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Exploring the legacy of the F4 Phantom: history and notable features

F-4 Phantom jet in a white snowy mountains background

An iconic fighter jet that has left a lasting mark on aviation history, the McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom continues to captivate enthusiasts even today . Developed by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, the long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber went on to become one of the most successful and versatile fighter aircraft of its time.  

This article will delve into the rich history of the F4 Phantom, explore its technical characteristics and features, discuss its various variants, and highlight which countries still utilize this remarkable aircraft. 

F4 Phantom history and its role  

The development of the F4 Phantom began in 1952 when the United States Navy was seeking a new carrier-based interceptor to replace its aging aircraft. McDonnell Aircraft Corporation began working on this project, and on 27 May 1958, the XF4H-1 prototype made its maiden flight. Subsequently, it entered service with the U.S. Navy , U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Air Force.  

Initially designed as an air superiority fighter, the F4 Phantom’s role expanded to include ground attack, reconnaissance and electronic warfare . It played a significant role in various conflicts, including the Vietnam War, the Arab-Israeli conflicts and the Gulf War. The F4 Phantom showcased its versatility by excelling in both air-to-air combat and ground attack missions. Its successful engagements with enemy aircraft earned it the nickname ‘The World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts’. 

Technical characteristics and features  

The F4 Phantom boasts several groundbreaking features that contributed to its success. Its twin-engine configuration, with each engine generating 17,000 pounds of thrust, provides exceptional performance and reliability. The aircraft’s speed and acceleration are impressive, with a top speed of Mach 1.9 and the ability to reach altitudes above 60,000 feet. 

One of the most notable aspects of the F4 Phantom is its advanced radar and avionics systems. Equipped with the AN/APQ-72 radar, it has the capability to engage targets beyond visual range.  

The F-4 Phantom II, specifically the F-4J variant, was a pioneering aircraft that started using operational “look-down/shoot-down” capability. This innovation enabled the F-4J to effectively track and engage enemy aircraft flying at low altitudes. 

Additionally, it features advanced electronic countermeasures (ECM) systems to counter enemy radar and missiles. 

f 4 phantom kampfjets

F4 Phantom variants  

While it was in production, the F4 Phantom underwent several modifications and 19 major versions were produced, tailored to specific mission requirements.  

Some of its notable variants include: 

  • F-4B : the first production version for the U.S. Navy, featuring improved radar and avionics compared to the prototypes, with 649 units built.  
  • F-4C : the initial U.S. Air Force variant, designed for air-to-air combat; 583 units were built. 
  • F-4D : an upgraded version of the F-4C, incorporating improved avionics and radar, with 825 units built. This variant is still in use today.  
  • F-4E : a widely exported variant featuring an upgraded engine, enhanced air-to-air and ground attack capabilities, and a leading-edge slat system for improved maneuverability; 1,370 units were built. This variant is also still in use today. 
  • F-4G Wild Weasel V : an electronic warfare variant designed for the U.S. Air Force, equipped with specialized systems to suppress enemy radar, with 134 units built.  

Orders and deliveries  

The F4 Phantom’s success is not limited to the United States. It became a sought-after aircraft worldwide. It was produced from 1958 until 1981, and in that timespan, over 5,195 F4 Phantoms were built, and they were delivered to numerous countries.

Countries that used F4 Phantom  

The F4 Phantom’s impact was truly global, as it found service in numerous countries around the world.  

Some of the most notable countries that utilized the F4 Phantom include: 

  • United States: as the primary developer, the United States deployed the F4 Phantom extensively across its armed forces. It served in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Air Force, fulfilling various roles. 
  • Germany : the F4 Phantom played a crucial role in the defense of West Germany during the Cold War. The German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, operated the F4 Phantom and utilized it as a versatile multi-role aircraft. 
  • Japan : from 1968, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) acquired the F4 Phantom and operated it as a frontline fighter . The F4 Phantom played a vital role in Japan’s air defense and served as a symbol of the nation’s commitment to security. 
  • United Kingdom : the Royal Air Force (RAF) also procured the F4 Phantom and employed it primarily in the air defense role. The British variant, known as the F-4K and F-4M, featured unique modifications to suit the RAF’s specific requirements. 

In fact, these are just a few examples of the countries that used the F4 Phantom, illustrating its widespread international presence and impact. 

f 4 phantom kampfjets

Current operators 

The F-4 Phantom continues to find active service in several countries worldwide.  

Let’s look into the current operators of this iconic aircraft and their utilization of the F-4 Phantom for various missions, ranging from air defense to ground attack. 

  • Greece : the Hellenic Air Force acquired the F4 Phantom and utilizes it for both air defense and ground attack missions. There are 18 F-4Es still in service. 
  • South Korea : the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) operates 27 F-4Es and utilizes the jet as a key asset in safeguarding South Korean airspace. The F4 Phantom also provided essential support during times of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. However, ROKAF is preparing to replace its aging F-4E fleet.   
  • Turkey : the Turkish Air Force procured the F4 Phantom in 1974 and employs it as a vital component of its air defense fleet. There are 54 F-4E 2020 Terminators in service.  
  • Iran : prior to the Islamic Revolution, Iran operated a significant number of F4 Phantoms. As of today, 62 F-4D, F-4E, and RF-4Es are still in service .  

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    Before production began, extensive wind tunnel testing revealed stability problems above Mach 2 and numerous design changes would be made to become the now familiar F-4 Phantom. The wing was originally designed with a 45 degree sweepback with a constant anhedral, but it was found that a three degree dihedral was needed to improve stability. 8 Rather than design a new wing requiring major modifications, outer wing panels were added with a twelve degree dihedral. 9 The 12 degree panel corresponds to a 3 degree dihedral overall. This became one of the F-4 Phantom's most distinguishing features, which incorporated a dog-tooth leading edge and drooping ailerons or flaperon —flaperons move down only, not up. Ahead of each flaperon were spoilers, which aided in lateral control. The YF4H-1 was fitted with wing leading edge flaps which extended from the wingtip all the way inward to about one-quarter span. There were two segments with the division at the wing folding point. The leading edge flaps would extend on landing to provide additional lift at low speeds. The tailplane was a one-piece stabilator, requiring 23-1/2 degree anhedral that placed it away from wing downwash at high speeds, 10 The J79-GE-8 was delayed coming into use and the J79-GE-3A turbojet with 9,600 lb. s.t. and 14,800 lb s.t. with afterburner (w/ab) was used in May 1958. McDonnell Douglas F-4A Phantom II     F-4A (F4H-1F) changes were a leading edge flap boundary layer air control system first used on the 5th preproduction aircraft and blown flaps introduced on the 7th preproduction aircraft. 11 The wing leading edges and trailing edge flaps were blown by high-pressure bleed air from the engine compressors, which produced a thin layer of air which helped keep airflow attached at high angles of attack. Originally fixed geometry inlet cheeks were placed on the fuselage to provide smooth inlet air flow, but this was changed to a two-piece configuration with forward variable ramps that were controlled by an air data computer. On the 19th aircraft, the canopy was redesigned to improve visibility and a bulbous radome was installed to accommodate the a new larger 32" radar dish for the AN/APQ-72 air intercept radar as well as under nose bulge for infra-red heat seeking equipment creating a droop nose effect. Provisions were provided for six Sparrow III air-to-air missiles under the wings and fuselage. For air-to-ground missions, the aircraft was capable of carrying 16,000 lb of ordinance on four underwing pods and one centerline station or a single nuclear weapon. In place of ordinance, external fuel could be carried in three tanks and a retractable in-flight refueling probe was installed on the forward starboard fuselage. Twenty-three preproduction aircraft were given the J79-GE-2 or -2A with 10,350 lb s.t. (16,150 lb s.t. w/ab) which was replaced on later F-4As with J79-GE-8s, bringing the aircraft to almost full F-4B standards. 12 The McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom was the first major production type.     F-4Bs (F4H-1) were the first major production type with construction beginning in 1961 for 192 aircraft. 13 It was given the AN/APQ-72 air intercept radar and used AAA-4 infrared sensor beneath the nose radome. Missile combinations were six Ratheon Sparrow IIIs or four Sparrow IIIs with four GE/Philco sidewinder air-to-air missiles (AAM) mounted on two wing pylons and in four semi-recessed under fuselage bays. For the attack role, the F-4B could accommodate four wing and one fuselage attach points for a total of 16,000 lb of assorted bombs, including nuclear, conventional, napalm, missiles, rockets or three fuel tanks in place of weapons. It was given the J79-GE-8 turbojet engine with 10,900 lb s.t. (17,000 lb s.t. w/ab). In naval service, the F-4Bs were progressively upgraded as a result on combat experience in Vietnam. Chaff dispensers were added and Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) were improved with the addition of Radar Homing and Warning Systems (RHAWS) and Deception Systems (AN/ALQ-51 and AN/ALQ-100). The tailplane was retrofitted with slotted stabilizers as on the "J" models to reduce landing speeds. Production of the F-4B ended in 1967 with the completion of 649 aircraft. 14 Forty-six unarmed photo-reconnaissance versions were designated as the RF-4B, of which all 46 were procured by the USMC. 228 F-4Bs were upgraded in 1972 and were designated as the F-4N.

