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Thirty-six years ago this week, production unit No. 5,000 of the incomparable USAF/McDonnell F-4 Phantom II fighter-bomber was delivered in a public ceremony held at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.  This occasion (Wednesday, 24 May 1978) also  marked the 20th anniversary of the type’s maiden flight (Saturday, 24 May 1958).

Rhino, Lead Sled, Flying Brick, Flying Anvil, Old Smokey, Double Ugly, The Hammer; such are among the many terms of endearment used by pilots, back seaters and crew chiefs to describe the fabled F-4 Phantom II.  Perhaps no other military aircraft is as emblematic of the air warfare mission than this classic two-seater, twin-jet airframe.

Initially developed for the United States Navy, the Phantom was also employed by the U.S. Marine Corps, United States Air Force, and the air forces of many allied nations.  As such, it served in numerous air warfare roles including fighter, bomber, attack, interceptor, defense suppression, and aerial reconnaissance.  Indeed, over 50 variants of the F-4 were produced between 1958 and 1981.

The aircraft was Mach 2.2-capable with a service ceiling of 60,000 feet.  At a GTOW of 41,500 lbs, the Phantom could carry an ordnance load of 18,650 lbs wherein combinations of air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles and a variety of multiple-yield bombs were employed.

The Phantom was conceived in a time when reliance on missiles appeared to obviate the need for cannon in air combat engagegments.  Subsequent air warfare experience in Viet Nam dictated otherwise and a centerline-mounted M61 Vulcan cannon was installed on the F-4E variant.

The Phantom was heavily used by the military services in southeast asia and proved to be extremely effective.  So much so, that it gained an additional nickname as the “World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts”.

In its time, the Phantom also held many speed, altitude, and time-to-climb aircraft performance records.  Noteworthy is the fact that the F-4 also holds the distinction of being the only aircraft flown by both the United States Air Force Thunderbirds and United States Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration teams.

Today, there are over 600 Phantoms still flying worldwide.  In the United States, one is likely to see a Phantom in its natural element only at an air show.  Even in an age when the F-15 Eagle, B-1B Lancer and F-22 Raptor grace the sky, it is a choice experience indeed to witness the mighty F-4 come by show center in full afterburner.  Rhinos forever!

Posted in Aerospace, History

Comments

Frank Mayden June 19, 2012

I had the pleasure of working on the Flight Line during the production years of the F-4, working on F-A,B,C,D,E,F,G,M,& K versions. What a memorable trip.

Frank Mayden

Ray (Herbe) Herberger June 19, 2012

I started working on the Phantom in jun 63and was on the wing line when the last was built. It’s great to know that some 600 are still flying. I enjoy them in air show as well as seeing take off at Lambert. They are really a Phantom. A lot of great pilots flew them and scored victories in Nam.

J. Terry White June 20, 2012

Frank that is very cool! What a wonderful experience you must have had. The Phantom is a classic of classics! Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Did you work on other aircraft as well?

J. Terry White June 20, 2012

Hey Ray! You must have a boatload of Phantom memories. What a great experience that must have been to work on a true aviation classic. I love that airplane! Did you work on other aircraft as well?

John Tabarrini July 23, 2013

I believe that the Phantom should still be in the inventory…It’s airframe toughness and longevity, proves that , had Mac-Doug continued development with PW1100 turbofans, control canards, and fly by wire….the F-4 in the hands of a trained Aviator can fight with the best of em…include wing-root mini-guns, and it’s a complete dog fighter. J.P.Tabarrini, USMC, Plane Captain(Crew Chief) VMFA-323, and 115 RVN, Nam Phong Thailand, 72-73

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