f 4 2000 super phantom

The Boeing Super Phantom; Making a Legend Even Greater

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a legend. An extremely competent multi-role aircraft it was one of the few planes to serve with the United States Navy, Marines and Air Force, making the Phantom one of the most important types to fly during the Cold War.

f 4 2000 super phantom

Indeed, the Phantom’s widespread service, flying with the air forces and navies of twelve countries, made it the West’s most potent combat aircraft in several strategically important locations and in multiple confrontations over a two-decade period.

In terms of the technical advance the aircraft represented on its introduction into service in 1961, combined with its operational capabilities, the sheer numbers produced and an extensive combat record, the Phantom has a solid claim to being one of the best combat aircraft ever built. Indeed, you’ll find some aviation historians that will argue that the aircraft ranks as the greatest fighter of all time.

f 4 2000 super phantom

Of course, such an aircraft saw a huge amount of development during its service career to be ranked so highly, and the Phantom was continuously upgraded throughout its life span ; a period that spans from the aircraft’s first flight in 1958 to the current day. This in an aircraft that ended production in 1979, with a total of 5197 built.

Naturally, with the Phantom being in such widespread service, the end of production did not mean the end of upgrading and development efforts. Though McDonnel Douglas stopped building new models, other nations that relied on the F-4 for their defence did update the design so that it would continue to meet their needs.

But interestingly the United States did not, at least not to anything like the standards other nations planned. Which is a little surprising, given the context.

Though the end of the Cold War ultimately meant that the F-4 could be retired in the 1990s from US service, that hadn’t been the original expectation. As the F-4 was displaced by the newer “teen-series” aircraft at the end of the 1970’s and beginning of the ‘80’s, the expectation was that the Phantom would continue to serve in the US Reserve and National Guard fleets for possibly two more decades.

In fact, in 1983 there were 885 F-4s serving in front line USAF squadrons, with another 649 in the Air National Guard, plus additional hundreds with the Reserves.

And though the United States was purchasing new F-14 and F-18s to replace the F-4 with the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as F-15 and F-16s to do likewise with the Air Force, it was still thought at the time that perhaps as many as four hundred Phantoms could still be serving in the National Guard and Reserves by the year 2000. Of course, by that point they would have been badly out of date.

In fact, with around 2,500 Phantoms serving with US forces and important foreign allies in 1983, the prospect of the Phantom becoming obsolete and still being in widespread service looked entirely likely and a matter of concern. Recognising this prospect, the Department of Defense (DoD) began to mull the possibility of conducting a more thorough overhaul of the Phantoms in service with a view to increasing their long-term viability.

And here they hit a bit of a snag.

The problem they faced was that none of the big US fighter manufacturers wanted the Phantom to survive into anything like the long-term future in US service.

The original builder, McDonnel Douglas, was happily building as many F-15s and F-18s as it could to replace the F-4 in service with the US Air Force, Navy and Marines. Grumman was building F-14s, again the F-4s direct replacement for fleet air defence. And General Dynamics was building the F-16, which would displace the F-4 in its tactical strike role.

f 4 2000 super phantom

All these manufacturers were planning on their new aircraft not just replacing the Phantom, but eventually bringing in newer models that would allow these earlier “Teen-series” aircraft to be replaced themselves in turn where they could fill the National Guard and Reserve squadrons.

The other company that may have been capable of conducting a major update plan was Northrop. But at that time, they were pushing their new F-20 Tigershark extremely hard in a sales attempt to get it adopted in the Air National Guard and Reserve fleets. They also had high hopes of the F-20 becoming a primary export fighter for US allies around the globe, something that a modernised Phantom would jeopardise.

So, it isn’t accurate to say the major fighter builders had a cartel arrangement as regards to a major product improvement on the F-4, but they did all have a vested interest in not seeing it happen. Such an aircraft would draw money from the US defence budget that would otherwise go to buying what was coming off their current production lines, as well as jeopardising prospective foreign export sales.