1. December 6, 1959. Absolute altitude record of 98,556 ft (30,040 m). 2. September 5,1960. Attained and average speed of 1,958 mph over a triangular course for 15 min and 91 sec. 3. September 25,1960. 100 km closed circuit speed record of 1,390 mph (Mach 2) with a continuous sustained turn of 3Gs. 19 4. May 24,1961. Ontario, CA to Brooklyn, NY (Floyd Bennett), 2 hr 47 min, @ average speed of 870 mph. 2,446 miles (3,936 km). 5. August 28,1961. Low altitude record of 125 ft (38 m) at 902 mph (1,452 km) for 1.86 miles (3 km). 6. December 5,1961. Sustained altitude record of 66,443 ft (20,252 m). 7. February 21,1962. Time to height record. 9,843 (3,000 m) in 34.52 sec. 8. February 21,1962. Time to height record. 19,685 (6,000 m) in 48.78 sec. 9. March 1,1962. Time to height record. 29,528 (9,000 m) in 61.62 sec. 10. March 1,1962. Time to height record. 39,370 (12,000 m) in 77.15 sec. 11. March 1,1962. Time to height record. 49,213 (15,000 m) in 114.54 sec. 12. March 31,1962. Time to height record. 65,617 (20,000 m) in 178.50 sec. 13. April 3,1962. Time to height record. 82,021 (25,000 m) in 230.44 sec. 14. April 4,1962. Time to height record. 98,425 (30,000 m) in 371.43 sec. 15. April 4,1962. Absolute altitude record of 100,000 ft (30,480 m). Not officially recorded by the FIA. Specifications: McDonnell F-4 Phantom II Dimensions: F-4B RF-4C F-4E F-4J F-4M Wing span: 38 ft 5 in (11.70 m) 38 ft 5 in (11.70 m) 38 ft 5 in (11.70 m) 38 ft 5 in (11.70 m) 38 ft 5 in (11.70 m) Length: 58 ft 3 in (17.77 m) 62 ft 10 in (19.17 m) 63 ft 0 in (19.20 m) 58 ft 4 in (17.78 m) 57 ft 7 in (17.55 m) Height: 16 ft 3 in (4.95 m) 16 ft 6 in (5.03 m) 16 ft 6 in (5.03 m) 16 ft 3 in (4.95 m) 16 ft 1 in (4.90 m) Weights: Empty: 28,000 lb. (12,701 kg) 28,276 lb. (12,826 kg) 29,535 lb. (13,397 kg) 30,770 lb. (13,957 kg) 31,000 lb. (14,061 kg) Gross: 44,600 lb (20,231 kg) 39,788 lb (18,048 kg) 40,562 lb (18,399 kg) 46,833 lb (21,243 kg) - Max T/O: 54,600 lb (24,766 kg) 58,000 lb (26,308 kg) 61,651 lb (27,965 kg) 59,000 lb (26,762 kg) 56,000 lb (25,402 kg) Performance: Max Speed: 1,485 mph (2,390 km/h) @ 48,000 FT (14,630 m) 1,459 mph (2,348 km/h) @ 40,000 FT (12,192 m) 1,430 mph (2,301 km/h) @ 36,000 FT (10,973 m) 1,584 mph (2,549 km/h) @ 48,000 FT (14,630 m) 1,386 mph (2,231 km/h) @ 40,000 FT (12,192 m) Service Ceiling 62,000 ft. (18,898 m) 59,400 ft. (18,105 m) 62,250 ft. (18,974 m) 70,000 ft. (21,336 m) 60,000 ft. (18,288 m) Combat Ceiling 56,850 ft. (17,328 m) - 59,600 ft. (18,166 m) 54,700 ft. (16,673 m) - Combat Range 400 miles (644 km) 840 miles (1,352 km) 595 miles (958 km) 596 miles (959 km) 1,000 miles (1,609 km) Max Range 2,300 miles (3,701 km) 1,750 miles (2,816 km) 1,885 miles (3,034 km) 1,956 miles (3,148 km) 1,750 miles (2,816 km) Powerplant Armament F-4B Two General Electric J79-GE-8A/-8B/-8C 10,900 lb s.t. (4,944 kg) 17,000 lb s.t. ab (7,711 kg) Six or eight air-to-air missiles, 16,000 lb (7,257 kg) bombs/rockets RF-4C Two General Electric J79-GE-15 10,300 lb s.t. (4,672 kg) 17,000 lb s.t. ab (7,711 kg) None F-4E Two General Electric J79-GE-17 11,870 lb s.t. (5,384 kg) 17,900 lb s.t. ab (8,119 kg) One 20 mm rotary cannon, 16,000 lb (7,257 kg) missiles/bombs/rockets F-4J Two General Electric J79-GE-8B/-8C/-10 10,900 lb s.t. (4,944 kg) 17,900 lb s.t. ab (8,119 kg) Four air-to-air missiles, 16,000 lb (7,257 kg) missiles/bombs/rockets F-4M Two Roll-Royce Spey RB-168-25R Mk 202/203 12,250 lb s.t. (5,556 kg) 20,515 lb s.t. ab (9,305 kg) Four British Aerospace Sky Flash air-to-air missiles 16,000 lb (7,257 kg) missiles/bombs/rockets Notes:

1. Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers. Sparkford Nr: Hayes Publishing Group, 1987. 314. 2. Bill Yenne. McDonnell Douglas, A Tale of Two Giants. New York: Crescent Books, 1985. 214. 3. J.W.R. Taylor. Warplanes of the World. New York: Arco Publishing Company, 1966. 87. 4. Rene J. Francillon. McDonnell Douglas Since 1920, Volume II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1990. 176. 5. William Green and Gerald Pollinger. The World's Fighting Planes. New York: Hanover House, 1959. 193. 6. Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers. 311. 7. Douglas J. Ingells. The McDonnell Douglas Story Fallbrook, Ca: Aero Publishers, Inc., 1979. 109. 8. Lloyd S. Jones. U.S. Fighters. Fallbrook, CA: Aero Publishers, Inc., 1975. 310. 9. Paul St. John Turner. Profiles in Aircraft, Volume 9, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1971. 62. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 63. 12. Francillon. 183. 13. Paul St. John Turner. 65. 14. Francillon. 185. 15. Paul St. John Turner. 62. 16. Francillon. 197. 17. Ibid. 199. 18. Kenneth Munson. Fighters in Service, Attack and Training Aircraft since 1960. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1971. 134. 19. Paul St. John Turner. 64. Other Sources: William Green and Gordon Swanborough. The Complete Book of Fighters. New York: Smithmark, 1994. 369.


