McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom

McDonnell Douglas F-4M Phantom
McDonnell Douglas F-4M Phantom
Design and Development

In 1953, McDonnell Aircraft began work on revising its F-3H 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 19th 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 F-3H-G/H, but felt that the upcoming Grumman XF9F-9 and Vought XF8U-1 already satisfied the need for the supersonic fighter.

The McDonnell design was therefore reworked into an all-weather fighter-bomber with 11 external hardpoints for weapons and on 18th October 1954, the company received a letter of intent for two YAH-1 prototypes. On 26th May 1955, four Naval 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 A-4 Skyhawk for ground attack and F-8 Crusader for dog fighting, the project now had to fulfil the need for an all-weather fleet defence interceptor.

The first prototype (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 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 a boundary layer control system for better low-speed handling. But 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 movable 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 to increase angle of attack at takeoff.

The Phantom made its maiden flight on 27th May 1958 with Robert C. Little at the controls. A hydraulic problem precluded retraction of the landing gear on this flight, but subsequent flights went more smoothly. Early testing resulted in redesign of the air intakes, including the distinctive addition of 12,500 bleed air holes on each ramp.

Developed as a private venture by McDonnell, the aircraft was first ordered by the US Navy as a carrier-based attack aircraft armed with a 20-mm cannon (the F-4B). Soon after its introduction to active service in December 1960, a fly-off competition was conducted between the Phantom and various frontline Air Force fighters. The Phantom excelled in the competition in such a decisive way that the US Air Force ordered a slightly different version of the aircraft (the F-4C) and the Phantom went on to equip over three-quarters of the USAF's fighter wings. The first prototype F-4C flew on 27th May 1963, and production deliveries began in November 1963. The Air National Guard began flying the F-4C in January 1972. The RF-4C is a multi-sensor, long-range, reconnaissance version of the F-4C.

Improvements in the aircraft's electronic systems, engines and airframe resulted in many variants, including the F-4E (with more powerful engines, leading-edge wing slats to improve maneuverability, and 20-mm cannon); the RF-4E (export version designed for tactical reconnaissance); the F-4F (air superiority version for the German Luftwaffe, with air-to-ground weapons system removed); the F-4G ("Wild Weasel" anti-missile version); and the F-4K/M (Royal Navy/Royal Air Force versions, respectively).

The last variant of the Phantom was the QF-4N, a pilot-less target drone operated by the Pacific Missile Test Centre at Point Mugu, California. In addition to several F-4s still in active service with the Luftwaffe at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, and several others performing civilian-contract test work at Mojave, California, a sole privately operated F-4 was made airworthy in the 1990s in the USA, thanks to the hard work of both the USAF and the Collings Foundation.

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 Turkey, while the last F-4 ever built was completed in 1981 as an F-4EJ by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan.

The F-4 Phantom II was also the only aircraft used by both U.S. flight demonstration teams. The USAF Thunderbirds (F-4E) and the USN Blue Angels (F-4J) both switched to the Phantom for the 1969 season. The Thunderbirds flew it for five seasons, the Blue Angels for six.

Operational History

The United Kingdom bought versions based on the USN F-4J for use with the RAF and the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. The main differences were the use of the Rolls-Royce Spey engines and British made avionics. The RN and RAF versions were given the designation F-4K and F-4M respectively, and entered service as the Phantom FG.1 (fighter/ground attack) and Phantom FGR.2 (fighter/ground attack/reconnaissance).

In 1982 during the Falklands War three Phantom FGR.2s of No.29 Squadron were on active Quick Reaction Alert duty on Ascension Island to protect the base from air attack. After the Falklands War, 15 upgraded ex-USN F-4Js, known as the F-4J(UK) entered RAF service to compensate for one interceptor squadron redeployed to the Falklands.

Around 15 RAF squadrons in all received various marks of the Phantom, many of them based in Germany. The first to be equipped was No.6 Squadron at RAF Leuchars in July 1969. One noteworthy deployment was to No.43 Squadron where Phantom FG.1s remained with the squadron for a remarkable 20 years, arriving in September 1969 and departing in July 1989. During this period the squadron was based at RAF Leuchars.

The interceptor Phantoms were replaced by the Panavia Tornado F.3 from the late 1980s onwards, and the last RAF Phantoms were retired in October 1992 when No.74 Squadron disbanded.

Production Summary
F-4A45 built
F-4B649 built
F-4C583 built
F-4D825 built (export version)
F-4E1387 built (most were exports)
F-4EJ140 built (simplified export for Japan)
F-4F175 built (simplified export for Germany)
F-4G12 (all F-4B upgrades
F-4J22 built (including 15 upgraded for RAF use)
F-4K52 built ( RAF variant - FG.1)
F-4M118 built (RAF variant - FG.2)
F-4N228 F-4B upgrades
F-4S248 F-4J upgrades
RF-4B46 built (tactical recon variant)
RF-4C490 F-4C upgrades
RF-4E149 built (tactical recon variant)
RF-4EJ14 built (simplified RF-4E export for Japan)
QF-4B25 retired F-4B's converted to target drones
QF-4ERetired F-4E's converted to target drones
QF-4GRetired F-4G's converted to target drones
QF-4NRetired F-4N's converted to target drones
QF-4SConverted target drones
Specifications(F-4E Phantom)
Length:63ft 0in (19.2m)
Width:38ft 4.5in (11.7m)
Height:16ft 6in (5.0m)
Empty Weight:30,328lb (13,757kg)
MTOW:61,795lb (28,030kg)
Max Speed:Mach 2.23 (1472mph, 2,370km/h)
Max Range:1403nmi (1615mi, 2,600km) with 3 external fuel tanks
Rate-of-Climb:41,300ft/min (210m/s)
Service Ceiling:60,000ft (18,300m)
Engine:2× General Electric J79-GE-17A axial compressor turbojets, 17,845lbf (79.4kN) each
Armament Standard:1× M61 Vulcan 20 mm (.79 in) gatling cannon, 640 rounds
Armament Optional:4× AGM-62 Walleye - 6× AGM-65 Maverick - 4× AGM-45 Shrike - AGM-88 HARM - AGM-78 Standard ARM - 4× GBU-15 - 18× Mk.82 - GBU-12 - 4× AIM-7 Sparrow - 4× AIM-9 Sidewinders - 4 × Matra rocket pods with 18 × SNEB 68 mm rockets each