APQ-120, and the existing J79-GE-8 engines were replaced with the more powerful J79-GE-17 engines (each can generate 17900 lbs. of thrust) to compensate the increased weight. Also, F-4E Block 48 models were fitted with leading-edge slats to increase the aircraft maneuverability. The United States Air Force retired the F-4s from active duty in 1996, and just like the Navy continued to use the planes as target drones until January 1, 2017. 

International F/RF-4 Phantom II Users

Germany

In the 1960s, the F-104G Starfighter became the standard aircraft of NATO and Luftwaffe (German Air Force). By the early 70s, the F-104G was struggling to meet the needs of users. Luftwaffe wanted a high performance, reliable and fast aircraft that could fly in any weather condition. Due to the high losses with the F-104Gs, they sought for a twin-engine plane. Germany first ordered 88 RF-4Es in 1969 and then ordered another 175 F-4F Phantom II on June 24, 1971. Under this agreement, Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) would manufacture parts for F-4Fs, and MTU would produce 448 J79-GE/MTU-17A engines. Although the F-4Fs produced specifically for Luftwaffe were a version of the F-4E, there were some significant differences between them. These changes include the replacement of the internal fuel cell number 7 with an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) for the hydraulic pressure system, the non-slotted version of the horizontal stabilizer, and APQ-120 [V5] radar which did not support AIM-7 Sparrow missiles. 

In the early 90s, Germany decided to modernize 113 F-4Fs and launched the ICE (Improved Combat Efficiency) program. Under the ICE program, Hughes AN/APG-65Y digital multi-mode radar, AIM-120 AMRAAM missile firing capability, Honeywell H-423 laser gyro inertial navigation system (INS), the GEC Avionics CPU-143/A digital central air data computer, and MFD (Multi-Function Display) screens were added to the aircraft. Germany retired her F-4Fs in 2013.

Australia

In the 1960s, McDonnell Douglas offered a special F-4C model for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Instead of the General Electric (GE) J79 engine, F-4C would be powered by the French SNECMA Atar 9 turbojet engine. The Atar 9 was also the engine of the Dassault Mirage III planes used by the RAAF at the time. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) did not accept this offer and instead decided to buy General Dynamics F-111C. Because of the problems and delays encountered in the development process of the variable-sweep wing F-111C aircraft, in May 1970, it became evident that the delivery of the first plane could not be completed before 1974. Therefore the Royal Australian Air Force agreed to lease F-4E from the United States Air Force (USAF) to replace the age Canberra B.20 bombers in the RAAF fleet until the F-111C was received.24 aircraft produced for USAF were leased to RAAF for two years at a total cost of $US41,554 million under the “Peace Reef” program which was signed on June 22, 1970. All 24 aircraft were delivered to Australia between September and October. 

In 1972, the delivery of the F-111Cs started earlier than expected. Therefore, the F-4Es were sent back to the US gradually, and the last RAAF F-4E returned to the USAF on June 21, 1973. During the three-year service of the planes, only a single aircraft was lost due to an accident. Phantom A69-7203 crashed on June 16, 1971, during a night bombing sortie on the Evans Head range. Twenty-one of the returned planes were converted to F-4G and used for the Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) missions.

South Korea

The Republic of Korea Air Force purchased 18 secondhand F-4Ds in 1968 under the Peace Spectator program and acquired a total of 92 F-4Ds in the following period. The ROKAF also ordered 37 new-built F-4Es and started receiving these aircraft in 1978. They received 23 RF-4Cs from the USAF in 1990. The RF-4Cs are officially retired, and a small number of F-4Es are still active.

United Kingdom

In July 1964, the Royal Navy ordered two F-4K (FG.1) prototypes for use on aircraft carriers. They decided to install Royce Spey turbofan engines, which are powerful than the J79, on the prototypes developed based on the F-4J model. These provided extra thrust for operation from smaller British aircraft carriers. Compared to the J97 turbojets, Spey engines would reduce fuel consumption and increase take-off performance. The introduction of new engines into the Phantom required significant structural changes. The air intake area was increased by twenty percent, and the aft fuselage under the engines had to be redesigned. Since these changes caused more drag, they could not provide the expected increase in performance. Besides the Navy, the Royal Air Force (RAF) also asked for the Phantom. They initially wanted to buy the F-4C, but the government disagreed and decided to buy the F-4M (FGR.2), the Spey-powered version of the F-4C. A total of 170 (52 K and 118 M) Phantoms were acquired. The need for new aircraft emerged after the Falkland war, and consequently, 15 F-4Js were purchased from the US Navy in 1984. The United Kingdom officially retired the Phantoms in October 1992 and replaced them with Panavia Tornadoes.

Iran

Iran received 32 F-4D, 177 F-4E, and 16 RF-4E between 1968 and 1979. On February 28, 1979, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran after the Islamic revolution and the exile of Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. As a result of the arms embargo, the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) could not receive 31 F-4E and 11 RF-4E. Phantoms played an active role in the Iran - Iraq war that started on September 22, 1980. Although few, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force continues to use the F/RF-4s actively despite the embargo.  

