McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II has to be one of my favourite military aircraft, if not my most favourite.

History of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II

Developed from the YF4H-1 prototype for an improvement to the F3H Demon as a long range interceptor/fighter/bomber for the US Navy in 1958.

As with all new aircraft, there was a period of training and conversion for current Navy aircrew. These roles were undertaken by VF-101 and VF-121 Pacemakers, during most of 1960 and part of 1961.

The first operational US Navy units were VF-74 Be-devilers and VF-114 Aardvarks in mid 1961.

US Marines started to use the F-4 in June 1962, VMFA-34 Black Knights becoming the first operational Marine unit.

First operational US Airforce unit was the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing in 1964.

Versions of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II


Speed Weight Span Length
575mph (cruise), 1480mph (max) 27,800lb (empty), 54,600lb (max) 38ft 4in 58ft 3in

The F-4A was the F4H1-F re-designated to F-4A. The “F” in the earlier designation, indicating different engine from subsequent Phantom production.  F-4A’s served mostly in a conversion and training role with the US Navy.

F-4B and RF-4B

Speed Weight Span Length
575mph (cruise), 1485mph (max) 27,897lb (empty), 54,600lb (max) 38ft 4in 58ft 3in

The F-4B was a re-designation of the original F-4H1-1 and future production versions of that model.

F-4B’s were involved in the “Cuban Missile” crisis on board the USS Independence and the USS Enterprise (Oct 1962).

First combat mission of the F-4B, was flying top cover for strike aircraft attacking North Vietnamese patrol boats in August 1964.

Very first air to air combat for the F-4B, was against Chinese Mig-17’s near Hainan Island in April 1965.

The F-4B served with the US Navy till 1974, and with the USMC till 1979.

F-4C and RF-4C

Speed Weight Span Length
587mph (cruise), 1459mph (max) 28,276lb (empty), 58,000lb (max) 38ft 5in 62ft 10in

Pahntom F-4C (originally designated by the USAF as the F-110), entered service with the USAF in 1964 with the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW).

F-4C’s were the first USAF aircraft to score kills during the Vietnam war, when on 10th July 1965, 2 F-4C’s from the 15 TFW downed two North Vietnamese Mig-17’s.

The F-4C served with the USAF till the late 70’s. The only other operator of the F-4C was the Spanish Airforce (1971-2002).


Speed Weight Span Length
587mph (cruise), 1459mph (max) 28,276lb (empty), 58,000lb (max) 38ft 5in 62ft 10in

The F-4D, an improved version of the F-4C for the USAF.

First USAF operators were the 36th TFW based at Bitburg, West Germany in December 1965.

F-4D’s did not arrive in Vietnam, till early 1967. Its first air to air victory taking place on 5th June 1967 against a Mig-17.

793 F-4D’s served with the USAF till the late 70’s early 80’s.

Other air forces have operated the F-4D, the, what was Imperial Iranian Air Force (32 F-4D’s). First delivered in 1967, and some possibly saw action during the 1980 Iran/Iraq conflict. The other operator being the Republic of Korea (42 F-4D’s), first delivered in 1968.


Speed Weight Span Length
585mph (cruise), 1485mph (max) 29,535lb (empty), 61651lb (max) 38ft 4in 63ft 0in

F-4E was the first cannon armed Phantom, and the most numerous built and used Phantom.

Entering service with the USAF in late 1967. In November 1968 the F-4E units arrived in the Vietnam conflict, this being the 40th Tactical Fighter Squadron. On arrival the 40th TFS was re-designated the 469th TFS. Air to air kills during the Vietnam war by F-4E’s totalled 21 aircraft.

F-4E’s served with the USAF till the early 1990’s.

The F-4E has been the most exported version of the Phantom, and has been, or is currently operated by 7 air forces.

Over a period between 1969 and 1976, Israel has operated 200 F-4E’s. Air to air combat kills claimed by IDF F-4E’s in all conflicts is 116 aircraft.

Turkey, is also another big operator of the F-4E, with a total of 182 since 1973.

Greece, 84 F-4E’s since 1974.

Republic of Korea has operated approx. 60 F-4E’s.

Iran, originally an order for 208 by the Imperial Iranian Airforce, but only 177 delivered before the revolution. As with the F-4D, it is not known how many are still in operation or saw combat in 1980 against Iraq.

Australia, the RAAF operated 24 F-4E’s as a stop gap until their order for the General Dynamics F-111C was fulfilled.