But this didn’t stop the DoD (primarily in the guise of under-Secretary of Defence for Research and Technology Richard DeLauer ) wanting the possibility looked at, and so they turned to a somewhat surprising – at the time – alternative.

Now, Boeing might be a big deal in the field now, but at that point they hadn’t built a fighter aircraft that had seen service since the P-26 “Peashooter”, which first flew in 1932. However, Boeing recognised an opportunity, and in fact had already been acquiring expertise on the F-4.

In June 1983 the Boeing Military Airplane Company (BMAC) had won a contract over rival McDonnell Douglas to overhaul F-4Cs of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

f 4 2000 super phantom

This saw BMAC overhaul the aircraft thoroughly, and this and the preliminary work they had conducted in preparation of the bid meant that their engineers had as good an understanding of the Phantom as any.

And so, in September 1983, BMAC offered to the DOD the concept for a modernised F-4; The Boeing Super Phantom.

f 4 2000 super phantom

In fact, three options were offered, which would allow customers to customise the Phantoms to as far as their requirements, and wallets, needed.

The first, most basic was to replace the F-4s J79 turbojets with Pratt and Whitney PW1120 turbofans. This brand-new engine, that had only begun full testing a year before, was a cutting edge powerplant that Pratt and Whitney had developed for the Israeli Lavi light fighter project .

f 4 2000 super phantom

The -1120 also had the advantage of having seventy percent commonalty with the F100 engine that was used in the F-15 and F-16. Additionally, Pratt and Whitney had already considered the possibility of fitting the new engine to the F-4 and were keen to assist any builder that wanted to market the match up.

With the new engine fit, the F-4’s performance would have been much improved. In contrast to the J79’s, which produced just under 18,000 lbs of thrust each, the -1120 produced 20,600 lbs. They also weighed a thousand pound less than the older engine.

So, a reengined F-4 would immediately lose nearly a tonne in weight and have around fourteen percent more power. This would have greatly improved the F-4s performance.

A Phantom so equipped would have a Thrust-to-Weight of 1.03 to 1, only marginally below that of the F-15 Eagle and significantly better than that of the major Soviet fighters the aircraft would be expected to encounter. All told this was expected by Boeing to have improved the aircraft’s acceleration and turning circle, making it an even more formidable dogfighter.

It would also have removed the infamous smoke trail that Phantoms produced. Might seem a minor point, but in an air combat fight, visibility and target acquisition are critical and smoky trails have the potential to give away an aircraft’s position.

The second option involved fitting a conformal fuel tank as well as the new engines.

f 4 2000 super phantom

This was based on a 1978 exploratory project that Boeing had conducted for the US Air Force to investigate the possibility of such an addition, and that work was dusted off for the Super Phantom proposal. The tank would have been streamlined into the F-4s belly and been capable to carry 5000 litres (1320 gallons) of fuel.

This would allow the Phantom to dispense with the 2,700 litre belly tank that they generally carried on long missions, but with the benefit of actually carrying a greater fuel load in a far more streamlined profile. Indeed, the conformal tank almost matched the total external drop tankage that F-4s could carry on their fuselage and two inner wing pylons, which was around 6,000 litres.

This meant the Super Phantom could have freed up its two inner pylons for additional weapon carriage in comparison to an original F-4, or else still carried the wing tanks for even greater range. And the conformal tank would still be fitted to carry weapon loads such as Sparrow or the upcoming at the time AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.

f 4 2000 super phantom

It would also have been possible to fit a flare/decoy dispenser into the new fuselage as well, again, a useful combat addition.

One prospective customer for this configuration was Britain’s Royal Air Force, who were using Phantoms for long-range defence of the North Sea and still a few years away from getting their Tornado ADV interceptors that were being built for the role.

The third proposed upgrade option was to completely overhaul the Phantom’s electronic suite to make it as formidable as anything flying at the time. This would have seen the radar switched out from whatever was fitted in the aircraft at the time for the APG-65 that was being fitted to the early models of the F-18 Hornet just then coming into service.

Though this radar seems to have been the preferred option by Boeing (and indeed would eventually be fitted to Phantoms in German and Greek service) they also apparently considered offering the option of fitting the APG-66 that was used on the F-16.