What couldn’t the f-4 phantom do.

A tribute to McDonnell’s masterpiece fighter jet.

Stephen Joiner


First, they tried an F-104.  “Not enough wing or thrust,” recalls Jack Petry, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel. When NASA engineers were launching rockets at Florida’s Cape Canaveral in the 1960s, they needed pilots to fly close enough to film the missiles as they accelerated through Mach 1 at 35,000 feet. Petry was one of the chosen. And the preferred chase airplane was the McDonnell F-4 Phantom.

“Those two J79 engines made all the difference,” says Petry. After a Mach 1.2 dive synched to the launch countdown, he “walked the [rocket’s] contrail” up to the intercept, tweaking closing speed and updating mission control while camera pods mounted under each wing shot film at 900 frames per second. Matching velocity with a Titan rocket for 90 extreme seconds, the Phantom powered through the missile’s thundering wash, then broke away as the rocket surged toward space. Of pacing a Titan II in a two-seat fighter, Petry says: “Absolutely beautiful. To see that massive thing in flight and be right there in the air with it—you can imagine the exhilaration.” 

For nearly four decades  of service in the U.S. military, the Phantom performed every combat task thrown at it—almost every mission ever defined.

“All we had to work with at the beginning was a gleam in the customer’s eye,” said James S. McDonnell of the Phantom’s inception. In 1954, the ambitious founder of McDonnell Aircraft personally delivered to the Pentagon preliminary sketches based on the U.S. Navy’s request for a twin-engine air superiority fighter. The Navy green-lighted McDonnell’s concept, as well as a competing offer from Chance-Vought that updated the F8U Crusader.

f 4 phantom kampfjets

In an area of McDonnell’s St. Louis, Missouri factory known as the advanced design cage—a cluster of three desks and a few drafting boards partitioned off with drywall topped with chicken wire—just four engineers worked on the airplane that would propel naval aviation into the future. As the engineers worked, the Navy clarified its concept of air superiority: The service wanted a two-seat, high-altitude interceptor to neutralize the threat Soviet bombers posed to America’s new fleet of Forrestal-class super-carriers. Now designated F4H-1, the project soon engulfed the entire resources of “McAir,” as the company was known. By 1962, F-4 program manager David Lewis would be company president.

McDonnell’s and the Navy’s design philosophy assumed the next war, not the last. The F-4’s rear cockpit was there for a backseater to handle what was sure to be a heavy information load. For the air-to-air encounters of tomorrow, gunnery was supplanted by radar-guided missiles. Though not strictly solid state, the airframe was stuffed with state of the art: Westinghouse radar, Raytheon missile fire control, advanced navigation systems, and an analog air-data computer. A network of onboard sensors extended nose to tail.

On the factory floor, integrating 30,000 electronic parts and 14 miles of wiring gave troubleshooters a fit—and job security. Cheek-by-jowl components generated clashing sources of electromagnetic energy. Voltage wandered wire to wire, producing crazy glitches: Gauges displayed 800 gallons when the fuel tanks were empty. Just how convoluted the glitches could get was demonstrated when baffling control losses were traced to a random match between the pitch of one test pilot’s voice in the headset mic and the particular resonance of a signal controlling autopilot activation.

After the F-4 eliminated the F8U-3 in a competitive fly-off, George Spangenberg, an official in the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics, declared: “The single-seat fighter era is dead.” Though its General Electric J79 engines advertised its arrival with a smoke trail visible 25 miles away—a Phantom calling card that would take two decades to engineer out—the first F-4 production models rolled off McDonnell’s assembly line with Mach 2 capability as standard equipment and a 1,000-hour warranty. Delivered to California’s Naval Air Station Miramar in December 1960 as a fleet defender purpose-built to intercept high-flying nuclear foes, the massively powered, technology-chocked F-4 seemed to herald the same break from 1950s orthodoxy as John F. Kennedy’s torch-has-been-passed inauguration speech, then only weeks away.

Navy aviators of the early 1950s made do with jet aircraft hamstrung by the requirements for carrier landings. “I wouldn’t say I really aspired to fly the [McDonnell] F3H Demon,” says Guy Freeborn, a retired Navy commander, of the clunky subsonic he once had to eject from. “But then, one day, here was this beautiful new F-4 sitting right next to it.” Suddenly, carrier-based fliers like Freeborn—who would spend two Vietnam combat tours in the front seat of a Phantom—found themselves sole proprietors of the hottest fighter on Earth.

The new jet took some getting used to. Getting F-4s to fly and fight required a team effort: a pilot up front and a radar intercept officer (RIO) behind. The ethos of the solitary hunter-killer, not to mention the ability to single-handedly grease precarious landings on pitching carrier decks, fostered a strong DIY culture among Navy fighter pilots. How to process the notion of a RIO (aka “guy in back,” aka “voice in the luggage compartment”), who wasn’t even a pilot, looking over your shoulder?

Aerial combat in Vietnam had a clarifying effect on pilots’ attitudes toward RIOs. “I loved it,” says John Chesire, who flew 197 combat missions in the Phantom during two tours in Vietnam. “We split our duties, and he kept me out of trouble. Going into combat, the workload was so high that I really relied on the guy behind me.”

Flying into combat without a shooting iron was another matter. “That was the biggest mistake on the F-4,” says Chesire. “Bullets are cheap and tend to go where you aim them. I needed a gun, and I really wished I had one.”

“Everyone in RF-4s wished they had a gun on the aircraft,” says Jack Dailey, a retired U.S. Marine Corps general and director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

McDonnell’s earliest concept included interchangeable nose sections to readily convert a standard F-4 into the RF-4B, a camera-equipped reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft’s most photo-friendly asset, however, was speed. RF-4Bs flew alone and unarmed deep into unfriendly airspace. “Speed is life,” Phantom pilots liked to say.

In the front seat of a Marine Corps photo-recon Phantom on more than 250 missions, Dailey was tasked to support Marines on the ground with film and infrared imagery. “We were trying to track movement of the Viet Cong coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail,” he says. “They moved their trucks a lot at night. We could fly along a road and pop flash cartridges and catch them out in the open.”

The recce pilots in RF-4s had good reason to wish for a gun: The focal length of the RF-4’s camera lens and the required photo coverage imposed a flight regime that didn’t include evasive action. “For photographic purposes, they wanted you flying straight and level at about 5,000 feet,” says Dailey. The predictable flight path and the absence of defensive weapons drew enemy calibers from anti-aircraft artillery down to small arms. “We got hosed down every day,” says Dailey. Often, ground forces simply used barrage fire—large groups firing rifles and other sidearms into the sky simultaneously. Dailey’s Phantom was nailed on nine occasions. A rifle round once penetrated the cockpit, narrowly missing him. Another time he landed with so much engine damage “you could see light shining through.”

