Its primary mission capabilities are: long range, high-altitude intercepts utilizing air-to-air missiles as primary armament; a 20mm M61 Vulcan cannon as secondary armament; long-range attack missions utilizing conventional or nuclear weapons as a primary armament; and close air support missions utilizing a choice of bombs, rockets and missiles as primary armament. It was one of the few aircraft types that have served in the US Navy, USMC and USAF. It was one of the longest serving military aircraft post-war.
First flown in May 1958, the Phantom II originally was developed for U.S. Navy fleet defense and entered service in 1961. The USAF evaluated it (as the F-110A Spectre) for close air support, interdiction, and counter-air operations and, in 1962, approved a USAF version. The USAF's Phantom II, designated F-4C, made its first flight on May 27, 1963. Production deliveries began in November 1963.
In its air-to-ground role the F-4 can carry twice the normal bomb load of a WW II B-17 Flying Fortress. USAF F-4s also flew reconnaissance and "Wild Weasel" air-defence suppression missions. Phantom II production ended in 1979 after over 5,000 had been built--more than 2,800 for the USAF, about 1,200 for the Navy and Marine Corps, and the rest for friendly foreign nations.
In 1965 the first USAF Phantom IIs were sent to Vietnam. Early versions (F-4A to F-4D) lacked any gun armament. Coupled with the unreliability of the air-to-air missiles AIM-7 Sparrow AIM-9 Sidewinder at the time, this major drawback resulted in the aircraft loss after they ran out of missiles. During the course of the Vietnam War, its contemporaries, the MiG-19 and MiG-21, inflicted heavy losses on the F-4s when the American aircrafts were ambushed after returning from bombing assignments. This prompted the USAF to introduce the F-4E variant, which added a M61 Vulcan cannon in the nose of the aircraft, below the radome.
This later version was the mainstay of the USAF Phantom II forces and served with the air forces of many countries including Australia, Greece, Israel, Iran, Japan, Spain, South Korea, Turkey and West Germany. F-4E did not serve in USN or USMC, but an improved variant of F-4B, the F-4J replaced earlier Phantom II variants in these services. F-4J lacked gun armament either.
The United Kingdom bought the aircraft for use with the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm; British versions were fitted with the larger but more powerful Rolls-Royce Spey engine and were designated F-4K. Fleet Air Arm Phantoms were fitted with a telescoping front undercarriage leg allowing the nose to be raised up high, the increased angle of attack being necessary for catapult launches from the small British carriers.
The last of the F-4s were retired from duty with the US military in 1995; however the aircraft still sees use in a training role, as a drone, and in service to other nations. The UK retired its last Phantoms in 1993.
See also the FH-1 Phantom.
Additional versions include:
See also: Military aircraft