It's not too often that I get to see a F-4 in flight, so please excuse me as I over-indulge in Phantom imagery!
Classic beauty of a jet. It exudes raw power and sexiness! Its lines are so unique, there is no other plane that even remotely resembles it!
Capable of a top speed of over Mach 2, I recall a line from a movie saying the F-4 is proof that with a big enough engine, even a brick can fly!
In the late 50's and early 60's, the F-4 set all sorts of World records including absolute altitude, time to altitude, sustained altitude, closed ciruit course speed, and various world record speeds. It was just a beast of a plane!
The F-4 Phantom was originally designed as a carrier based interceptor for U.S. Navy fleet defense, and was not equipped with an internal gun.
Missiles of that period however, were notoriously unreliable, and pilots were soon clamoring for the a gun to be added back in.
The Phantom was a huge plane, with a maximum takeoff weight of over 60,000lbs. Even so, thanks to a pair of powerful J79 engines, the F-4's greatest advantage was its thrust - which gave it very good acceleration and speed. With nine external hardpoints, the F-4 could carry up to 18,650lbs of bombs and missiles.
In the Vietnam war, the rules of engagement required a visual confirmation before engaging. Long range missiles were therefore hardly used at all. In addition, pilots often found themselves on the tail of the enemy plane, and too close to use short range missiles. External gun pods started to be carried in 1967, but they were not very accurate, as there was no lead-computing gunsights.
Finally, the F-4E model added a 20mm M61 Vulcan internally to the plane.
The Phantom was so successful, that it was used by the Navy, Marines, and Air Force in large numbers.As a fighter-bomber, the Phantom was used as an air superiority fighter, as well as ground attack. F-4s supported ground troops in South Vietnam, and also performed bombing runs in Laos and North Vietnam. By 1970, F-4s had taken over the bombing role from the F-105s.
Flying in a heavy threat environment was costly though. By the end of the Vietnam war, 761 Phantoms of all types were lost - most of them to enemy Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA).
Phantoms stayed in use well past the Vietnam war. In 1990, F-4G Wild Weasels played an important part in suppression of enemy air defenses in the Gulf War. Also active in that war were RF-4Cs which performed important reconnaissance missions using its ultra long range cameras.
The last operational U.S. Phantom (F-4G Wild Weasel) was retired in 1996. The air force currently uses refitted Phantoms as (QF-4) target drones. Sort of a sad end to have such a noble plane blown to bits as target practice. However, Phantoms are still in use by a variety of other countries around the world - though they are also mostly being phased out with newer aircraft.
Recently, the Air Force has dusted off a few of their QF-4s, given them a new coat of paint, and have been flying them at select air shows around the country. I was very happy to have been able to see the awesome Phantom flying at Nellis this year, and hope you like it too!