Naval aviators were rudely initiated into an F-4 idiosyncrasy: As airplane and deck parted company, the Phantom’s nose initially rose slowly.  And with a bit of speed, the nose could over-rotate to a near-stall attitude if not controlled. “It got pretty wild,” says Chesire. “It was always lots of fun to watch new guys take off.”

The snappy response of the J79 turbojets made one aspect of landing on a carrier safer. Earlier engines had often lagged behind urgent power requests. In a memorable moment landing on the USS Midway , Chesire realized that his tailhook had failed to engage an arresting cable—after he’d already fully idled back both engines (a rookie mistake). The Midway ’s deck camera recorded his Phantom plunging off the end of the carrier. He slammed the throttles forward. Instead of a large splash, the F-4 reappeared—“going straight up, in full afterburner,” says Chesire—as the J79s delivered just-in-time thrust.

Combat air patrol missions were proactive: Instead of escorting or defending, F-4s went looking for trouble. MiG pilots with North Vietnam’s air force were happy to oblige. Part of a two-Phantom patrol to waylay Hanoi-based MiGs, Guy Freeborn launched from the USS Constellation on August 10, 1967. “We were hungry,” says Freeborn, who had never encountered a MiG. Lurking beneath a thin cloud layer, “we figured we might be pretty close to their path. Then, holy crap, here come three MiG-21s out of the clouds right over us.”

The Phantoms shifted into afterburner and sped to 575 mph to develop enough energy to turn aggressively. F-4s hemorrhaged speed while turning—“It was a big, dirty airplane in terms of drag,” says Freeborn—so MiGs could generally out-turn the Phantoms. But the Russian fighter’s fancy footwork didn’t often trump the F-4’s brute, drag-strip acceleration.

The lead Phantom launched two Sparrow missiles, which lost radar lock on the MiGs. Freeborn had other issues beside the finicky, radar-guided Sparrow: Behind him sat a RIO with no combat experience. “I felt I couldn’t rely on him to stay cool, get a radar lock-up, and do what he had to do,” he recounts. As the Phantoms rapidly closed the gap, he chose “Heat” on his front-seat weapons selector and launched an AIM-9 Sidewinder. The streaking heat-seeker locked on to and hit one of the MiGs. Though smoking and trailing fuel, the fighter remained airborne. Before Freeborn could unleash the coup de grâce, the pilot in the lead F-4 finished off the MiG with a Sidewinder. “I told my backseater, ‘Look! That bastard just shot my MiG!’ ”

With only one target remaining, Freeborn quickly triggered another Sidewinder, which promptly misfired. “I said, ‘Oh man, it’s just not my day.’ ” He cycled the weapon selector once more and lit the next AIM-9. “That one blew him to pieces,” he says. He later discovered that neither MiG pilot had survived.

The third MiG-21? Last seen miles away, “streaking back towards Hanoi,” says Freeborn.

Before stealth, there was night. Darkness provided cover for the “Night Owls” of the Air Force 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron, based at Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, during the Vietnam War. “The first time I walked into the squadron, I noticed everything was painted black,” says Doug Joyce, today a retired Air Force colonel.

Missions centered on tactical interdiction and forward air control. Standard strikes were two-craft affairs. “We seldom flew in big gaggles like the day guys did,” Joyce explains. “Nor could we do a lot of jinking around as we came down the chute on a bomb run, because of the risk of spatial disorientation in the dark.” From Phantoms with painted-black bellies, Night Owls dispensed both dumb bombs and laser-guided ones, as well as cluster bombs. Looming terrain and ground fire posed dangers: “37mm anti-aircraft was the biggest threat,” says Joyce. “When they couldn’t see you, they’d just shoot everywhere. If there was any moonlight at all, of course, that F-4 would show up as a big black shape in the moonshine.”

One of the premier graveyard-shift gigs—reserved for the most experienced Owls—was supporting B-52s on bombing raids to Hanoi. “It was pretty breathtaking,” says Joyce, describing pyrotechnics in the night skies in the spring of 1972. “At the very beginning, even with Wild Weasel support, they shot hundreds of SAMs [surface-to-air missiles] at us. At the altitudes the B-52s were at, we were close to the service ceiling of the F-4. You didn’t want to use afterburner because you just lit yourself up. And you couldn’t maneuver laterally in these formations because there were other airplanes next to you.”

Plumes of metallic strips called chaff were released to distract radar-guided SAMs fired at the B-52s. However, Joyce says it had the opposite effect on the F-4s dispersing it: “Here we are in this very heavily defended SAM environment, and we’re appearing on enemy radar screens at the pointy end of a bright stream of chaff.” It amounted to an arrow pointing out the Phantom to North Vietnamese missile operators (see “The Missile Men of North Vietnam,” Dec. 2014/Jan. 2015).

“I always said if you were worried about dying, you weren’t doing a good job,” says Chuck DeBellevue, a retired Air Force colonel. He wasn’t much of a worrier. In Vietnam, DeBellevue flew 220 missions in the F-4 and shot down six MiGs, becoming America’s highest scoring ace of the war.

In 1963, a land-based variant of the Phantom emerged from the McDonnell assembly line. Optimized for both ground support and air superiority, the Air Force F-4C was distinguished by flight controls in both front and back seats and was primed for manual “down the chute” dive-bombing and tactical interdiction. In time, the Air Force bought twice as many F-4s as the Navy.

A pilot surplus put DeBellevue into the F-4 back seat for duty as a weapons systems officer. Unlike their Navy counterpart, the initial backseaters in Air Force F-4s were pilots. However, the Air Force soon decided that navigators were better suited to be F-4 WSOs—or “Wizzos.” “A lot of pilots were not really happy going into the back seat,” says DeBellevue. “But, as a navigator, I was just pleased as pink.” In November 1971, he was assigned to the 555th Tactical Squadron at Udorn, Thailand.

DeBellevue recalls that on the day he reported, he got a blunt greeting from the 555th scheduler. “He looked at me and said, ‘You’ve got one year—if you live. Tomorrow morning you start on the dawn patrol.’ ” As a weapons systems officer, DeBellevue flew nearly 100 missions deep into North Vietnam.

“Crossing the fence into North Vietnamese airspace, you’d start psyching up,” says DeBellevue. Once the F-4 engaged an enemy, he says, “nothing that was happening outside the cockpit was important to me.” With an impending life-or-death event looming at near supersonic speeds, he narrowed his focus to managing weapons systems, acquiring the enemy aircraft on radar, calculating direction of intercept, and feeding the frontseater what he needed to know.

On September 9, 1972, DeBellevue was paired with pilot John Madden on a patrol mission to North Vietnam. Afterward, he was to make one of the last flights leaving Hanoi. “We crossed the Red River and I picked up two blips on the radar at 11 o’clock,” he recalls. Immediately he knew what they meant: “MiG-19s, a very dangerous airplane,” he says. “We couldn’t outrun—we didn’t have gas to run. So we had to fight. We turned on them.” Both MiGs jettisoned fuel tanks, ready to rumble. “They turned into us, and the fight was on,” he says.