Either of these modern multi-mode radars would have been a considerable improvement on the various old types used on the various F-4 models at the time, offering far superior capabilities and the possibility of integrating with the latest weapons of the day as well as those projected for the future.

Boeing also proposed installing the wide-angle Heads-Up-Display (HUD) used on the F-16, as well as two of the multifunction display screens used by that aircraft, as well as the navigation system and avionics processors used by the F-20.

All of this was combined with a thorough airframe overhaul that would extend the aircraft’s service life by between 2,000 and 3,000 hours. That equates to about ten to fifteen years in front line US service, so maybe a bit longer in National Guard or Reserve use.

And the price of this upgrade? Well, that’s where it all got a bit contentious.

Boeing informed the DoD that they could perform the full upgrade at a cost of seven-to-nine million dollars per aircraft, with cost scaling’s from more conversions pushing the lower price.

The DoD liked that and asked the US Air Force to look at the proposals with a mind to start initial developments work, principally in the fitting of a PW 1120 to an F-4 for trials.

And the USAF basically went “no”. They were not at all happy at the idea of taking aging air frames and reconditioning them. As they put it, an old F-4, even updated, was still an old aircraft.

They also disputed that the cost would come in at $9 million, instead projecting that the price of a Super Phantom would actually be $17 million per unit. As at the time they were buying brand new F-16s at a fly away cost of $13 million, they weren’t inclined to spend money on old planes when they could new ones for less. They also pointed out that every new F-15 and F-16 purchased drove the cost of these, their new current front-line fighters, down further.

So, they were inclined to agree with the manufacturers that export sales of the fighters on the production line would also provide savings on current US military purchase plans, something that upgrading the Phantom would not.

It is difficult to say which side was correct in their assessment. Many Phantom users did transition to “Teen-series” aircraft as their F-4s aged, proving the Air Force correct in that regard. But several operators did, as said, upgrade their Phantoms, turning these last operating stalwarts into even more formidable aircraft.

Had Boeing been given more support, would these conversions have been undertaken in the United States, generating more work for the American defence industry? Possibly.

But ultimately, the Super Phantom vanished into history, another interesting “what-if”

Huge thanks to Mike Lombardi at Boeing for providing me with the information that I used to this article.


Aviation Week & Space Technology; January 9, 1984

Jane’s Defence Weekly; 19 January, 1985

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The Kurnas was powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW1120 turbofans developed for the IAI Lavi. The powerplant endowing the Kurnas with a 17% better combat thrust-to-weight ratio, 36% improved climb rate, and a 15% improved sustained turn rate than the F-4E.

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IAI F-4-2000 Super Phantom Kurnas 2000 (Heavy Hammer)

This aircraft was demonstrated at the Paris Air Show in 1987. It could exceed Mach 1 without afterburners. McDonnell Douglas scuttled Kurnas 2000 development because it equaled the F/A-18C/D in performance and endangered any future sales of the F/A-18.

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f 4 2000 super phantom

Multi role fighter/tactical reconnaissance aircraft. In service since 1965 (F-4E since 1966, RF-4C since 1964). Developed in many versions, used by German, Greek, Spanish, Turkish and Middle East Air Forces.

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Exploring the legacy of the F4 Phantom: history and notable features

An iconic fighter jet that has left a lasting mark on aviation history, the McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom continues to captivate enthusiasts even today . Developed by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, the long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber went on to become one of the most successful and versatile fighter aircraft of its time.  

This article will delve into the rich history of the F4 Phantom, explore its technical characteristics and features, discuss its various variants, and highlight which countries still utilize this remarkable aircraft. 

F4 Phantom history and its role  

The development of the F4 Phantom began in 1952 when the United States Navy was seeking a new carrier-based interceptor to replace its aging aircraft. McDonnell Aircraft Corporation began working on this project, and on 27 May 1958, the XF4H-1 prototype made its maiden flight. Subsequently, it entered service with the U.S. Navy , U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Air Force.  

