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)
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.