“We fired two Sidewinders at the trailing MiG,” he says. “One hit him, and he dropped out of the fight.” DeBellevue couldn’t see that the enemy had in fact crashed and burned, officially making him an ace. “But the other guy was turning hard into us anyway, so we put all our attention on him,” he says. The F-4 launched a heat-seeker, which immediately soared out of sight. “It looked like it was heading for the sun, which isn’t good news,” he says. “Even from the back seat, I could see the MiG, and by this time he was really making angles on us.”

A streak entered his field of view: The errant Sidewinder had rejoined the battle. It ended up in the MiG’s afterburner. “He rolled out wings-level, and then rolled inverted” says DeBellevue, of the MiG’s pilot. “He was at about twelve or fifteen hundred feet when he started a split-S. The first 90 degrees was perfect. After that—he turned to dust.”

Even as he was being toasted at the officers’ club the night of his fifth and sixth victories, “they handed me transfer papers and told me to be ready to leave at six the next morning,” he says. The Air Force removed aces from combat. Stateside, after graduating from pilot training, he was soon in the Phantom again—this time the front seat. When he retired from the Air Force 26 years later, Chuck DeBellevue was the last American ace on active duty.

Jim Schreiner had flown Air Force A-10s and was facing a desk job in 1990 when he was offered one more flying tour. He suggested a General Dynamics F-16 or a McDonnell Douglas F-15, the elite fighters at the time. In his book Magnum! The Wild Weasels in Desert Storm , coauthored with Brick Eisel, he described his assignment flying 1969-vintage F-4Gs instead. “It was still a fighter,” he says today, “but not exactly what I was thinking of.”

Twenty years after SAMs downed more than 200 American warplanes in Vietnam, “Wild Weasel” pilots like Schreiner flew upgraded Phantoms into SAM-filled skies during Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. This time, the outcome was very different: Not a single U.S. aircraft was downed by an Iraqi radar-guided SAM.

The Wild Weasel F-4s were fitted with an AN/APR-47 radar-homing-and-warning system, which enabled them to sniff out missile sites. Also, the back-seat configuration was altered to accommodate additional radarscopes and inertial navigation equipment. The Weasel’s most pertinent weapons were two or four AGM-88 high-speed anti-radiation missiles, designed to follow the SAM radar beam right back to its origin.

At 2 a.m. on the first night of the war, Schreiner and his backseater, Dan Sharp, one half of a two-aircraft mission, quickly found the Iraqi SAM sites. Early on, North Vietnamese SAM operators had connected the dots (energized radar equals missile exploding through the roof) and learned to keep their radar powered down until the last moment before launch. “The Iraqis hadn’t yet figured out that it wasn’t a good idea to have the sites up,” says Schreiner. “So they had them all turned on.” The result was a “target-rich environment,” says Schreiner. “Lots of things to look at and shoot at.”

In the cockpit, he watched as each anti-radiation missile found its mark, and the icon representing a SAM site on the Phantom’s radar screen was replaced by a symbol indicating where it used to be. Air-to-air threats were a non-issue—AIM-7 Sparrows carried for self-defense were never used. “There was never any reason to,” says Schreiner. “Had there been any threat, we had plenty of F-15s in the air to take those out.” None of the Wild Weasels were hit by anything larger than small-caliber ground fire. “We continued to fly until they called a halt to the air war,” says Schreiner. 

“yes, 68,000 is well above the F-4’s operating range,” says Jack Petry. “We weren’t supposed to go above 50-, so we didn’t tell anybody.” That day in January 1965, while he and his backseater, Captain Ray Seal, were chasing the Titan II rocket, their Phantom’s “smash”—flight energy—pushed the space program’s comfort zone.

In his helmet headset, Petry could hear that the range controller at Cape Canaveral was getting nervous: “Break it off,” the controller repeated.

“Negative,” Petry replied, assuring the controller that his finite momentum wouldn’t mess with the missile. “The whole idea was to keep the airplane pointed at the missile,” he says. “So we stayed with it just as long as we had the airspeed—to keep the cameras rolling.”

For a fleeting moment, his altimeter eclipsed 68,000 feet. “We had virtually no energy left,” says Petry. “We weren’t flying anymore at that point—just riding. But the F-4 stayed quite stable.”

The Titan leaned into its trajectory and barreled downrange. Petry broke away inverted and maneuvered to restore airflow over the wings. He and his backseater kept Gemini II in the F-4’s camera sights, he says, “until we fell out of the sky.”  

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Stephen Joiner writes about aviation from his home in southern California.

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McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

Multirole / carrierbased fighter / strike fighter aircraft, united states | 1960, "the classic mcdonnell douglas f-4 phantom ii is widely regarded as one of the most successful fighter designs of all time and saw considerable combat service in the vietnam war.".

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The F-4 Phantom may still be considered the best fighter-bomber ever built and a great success for the American aeronautical industry. The F-4 was also the test bed for using electronic, instead of manual controls.

The F-4 held fifteen world speed, altitude and time-to-climb records. During Vietnam the F-4 downed 280 MiGs. The payload of and F-4 was three times that of a B-17 Flying Fortress.

In the 1970’s the ‘J’ model received a complete upgrade of its wiring, plumbing, engines, systems and structures. The notorious black smoke trail was alleviated by the new J79-GE-10B smokeless engine. These upgrades would extend the service life of the F-4. In 2004, more than forty years later, 800 F-4’s still serve the U.S. and other countries.

Some 5,057 F-4’s were built in the United States, an additional 138 in Japan. In 1986, the last F-4 was replaced in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets by the Navy F-14 Tomcat or Marine F/A-18 Hornet.

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Historical reenactment league, pts resource center, f-4j phantom ii, the phantom established 16 speed, altitude and time-to-climb records..

f 4 phantom kampfjets


The F-4 established 16 speed, altitude and time-to-climb records. In 1959, its prototype set the world altitude record at 98,556 feet. In 1961, an F-4 set the world speed record at 1,604 mph on a 15-mile circuit. By the end of production in 1985, McDonnell had built 5,068 Phantom II’s. Bu.No. 153879

Active Duty Life: 1960 to 1996

Design Features

  • Armed with missiles only until the F-4C version installed an external 20mm gun pod. The F-4E got an internally mounted Vulcan M61A 20mm canon.
  • Boundary layer air control system on leading edge flaps
  • Could carry an external bomb load of no less than 22,500 lb. – greater than that of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

Specifications on Wikipedia

  • “US Navy F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1965-70” by Peter Davies, Osprey Combat Aircraft #26
  • “US Navy F-4 Phantom II MiG Killers 1972-73” by Peter Davies, Osprey Combat Aircraft #30
  • “F-4 Phantom II vs MiG-21” by Peter Davies, Osprey Publishing

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Here's What Made The F-4 Phantom II Such An Excellent Fighter Jet

T he F-4 Phantom II began flying fleet defense for the U.S. Navy in 1958 but wasn't used by the Air Force until 1963 (as the F-4C). The two-seat, twin-engine tactical jet fighter bomber was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (later the McDonnell-Douglas Corporation). It could fly in any weather scenario and perform a variety of roles, including air superiority, interdiction, and close-air support.

It was the first fighter aircraft to fly simultaneously with the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and the only one to be flown at the same time by the flight demonstration teams from both the Air Force (Thunderbirds) and Navy (Blue Angels). By the time it retired in 1996, it had earned a reputation as one of the best fighter jets developed during the Cold War  because it was produced in such large quantities, had an incredible service length (38 years), and always performed admirably.