Initially designed as an air superiority fighter, the F4 Phantom’s role expanded to include ground attack, reconnaissance and electronic warfare . It played a significant role in various conflicts, including the Vietnam War, the Arab-Israeli conflicts and the Gulf War. The F4 Phantom showcased its versatility by excelling in both air-to-air combat and ground attack missions. Its successful engagements with enemy aircraft earned it the nickname ‘The World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts’. 

Technical characteristics and features  

The F4 Phantom boasts several groundbreaking features that contributed to its success. Its twin-engine configuration, with each engine generating 17,000 pounds of thrust, provides exceptional performance and reliability. The aircraft’s speed and acceleration are impressive, with a top speed of Mach 1.9 and the ability to reach altitudes above 60,000 feet. 

One of the most notable aspects of the F4 Phantom is its advanced radar and avionics systems. Equipped with the AN/APQ-72 radar, it has the capability to engage targets beyond visual range.  

The F-4 Phantom II, specifically the F-4J variant, was a pioneering aircraft that started using operational “look-down/shoot-down” capability. This innovation enabled the F-4J to effectively track and engage enemy aircraft flying at low altitudes. 

Additionally, it features advanced electronic countermeasures (ECM) systems to counter enemy radar and missiles. 

F4 Phantom variants  

While it was in production, the F4 Phantom underwent several modifications and 19 major versions were produced, tailored to specific mission requirements.  

Some of its notable variants include: 

  • F-4B : the first production version for the U.S. Navy, featuring improved radar and avionics compared to the prototypes, with 649 units built.  
  • F-4C : the initial U.S. Air Force variant, designed for air-to-air combat; 583 units were built. 
  • F-4D : an upgraded version of the F-4C, incorporating improved avionics and radar, with 825 units built. This variant is still in use today.  
  • F-4E : a widely exported variant featuring an upgraded engine, enhanced air-to-air and ground attack capabilities, and a leading-edge slat system for improved maneuverability; 1,370 units were built. This variant is also still in use today. 
  • F-4G Wild Weasel V : an electronic warfare variant designed for the U.S. Air Force, equipped with specialized systems to suppress enemy radar, with 134 units built.  

Orders and deliveries  

The F4 Phantom’s success is not limited to the United States. It became a sought-after aircraft worldwide. It was produced from 1958 until 1981, and in that timespan, over 5,195 F4 Phantoms were built, and they were delivered to numerous countries.

Countries that used F4 Phantom  

The F4 Phantom’s impact was truly global, as it found service in numerous countries around the world.  

Some of the most notable countries that utilized the F4 Phantom include: 

  • United States: as the primary developer, the United States deployed the F4 Phantom extensively across its armed forces. It served in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Air Force, fulfilling various roles. 
  • Germany : the F4 Phantom played a crucial role in the defense of West Germany during the Cold War. The German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, operated the F4 Phantom and utilized it as a versatile multi-role aircraft. 
  • Japan : from 1968, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) acquired the F4 Phantom and operated it as a frontline fighter . The F4 Phantom played a vital role in Japan’s air defense and served as a symbol of the nation’s commitment to security. 
  • United Kingdom : the Royal Air Force (RAF) also procured the F4 Phantom and employed it primarily in the air defense role. The British variant, known as the F-4K and F-4M, featured unique modifications to suit the RAF’s specific requirements. 

In fact, these are just a few examples of the countries that used the F4 Phantom, illustrating its widespread international presence and impact. 

Current operators 

The F-4 Phantom continues to find active service in several countries worldwide.  

Let’s look into the current operators of this iconic aircraft and their utilization of the F-4 Phantom for various missions, ranging from air defense to ground attack. 