116 F-4GF’s were converted to the “Wild Weasel” anti- role. Entering service with the USAF in April 1978 and seeing combat during operation “Desert Storm” in 1991. By April 1996 the F-4G had finally been phased out and replaced by the “Wild Weasel” F-16, and also bringing to an end Phantom service with the USAF.

The F-4F, an export version of the F-4E for the West German Luftwaffe. Since September 1973, 175 F-4F’s have been operated by the Luftwaffe, in both the air defence role and in the ground attack role. From 1980 to 1983, the Luftwaffe Phantoms were upgraded and modernised. During the 1990’s, the fleet was again upgraded and is due to be replaced by the Euro fighter (2012).


Speed Weight Span Length
564mph (cruise), 1428mph (max) 30,778lb (empty), 56,000lb (max) 38ft 4in 58ft 3in

The final USN and USMC version of the venerable Phantom, and a replacement for the F-4B. Between them the USN and USMC operated a total of 522 F-4J’s. First USN unit being FV-101 in October 1966.

Used in the Vietnam conflict by both maritime services, and being the only USNC aircraft to claim an air to air combat kill, when an F-4J from VFMA-333, downed a Mig21.

F-4J’s were also flown by the USN display team the “Blue Angels” between 1969 and 1973.

A handful of F-4J’s were converted to EF-4J’s for the Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) role.

The F-4J stayed in USN service till the mid 70’s when they were started to be replaced by the F-4S of F-14 Tomcats. The last unit finally upgrading in 1982.

With the USMC, the F-4J also began to be replaced from the mid 70’s to the early 80’s by the F-4S.

The only overseas operator of the F-4J was the RAF, which purchased 15 F-4J’s for the air defence of the Falkland Islands, designated F-4J(UK).

The F-4S was an upgrade of the F-4J and a stop-gap until the USN and USMC F-14’s and F-18’s came in to service.

F4K (FG Mk1)

Speed Weight Span Length
1386mph (max) 31,000lb (empty), 56,000lb (max) 38ft 4in 57ft 7in

An export version of the F-4J for the Royal Navy, but with British built Rolls Royce Spey 201 turbofan engines.

First and only operational Fleet Air Arm unit was 892 squadron in 1969, and embarking on HMS Ark Royal in 1970.

The RAF also used surplus RN FG MK1’s in the air defence role.

In 1978 all remaining RN Phantom FG MK1’s were transferred to the RAF with the scrapping of HMS Ark Royal and the disbandment of RN 892 squadron.

The FG Mk 1 Phantom served with the RAF till 1990 in the air defence role, when it was replaced by the Tornado F Mk3.

F-4M (FGR MK2)

Speed Weight Span Length
1386mph (max) 31,000lb (empty), 56,000lb (max) 38ft 4in 57ft 7in

The RAF version of the Phantom (F-4J), but with the Rolls Royce Spey engine, of which 120 were operated by the RAF. First operational unit was No 6 Squadron in May 1969.

The Phantom FGR MK2 was initially operated in the Fighter, Ground Attack, Reconnaissance role with the RAF. However from the mid 1970’s the Phantom began to supplement the Lightning force in the air defence role, as the Sepcat Jaguar came into service in the Ground Attack/Recce role.

In the air defence role, the Phantom proved to be very capable but was eventually phased out from the late 1980’s by the Tornado F3. The final Phantom left RAF service in 1992.


An F-4E for the Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF), but built so that it could only perform an air defence role, as Japan was not allowed to produce any offensive capable equipment. Entering service in August 1962, and upgraded versions still continue to be operated. However the F-15 Eagle has replaced half of the JASDF force in the air defence role.

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II Users

Country Service Model Dates
USA USN F-4A, F-4B, F-4J, F-4N, F-4S 1961 to 1987
USA USMC F-4A, F-4B, F-4J, F-4N, F-4S 1962 to 1992
USA USAF F-4C, F-4D, F-4E, F-4G, RF-4C, RF-4E 1964 to 1996
Australia RAAF F-4E 1970 to 1973
Egypt EAF F-4E 1978 to 1990(?)
Germany Luftwaffe F-4F, RF-4E 1969 to 2012
Greece HAF F-4E, RF-4E 1974 to present
Iran IRIAF F-4D, F-4E, RF-4E 1967 to present(?)
Israel IAF F-4E, RF-4E 1969 to 2004
Japan JASDF F-4EJ, RF-4EJ 1968 to present(?)
South Korea ROKAF F-4E, F-4D, RF-4C 1968 to 2018
Spain SPAF F-4C, RF-4C 1971 to 2002
Turkey TAF F-4E, RF-4E 1974 to present
UK FAA F-4K 1969 to 1978
UK RAF F-4K, F-4J, F-4M 1969 to 1992

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