Setting Records 50 Years Ago

F-4 continues to serve in retirement

Story By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri

The F-4E Phantom II had many improvements over earlier F-4s models, most notably its internal 20mm gun. The first F-4Es arrived in Southeast Asia in late 1968.

The F-4E Phantom II had many improvements over earlier F-4s models, most notably its internal 20mm gun. The first F-4Es arrived in Southeast Asia in late 1968. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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The F-4 Phantom II began its life at the McDonnell plant in St. Louis, Mo., and had its first flight May 27, 1958 as the YF4H-1 — a prototype model.

Shortly after its first flight, the prototype set the world altitude record in 1959 at 98,556 feet.  Two years later, it set the world speed record at 1,604 mph on a 15-mile circuit.

The F-4C, originally designated the F-110A Spectre, performed three tactical air roles — air superiority, air interdiction and close-air support.

Carrying twice the payload of the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Phantom II brought significant air-to-ground capability to the Air Force.

Though the twin-engine, all-weather, tactical fighter-bomber was designed for the Navy, the Air Force added it to its fleet in May 1963 as the F-4C. After 17 years and 2,600 aircraft, the Phantom II production for the Air Force came to an end.

The F-4 saw its first Air Force combat deployment in 1965 in support of operations against North Vietnam. Throughout the conflict, the various versions of the F-4 earned more than 100 MiG kills.

The Phantom II saw additional combat time in the overpowering air victory of Desert Storm, until it was retired in 1996.

The Phantom II was the first multiservice aircraft, flying concurrently with the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, and was the only aircraft ever flown concurrently by the Air Force and Navy flight demonstration teams, the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels.

The F-4 continues to serve the United States in retirement as the QF-4 Aerial Target — an unmanned, high performance aerial target used for live air-to-air and surface-to-air missile tests.

(Editor’s note: Air Combat Command and Boeing contributed to this story)

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The F-4C Phantom II had its first flight May 27, 1958. Originally designated the F-110A Spectre, it performed three tactical air roles — air superiority, air interdiction and close-air support. Today, it serves the United States military as the QF-4 Areial Target, and is used for live air-to-air and surface-to-air missile tests.


View of F-4C Cockpit. Click for 360 view

Click above photo for a 360 view of the F-4C Front Cockpit

6 thoughts on “Setting Records 50 Years Ago

  1. I miss the ol “Double Ugly.” Crewed an “E” & an RF at Osan in 80-81

  2. The only real problem with the F4 as I see it is the Martin Baker ejection seat, as long as you did not need to punch out things were just fine.

    • Your comment about the seat surprises me. I flew it for 10 years and the ejection history was excellent. The only failure I know of wasn’t the seat but the pilot; he wasn’t strapped in!

  3. I remember the original deployment and the first two mig kills. I also remember being denied taking out the SAMS as they were being set up for the first tme. We lost the first two aircraft to them before they became “approved” targets.

  4. I miss them too. I was crew chief on C, D, E and G’s from 1979 to 1990 at George AFB and Spandalhem AB

  5. Served in the AF 67-88. Loved the TBirds when they flew the F4, stationed at Zweibrucken in 1970 when we had an RF4 Sq, later a F4D Sq w/ Zulu alert. My football coach was in the back when a bunch of us saw his F4 go down right after takeoff, like at 1000′ due to a part on his kneeboard breaking off and jamming the stick. At Osan 73-74 w/ F4s, also w/ nuc alert. TDY RF4s from Kadena at Osan too. Then at Eglin 81-85 the Test Wing had different F4s along the TAWC. Best assignment was Eglin as a Tower Controller with over a hundred fighters on the base w/ the 33TFW F15s, TAWC, & the Test Wing. Like an airshow everyday!