In 1965, the F-4 was used aggressively in the Vietnam War, flying air-to-air missions and attacking targets on the ground. Initially, it was only armed with air-to-air missiles. However, several (unsuccessful) early dogfights with Soviet-built MiG fighters showed the need for additional close-range armaments, so it was retrofitted with 20-millimeter cannons. The Phantom went on to rack up over 100 MiG kills during the war.

When fully loaded it could carry 16,000 pounds of ordnance on nine external hardpoints in any number of configurations that included nuclear or conventional bombs, rockets, missiles, or 20mm cannon pods. By comparison, it carried more than twice that of a World War II B-17 bomber.

Read more: 14 Best Fighter Planes And Jets Of All Time

This Phantom Scared All Of Its Enemies

The fighter was powered by two General Electric J-79-GE-15s, each creating 17,000 pounds of thrust. It had a maximum speed of 1,400 mph, with a cruising speed of 590 mph. Its range (1,750 miles) and flight ceiling (59,600 ft.) also gave it a considerable advantage. Various iterations of the F-4 (of which there were many) reached speeds of Mach 2.2 (at one time it was one of the fastest fighters in the world ), carried 18,000 pounds, had ceilings above 62,000 feet, and went much further (the F-4B had a range of 2,300 miles). 

Nearly 5,200 were built by the time production ended in 1979 -- 2,600+ for the USAF, 1,200+ for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, while some 1,400 of the multi-purpose Phantoms served with as many as 12 other friendly nations.

The Navy's last F-4 landed aboard the USS America in October 1986. During Operation Desert Storm, the Air Force launched F-4G Wild Weasels (a rebuilt version of the F-4E) to track enemy radar and suppress enemy air defenses like SAM batteries. The effectiveness helped the U.S. military control the skies above Iraq and Kuwait within 24 hours.

As of 2020, the F-4 was still in service with Iran, Japan, South Korea, Greece, and Turkey. Germany's Air Force still uses Phantoms at Holloman AFB as training platforms for its fighter pilots. Designated as the QF-4 Aerial Target, it still serves as -- you guessed it -- a supersonic reusable unmanned aerial target for live air-to-air and surface-to-air missile tests. According to the Air Force, there are 84 active QF-4s currently in operation at Tyndall Air Force Base (Florida) and Holloman AFB (New Mexico).

Read the original article on SlashGear .

McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II fighter bomber aircraft

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F-4 Phantom: An Enduring Frontline Fighter

F-4 Phantom: An Enduring Frontline Fighter

September 13, 2022

MotoArt's newest addition to the PlaneTags fleet is the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II, the versatile and adaptable fighter that remained in the frontlines for more than half a century. Learn more about the Phantom II and how we found BuNo 148369.

F 4 Phantom

f-4 phantom

  Collings Foundation F-4 Phantom flickr photo by TMWolf shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

The F-4 Phantom is a twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber. It was highly adaptable and used extensively in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War as the principal air superiority fighter for the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Marines. It had a top speed of over Mach 2.2 and set several world records for its performance and speed. It was the backbone of American military air power throughout the 1980’s, eventually being replaced by newer aircraft and phased out by 1996. Between 1958 and 1981, 5,195 F-4s were built, setting a long standing record for the largest production run of a U.S. built supersonic fighter. The F-4 has been flown by the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds demonstration teams. It has also seen service in eleven other countries including Australia, United Kingdom, Egypt, Israel, Japan, and South Korea. Although most of these countries have retired their F-4s, even today after more than 60 years since its introduction, the F-4 is still in service in some countries.

f 4 phantom

What was the Phantom I?

f 4 phantom kampfjets

McDonnell FH-1 Phantom [111759] flickr photo by HawkeyeUK shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license  

The McDonnell FH Phantom is a twinjet fighter plane that was built for the U.S. Navy and flown for the first time during World War II. The Phantom was the first jet deployed by the US Marine Corps and the first aircraft propelled solely by jets to touch down aboard an American aircraft carrier.

Development of the F-4 Phantom

f-4 phantom ii

The F-4 Phantom was built in response to the U.S. Navy’s need for a superior attack fighter. McDonnell Aircraft began development by redesigning the Navy’s carrier based fighter F-3H Demon with improved performance and capabilities. McDonnell proposed a supersonic “Super Demon” to the Navy in 1953. While the Navy felt their supersonic fighter, the Vought F-8 Crusader, met their requirements but requested a full scale mockup. McDonnell built the F-4 as an all-weather fighter-bomber. They also added a second crewman for the AN/APQ-50 radar and the F-4 became an all-weather interceptor for the Navy. The Phantom made its first flight in 1958 and went into service in December 1960. The USAF would develop their own variant, the F-4H, as a fighter/bomber. The Air Force variants were the F-4C and F-4H. The Navy’s Phantoms were designated the F-4B. 

The F-4 Phantom II broke many records over its service lifetime. Between 1959 and 1962, the Phantom II set 16 world records, five of them not broken until years later with the F-15 Eagle. Here are just a few early records: 

  • Zoom climb - 98,557 ft. performed on December 6, 1959
  • Speed record - a Phantom averaged 1,390.24 mph over a 62 mile course in September 1960 
  • Speed and performance - In 1961, during a 50th anniversary celebration of Naval aviation, a Phantom crossed the continental United States in 2 hours and 47 minutes, averaging over 869 mph.

F-4B Phantom: Drawing and Specs

f 4 phantom kampfjets


  • Manufacturer: Mcdonnell
  • Buno: 148369
  • Crew: 2 (1 Pilot, 1 Rio)
  • Wing Span: 38 Ft 5 In
  • Length: 58 Ft 3 In
  • Height: 16 Ft 3in
  • Armament: 4x Aim-7d Or -7e Sparrows, 2x Aim-9 Sidewinders On Inner Underwing Pylons


  • Range: 347 Nm (Combat Range)
  • Cruise Speed: 500 Kts
  • Ceiling: 62,000 Ft
  • Empty Weight: 27,897 Lb
  • Max Takeoff Weight: 53,907 Lb
  • Rate Of Climb: 28,000 Ft/Min
  • Engine: 2x General Electric J79-Ge-8a Turbojets

BuNo 148369


BuNo 148369, built as a block 6 F4H-1 Phantom, was delivered to the U.S. Marines in May 1961. Redesignated as an F-4B, ‘8369 would be assigned to numerous squadrons during its career including the VMFAT-101, VX-4, and H&MS-13 where it was deployed to Chu Lai Air Base, Vietnam. ‘8369 was struck off charge in 1974 after 1,644 total hours. It was later assigned to NATTC Memphis, TN as a ground trainer, and was said to have served with the USN Fire School. While the tail section was at one time preserved at the Flying Tigers Museum in Kissimmee Florida, the rest ended up in a private aircraft collection in St. Louis, MO. 

VMFAT-101 Sharpshooters F4 Phantom II

f 4 phantom kampfjets

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 (VMFAT-101) was commissioned at Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, CA. Jan. 3, 1969, as part of Marine Combat Crew Readiness Training Group 10, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. VMFAT 101 trained naval aviators and flight officers in the use of the F-4 Phantom II, and later the F-18 Hornet. They won several safety awards, as well as the coveted Marine Corps Aviation Association Robert M. Hanson Award as Marine aviation’s finest fighter squadron. The Sharpshooters trained their last F-4 replacement crew in May 1987, and by July the squadron delivered its remaining Phantoms to be stored at Davis-Monthan AFB. The squadron amassed over 125,000 flight hours over the 18 years spent training Marine and Navy crews. 