Israel

Israel is the largest foreign operator of Phantom with the 240 F-4E and RF-4E it bought between 1969 and 1976. Israel declared its intention to buy Phantom for the first time in 1965, but the United States did not accept this request. However, as a result of Israel’s losses after the Six-day war in 1967, the arms embargo imposed by France and Soviet arms sales to Arab countries changed the opinion of the U.S. government. Under the “Peace Echo I” program, Israel purchased 44 F-4E and 6 RF-4E aircraft in September 1969. In the War of Attrition that took place between Egypt and Israel between 1969 and 1971, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) used the Phantoms for the first time during its attack on the Egyptian air defence units located west of the Suez Canal on October 22, 1969. The Israeli F-4Es scored their first air victory on November 11, 1969, by downing an Egyptian Mig-21. The F-4E Phantoms, which are relatively weaker when compared to the Israeli F-15, F-16, and the other aircraft used by the Air Forces of the Arab states, were upgraded in 1987 under the Kurnass 2000 modernization project. Phantoms refitted to Kurnass 2000 standard underwent many changes, including new radar, HUD (Head-Up Display), mission computer, MFD (Multi-Function Display), HOTAS (hands-on-throttle-and-stick), radio, avionics, and structural strengthening. Israeli Phantoms saw extensive combat during Arab–Israeli conflicts. Between 1969-1982, Israeli F-4Es shot down 116 hostile aircraft in these battles, whereas 55 Phantoms were lost to the enemy fire. The last Israeli F-4s were retired in 2004. 

Spain

The Spanish Air Force acquired 36 ex-USAF F-4C Phantoms between October 1971 and September 1972 under the “Peace Alfa” program. Later, Spain purchased 4 F-4C and 4 RF-4C under the “Peace Alfa II” program in 1978 and an additional 8 RF-4C in 1989. In 1995, Spain received another 6 RF-4Cs to replace the first RF-4Cs. The last Spanish Phantoms were retired in 2002. 

Japan

From 1968, the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) imported 14 unarmed reconnaissance RF-4E and purchased a total of 140 F-4EJ Phantoms without aerial refueling, AGM-12 Bullpup missile system, AN/AJB-7 bombing system, nuclear control system or ground attack capabilities. The first two F-4EJs were produced by McDonnell Douglas, while the remaining 138 aircraft were manufactured under license in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. These are the only Phantoms built outside the United States. One of the planes (17-8440) was the very last of the 5,195 F-4 Phantoms manufactured in the world. Mitsubishi delivered it on May 20, 1981. In the late 80s, 110 out of 125 aircraft in service were planned to be modernized, but this number was later reduced to 96 because of budget constraints. Under the “Kai” modernization program AN-APG-66J pulse-doppler radar, new mission computer, Kaiser Heads-Up Display, AN/APZ-79 IFF, LN-39 INS and J/APR-6 RWR systems were installed on the F-4EJ aircraft. 11 RF-4Es were included in this program and upgraded to the RF-4E Kai standard and equipped with new AN/APQ-172 radar, J/APR-5 RWR, and LN-39 INS. 17 F-4EJs were converted into reconnaissance aircraft and designated as RF-4EJ after receiving a similar upgrade. RF-4EJs can carry LOROP (Long Range Oblique Photography - KS-146B camera), TAC (Tactical Camera Pod - KS-135A, and KS-95B cameras or D-500UR IR camera) and TACER (Tactical Electronic Reconnaissance - ELINT) under-fuselage pods for reconnaissance missions. Japan will retire its Phantoms this year and replaced them with F-35A Lightning II. 

Egypt

Egypt started to receive economic aid from the US after the Camp David agreement signed with Israel in 1978. Before the agreement, the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) was using Russian aircraft. In 1979, the Egyptian Air Force purchased 35 former USAF F-4Es from the United States as part of the “Peace Pharaoh” program. In exchange for the Phantoms, the US decided to buy some Mig-21 and Mig-23 aircraft from Egypt to give a chance to examine these planes firsthand. Egypt began receiving the aircraft in September 1979; however, as the Egyptian Air Force used to fly Russian planes, they had a hard time keeping the Phantoms ready for combat missions. Egypt even thought to sell these planes to Turkey in 1982. Later, with the new training programs and the support of the US, the number of active aircraft increased in 1985. By 2020, all the EAF Phantoms are retired.  

Greece

The Hellenic Air Force ordered 121 F/RF-4E Phantoms in total with deliveries starting in March 1974. In 1997, Greece upgraded a total of 39 F-4E aircraft under the “Peace Icarus 2000” (29 Peace Icarus I and 10 Peace Icarus II) modernization program. As part of the modernization, AN APG-65 radar, GEC-Marconi HUD, GPS/INS, and MFDs were installed on the aircraft. The modernized planes were later designated as F-4E AUP (Avionics Upgrade Program). The Hellenic Air Force officially retired the RF-4E Phantoms on May 5, 2017, while around 20 F-4E AUPs are still active.