  • Greece : the Hellenic Air Force acquired the F4 Phantom and utilizes it for both air defense and ground attack missions. There are 18 F-4Es still in service. 
  • South Korea : the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) operates 27 F-4Es and utilizes the jet as a key asset in safeguarding South Korean airspace. The F4 Phantom also provided essential support during times of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. However, ROKAF is preparing to replace its aging F-4E fleet.   
  • Turkey : the Turkish Air Force procured the F4 Phantom in 1974 and employs it as a vital component of its air defense fleet. There are 54 F-4E 2020 Terminators in service.  
  • Iran : prior to the Islamic Revolution, Iran operated a significant number of F4 Phantoms. As of today, 62 F-4D, F-4E, and RF-4Es are still in service .  

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f 4 2000 super phantom

A multi-task fighter that entered service in IAF in 1969, and makes an important contribution to its power to this day. The plane participated in the War of Attrition , the Yom Kippur War and Operation Peace for the Galilee , and is credited with more than 100 kills.

The Phantom was developed by McDonnell Douglas - now Boeing - as an aircraft-carrier based multi-task plane. The prototype took off on May 27th 1958 and received good reviews from the Navy, which ordered 45 planes. In 1961 it became the standard fighter and photo-recon plane in the Tactical Air Command. It was thus that a long history of production began - a history that would encompass 23 years and 5,000 planes in 15 different models.

The Phantom is powered by twin General Electric J79 engines, mounted side by side along the length of the fuselage. Of the engine's sub-models, the most important is the J79-GE-17. Each engine delivers a thrust of 5,385 kg. without using its afterburners, and 8,210 kg. thrust with the afterburners.

McDonnell Douglas and the Israeli Aircraft Industries had both considered replacing the J79's with Pratt & Whitney PW1120. The IAI experimentally installed the new engines in a Phantom, and its performance was markedly enhanced, in terms of cruise speed and range.

The Phantom is a two seater, with the navigator/WSO sitting behind the pilot. In case of an emergency, the WSO can fly the plane from his seat. The plane has tremendous and varied attack capabilities, from ground targets - for which it uses bombs and air-to-surface missiles at a total weight of 7,257 kg. - to threats from the air, which it deals with by employing Sparrow, Sidewinder, Shafrir 2 or Python ( 3 , 4 ) missiles. In addition, the Phantom has a six-barrelled 20 mm. cannon with 640 rounds.

f 4 2000 super phantom

The Phantom deal is struck

The IAF expressed interest in buying Phantoms in 1965, when they were the most advanced airplane in service, anywhere. The Americans refused this, but agreed to sell Israel Skyhawks. Only in January of 1968, after massive pressure was applied at the highest diplomatic levels, did the Americans relent. The IAF, which at that time preferred single-seat aircraft, considered having a single seat version of the Phantom designed exclusively for it. The idea was abandoned when it was realized that giving up the second crewman would prevent full utilization of the Phantom's excellent potential. It was decided to purchase the tandem seat E model, which was in development at the time. At the IAF's initiative, an internal cannon was included - the first time a Phantom model included a cannon.

The Phantoms arrive

On September 5th 1969 the first quartet of Phantoms landed on Israeli soil, and the 'Ahat' ('One') Squadron was founded. A few weeks later, additional planes equipped the 'Patishim' ('Hammers') Squadron. Heyl Ha'avir now possessed the world's no. 1 fighter. The Phantom was faster than the Mirage, carried almost 6 times more armament, was equipped with advanced radar and a wide range of air-to-air missiles, and its range was almost double that of its French counterpart.

The War of Attrition

The Phantom squadrons did not have too much time to get organized. The War of Attrition , which was at its peak at the time, necessitated going into action in the Suez Canal zone, while readying additional Phantom crews. Just four weeks after their arrival, the planes were already patrolling the Sinai skies, under their first operational orders. On October 22nd 1969, the Phantoms were already attacking ground targets, and November 11th 1969 was the date of the IAF Phantoms' first kill: an Egyptian MiG-21.

Until the War of Attrition ended - in August of 1970 - the Phantoms continued to attack Egyptian targets and carry out photo-reconnaissance and air patrol missions in the area. They also played a major role in the attacks on strategic targets deep inside Egyptian territory. Their high weapons load capability, together with their long range, made them the IAF's 'bombers'.