F4s at Davis Monthan AFB

VX-4 Evaluators F-4 Phantom II

f 4 phantom kampfjets

VX-4 Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four, later redesignated in January 1969 as Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 4, was originally charged with the development of airborne early warning systems during the early 1950s. Over the years, they were commissioned to conduct evaluations of air-launched guided missiles, Doppler navigation systems, operational test and terrain clearance radar, and air-to-air distance measuring equipment. In the early 1960’s they began working with the F-4 Phantom to perform operational tests and evaluate airborne fighter weapons, including AIM-7M Sparrow, AIM-9M Sidewinder, and AIM-54C Phoenix missiles, radar warning devices, and self-protection jammers. After almost 30 years of service in the squadron, the F-4 Phantom project was over, with the venerable fighters replaced with the F-14D Super Tomcat. 

H&MS-13 MAG-13

f 4 phantom kampfjets

MAG-13 became a unit of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan in June 1965 before being deployed to Chu Lai Air Base in South Vietnam in September 1966. MAG-13 provided support for the III Marine Amphibious Force. The group included VMFA-314, VMFA-323 and VMFA-542 all operating F-4B Phantoms. In December 1965, VMFA-542 was replaced with VMFA-115 while VMFA-232 and VMFA-334 arrived in early 1969 with the new F-4J's. The F-4s returned from South Vietnam in 1971 and went to MCAS El Toro. Thank you to Rob Schneider for research and these records for BuNo 148369 . 

Who is Dan Bissell? 

Dan Bissell and MotoArt

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, St. Louis Post Dispatch

Dan Bissell is a private aircraft collector in St. Louis, MO. He owns dozens of aircraft, which he began collecting in the early 1990s and storing them at his business at Bissell Auto & Body truck repair shop. His collection of military planes were mostly purchased through government auctions, where he bid against recyclers who were bent on scrapping them. He dreams of opening a museum someday to satisfy the curiosity of people who stop by asking to see his collection. His grandfather and father were pilots who flew during WWI and WWII. Bissell grew up with a love and fascination for airplanes, learning about them and building models and remote control airplanes. As an adult, he began collecting military aircraft engines, which led to trips to the Davis-Monthan AFB military aircraft boneyard outside Tucson, AZ. His first major aircraft purchase was a F-105 Thunderchief, which led to the B-52, F-86, T-33, MiGs, and an F-4 among others. The F-4, BuNo 148369 interested MotoArt owner Dave Hall. “The F-4 Phantom II is one of the most requested aircraft for PlaneTags,” says Hall. “We were elated to find this in Dan Bissell’s collection and glad to partner with him to create F-4 PlaneTags.”

MotoArt’s F4 Phantom

Take a look at these photos of BuNo 148369 from Dave Hall’s collection. These were taken in 2022 as the team took the material off on site.

F-4B Phantom Cockpit

F-4 Phantom PlaneTags

The McDonnell F-4B Phantom II PlaneTags will be released on Thursday, September 15, 2022 at 12pm PDT on and on the PlaneTags app. Sign up to be notified automatically when new PlaneTags are released.

Fighter PlaneTags

The F-4 Phantom joins the fighter PlaneTags collection. Read more about some of the incredible fighters that MotoArt has had the honor and opportunity to create PlaneTags from.

  • Grumman F-14A Tomcat 159611 -  F-14: MotoArt Finds A Tomcat
  • Northrop N-156F F-5 59-4988 - F5 Freedom Fighter: It Started With The N-156F Prototypes
  • Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed 203 - Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed: The Supersonic Jet Fighter To Beat
  • Mitsubishi A6M3-32 Zero 3148 - Mitsubishi A6M Zero: The Story of A Legend

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Hey, Wanna Buy a Real, Flyable F-4 Phantom?

This legendary test jet set the low-altitude speed record in 1961. Now it can be all yours.

f 4

Gear-obsessed editors choose every product we review. We may earn commission if you buy from a link. Why Trust Us?

  • The aircraft set a new low-altitude speed record, doing 902 miles per hour at 125 feet.
  • The Phantom is the only plane of its kind that is flyable in the civilian world. Now, you can own one for $3.25 million .

An ex-U.S. Navy fighter jet that set the Mach-busting, low-altitude speed record is up for sale.

✈ You love badass planes. So do we. Let's nerd out over them together.

This 1959 McDonnell Douglas F4H-1F Phantom is the only flyable plane of its kind outside of military service. While the Phantom requires a little bit of TLC to get it flyable, it can now be yours for a cool $3.25 million .

us bombing north vietnam

The F-4 Phantom was one of the first multi-service combat jets. Adopted by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps, it was a large, twin-engine fighter utilized for both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. It was, in many ways, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter of its time, exported to American allies like Japan, Turkey, Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, and many others.

The F-4 participated in numerous conflicts, including the Vietnam War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Iran-Iraq War, and the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The F-4H-1F Phantom was an early model of the F-4—later designated F-4A—and this particular jet, Navy Bureau of Aeronautics #145310, was built in 1959. It was only the 11th Phantom jet ever built, with 5,184 more F-4s of various types to follow. Like many early production aircraft, BuNo 145310 never went to the fleet, and was instead diverted to the Navy’s test program.

f 4 phantom

BuNo 145310 first came to notoriety in 1961 , when it was fitted with new ejector racks that allowed the jet to carry 22 Mk. 83 500-pound bombs. That was 2.5 times more bombs than a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber carried into battle just 16 years prior. After a demonstration bombing mission at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the U.S. Air Force decided to buy its own F-4s.

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In 1961, the Navy kicked off Operation Sageburner, which was meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of naval aviation by setting a new low-altitude speed record. The first attempt, on May 18, 1961, ended in disaster when F-4H1-F BuNo 145316 suffered a pitch control damper failure.

The jet, suddenly subjected to violent oscillations that exceeded the plane’s structural limits, exploded in midair, killing the pilot and copilot. A second jet, 145307, successfully threaded a 3-kilometer long course at 902 miles per hour, all the while staying under 125 feet.

BuNo 145310 was also a part of the Sageburner program, and one of the two surviving planes. The plane was retired in 1964, just seven years after it was built, ending up at the Wings and Rotors Air Museum in Murrietta, California. The jet was kept in storage for decades until a grant allowed the museum to begin restoration work.

Now, the plane is for sale with Platinum Fighter Sales, an aviation sales broker. The jet is described as 80 to 85 percent overhauled, with three J-79 engines (the F-4 is a twin-engine jet) awaiting overhaul. The plane has been completely rewired and features rebuilt fuel, pneumatic, and hydraulic systems. It also has new wheels and brakes, a new paint job, and working ejection seats.


The plane was demilitarized, or “demilled,” after leaving U.S. Navy service. Typically, this includes removing the M61 internal 20-millimeter Gatling gun, fire control system, and onboard radar.

The jet doesn’t come with live weapons, but it does carry an inert AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile and at least two Mk. 82 “Snakeye” high-drag, 500-pound bombs—the same bombs carried in the 1961 Fort Bragg test.

Once restoration is complete, BuNo 145310 will be the only flyable F-4 Phantom aircraft in private hands anywhere in the world. But with at least a $3.25 million price tag, that status certainly won’t come cheap.

preview for Heavy Metal: The History of the F-14 Tomcat

Kyle Mizokami is a writer on defense and security issues and has been at Popular Mechanics since 2015. If it involves explosions or projectiles, he's generally in favor of it. Kyle’s articles have appeared at The Daily Beast, U.S. Naval Institute News, The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, Combat Aircraft Monthly, VICE News , and others. He lives in San Francisco.

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A Chronological History of U.S. Fighter Jets

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  1. f 4, Fighter, Jet, Bomber, Phantom, Airplane, Plane, Military, 4

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  2. McDonnell Douglas F-4F Phantom II

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  3. McDonnell Douglas F-4 F Phantom II: Kampfflugzeug der Luftwaffe

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  4. F-4

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  5. F-4 Phantom

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  6. F-4F Phantom II, JG-71 Wittmundhafen, Germany PHANTOMS PHOREVER

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  1. German Luftwaffe F-4F Phantom Low Pass

  2. NATO-Waffen auf dem Schwarzmarkt


  1. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

    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.

  2. McDonnell F-4

    Die McDonnell F-4 Phantom II (später als McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II bezeichnet, wobei die II oft weggelassen wird) ist ein zweisitziges, allwetterfähiges, zweistrahliges, überschallfähiges Kampfflugzeug, ursprünglich von der McDonnell Aircraft Corporation entworfen. Die F-4 wurde zuerst von der US Navy (USN) 1960 in Dienst gestellt, später aber auch von der Air Force (USAF) und den ...

  3. Exploring the legacy of the F4 Phantom: history and features

    The F4 Phantom boasts several groundbreaking features that contributed to its success. Its twin-engine configuration, with each engine generating 17,000 pounds of thrust, provides exceptional performance and reliability. The aircraft's speed and acceleration are impressive, with a top speed of Mach 1.9 and the ability to reach altitudes above ...

  4. Understanding the U.S.'s Historical Fighter Jet: F-4 Phantom

    A demonstration flight by the F-4 Phantom showcased at the Seoul ADEX 2019 Press Day. Image credit: Yonhap News During the 1960s and 1970s, the F-4 Phantom reigned as one of the preeminent ...

  5. F-4

    By the time it went out of production in 1979, more that 5,000 Phantoms had been built, and it had become one of the most successful fighter aircraft since World War II. In its original versions the F-4 had a wingspan of 38 feet 5 inches (11.7 m) and a length of 58 feet 3 inches (17.7 m). The wings folded for carrier stowage in the navy version.

  6. The Indomitable Legacy of the F-4 Phantom: Still Soaring in Select Skies

    The F-4 Phantom II jet's storied career began with the US Navy on May 27th, 1958, and expanded into the US Air Force and US Marine Corps, setting numerous records and becoming a crucial asset in ...

  7. Why the F-4 Phantom Is Such a Badass Plane

    Double Ugly. The F-4 Phantom Military Military Aviation Why the F-4 Phantom Is Such a Badass Plane The F-4 Phantom was neither pretty nor elegant. But it did its job when so many...

  8. F-4 Phantom: The Original Top Gun Fighter Jet

    F-4 Phantom: The Original Top Gun Fighter Jet Extreme Mysteries 1.07M subscribers Subscribe Subscribed 3.2K Share 335K views 1 year ago See the F-4 Phantom, the original Top Gun jet,...

  9. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

    The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was one of the largest postwar programs and was the first US Navy fighter to be adopted by the USAF. It could carry a bomb-load greater than the Avro Lancaster or Boeing B-29 Superfortress, and it served with twelve nations.Considered one of the greatest and most versatile (yet ugliest) jet fighters ever built, it was first in many areas of aerospace ...

  10. F-4 Phantom: All you need to know about Americas most ...

    In this video, we take a deep dive into the iconic F-4 Phantom fighter jet. Join us as we explore the history, design, and capabilities of this legendary air...

  11. What Couldn't the F-4 Phantom Do?

    A tribute to McDonnell's masterpiece fighter jet. Stephen Joiner. March 2015. In Vietnam, the U.S. Navy used the F-4 for ground attack. First, they tried an F-104. "Not enough wing or thrust ...

  12. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

    Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II Multirole / Carrierbased Fighter / Strike Fighter Aircraft. 2 x General Electric J79-GE-17A afterburning turbojet engines developing 17,900lb of thrust each with reheat. Propulsion. 1,473 mph.

  13. List of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II variants

    The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II variants were numerous versions and designations of the F-4 and are described below. Production numbers for major versions asterisk indicates converted from other version Variants An XF4H-1 1959. F-4Bs from VF-213, 1967. XF4H-1 Two prototypes for the United States Navy, first flown 1958. F4H-1F (F-4A)

  14. With Over 5,000 Built, The F-4 Phantom II Fighter Is One of a Kind

    The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a legendary aircraft — an icon of the Vietnam War and the archetype of the third-generation jet fighter designs that entered service in the 1960s. More ...

  15. F-4 Phantom II: The Incredible CAS Jet

    The Shooting Range 366. In this episode:00:00 — Introduction00:25 — Metal Beasts: Forgotten Firstborn Jet03:37 — Pages of History: Tanks vs ATGMs07:21 — Arse...

  16. McDonnell Douglas F-4S Phantom II

    F-4S Phantom II. The F-4 Phantom may still be considered the best fighter-bomber ever built and a great success for the American aeronautical industry. The F-4 was also the test bed for using electronic, instead of manual controls. The F-4 held fifteen world speed, altitude and time-to-climb records. During Vietnam the F-4 downed 280 MiGs.

  17. F-4J Phantom II

    The F-4 established 16 speed, altitude and time-to-climb records. In 1959, its prototype set the world altitude record at 98,556 feet. In 1961, an F-4 set the world speed record at 1,604 mph on a 15-mile circuit. By the end of production in 1985, McDonnell had built 5,068 Phantom II's. Bu.No. 153879. Active Duty Life: 1960 to 1996.

  18. Here's What Made The F-4 Phantom II Such An Excellent Fighter Jet

    The F-4 Phantom is one of the most iconic jets in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces. Here's everything that made it such a great fighter.

  19. F-4 Phantom: An Enduring Frontline Fighter

    September 13, 2022 MotoArt's newest addition to the PlaneTags fleet is the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II, the versatile and adaptable fighter that remained in the frontlines for more than half a century. Learn more about the Phantom II and how we found BuNo 148369. F 4 Phantom

  20. F-4 Phantom for Sale: Buy a Flyable McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom Jet

    The F-4 Phantom was built in 1959 for the U.S. Navy. The aircraft set a new low-altitude speed record, doing 902 miles per hour at 125 feet. The Phantom is the only plane of its kind that...

  21. F-4 Phantom

    The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is arguably one of the greatest cold war jet fighters, serving with distinction over Vietnam, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Iran,...

  22. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II non-U.S. operators

    One Phantom (69-7203) was lost in an accident during Australian service, off Evans Head, New South Wales during night bombing practice on 16 June 1971, while the others went on to follow a long career with the United States Air Force, with 21 examples later modified to F-4G Wild Weasel specifications and used by the 35th and 52nd TFWs. [4] Units

  23. Russia Panic: NATO Tests F-4 Phantom And Ready For Direct ...

    The F-4 Also called Phantom II is one of the most important fighter aircraft of the jet era, Tarting as a derivative of the McDonnel F3H Demon in 1953, he Ph...

  24. KAMPFFLUGZEUG McDonnell F-4

    Das allwetterfähige zweistrahlige Kampfflugzeug McDonnel F-4 Phantom II hat sich seit seinem Erstflug im Mai 1958 in zahlreichen Missionen bewährt. Ursprüngl...