The depth attacks on Egypt resulted in the arrival of Soviet pilots and planes in the Arab state, in order to bolster its air defenses. The first and last encounter between Israeli pilots in Phantoms and Mirages and the Soviet pilots was on July 30th 1970, and resulted in 5 MiG's shot down, two by the Phantoms. Two weeks earlier, the Israeli Phantom array had been dealt a heavy blow, when the commander of 'One' Squadron, Shmuel Hetz, was killed while attacking an Egyptian SAM site.

After the war, additional Phantom jets were purchased.

The Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War was the war of the Phantom. The planes attacked tanks, SAM's and bunkers, shot down hostile planes, and carried out scores of reconnaissance and photography missions over Egypt and Syria, as well as air-to-surface missions like attacking airbases, Egyptian pontoon bridges on the Suez Canal and Egyptian front line forces.

In Operation 'Dugman 5' the Phantom array suffered heavy losses: six planes were shot down while attacking Syrian SAM's.

During the war, Phantoms carried out 500 depth attacks in Egypt and Syria. The most famous of these was the strike against the Syrian General Staff. On October 9th 1973, two Phantom quartets attacked the General Staff Headquarters in the heart of Damascus. The attack was a success, but had a heavy price tag: two planes were hit and one pilot killed. Another plane was damaged by AA fire but managed to make it back to base. The sortie's leader, Col. (Res.) Arnon Levoshin, was later awarded the Citation of Excellence for the successful attack. The IAF received additional Phantoms during the war, as part of the airlift from the US. The planes were quickly fitted for service in the IAF, and some of them even managed to take part in sorties before the war ended. The Phantom Squadron lost many of its planes during the war, and a significant proportion of crew members were either killed or taken prisoner by Egypt, Syria or Lebanon.

In 1974 a fifth Phantom Squadron was formed: 'Akrav' Squadron.

Operation 'Peace for the Galilee'

Nine years after the Yom Kippur war, the Phantoms were again attacking SAM sites - a mission they had specialized in since their arrival in Israel, and which had cost the lives of quite a number of pilots. The nine years between the wars had been utilized for the development of new weapons and methods of attacking the SAM's. On June 9th 1982, the fourth day of Operation Peace for the Galilee , the Phantoms played a major role in the operation that destroyed the Syrian SAM's in the Lebanese Beka'a valley - a mission they carried out with great success. Despite a massive presence of F-15s and F-16's in the skies over Lebanon, it was a Phantom that shot down a Syrian MiG-21 that day. On July 24th 1982 a Phantom was shot down while carrying out an attack. The WSO, Maj. Aharon Katz, was killed, and the pilot, Cpt. Gil Fogel, was taken prisoner by the Syrians. Cpt. Fogel returned to Israel in June of 1984, after two long years in captivity.

A Phantom is hit over Lebanon. Ron Arad is captured

In October 1986, during a routine attack in Lebanon, an IAF Phantom was damaged as a result of a technical malfunction. The crew - pilot Maj. Aviram, and the WSO, Maj. Ron Arad, had no choice but to bail out. Maj. Aviram was rescued in a daring operation by a Cobra helicopter, in which he hung on to the chopper's landing gear. Ron Arad was taken captive.

f 4 2000 super phantom

The multifunction displays greatly improve cockpit ergonomics, and ease much of the work burden on the two crew members - especially during combat operations.

f 4 2000 super phantom

Flying Brick. Lead Sled. Rhino. Double Ugly.

The f-4 phantom.

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Why the F-4 Phantom Is Such a Badass Plane

The F-4 Phantom was neither pretty nor elegant. But it did its job when so many other aircraft in history couldn’t.

Headshot of Michael Peck

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Even its official name was ironic. “Phantom” evokes an image of stealth and subtlety, a supernatural nemesis that strikes without warning. But the F-4 was anything but stealthy or subtle; it was a big fighter that muscled its way through combat.

Along the way, it became one of the most influential aircraft in history.

Through the tense Cold War years of the 1960s and 1970s, the Phantom was the symbol of Western tactical airpower. Between 1958 and 1981, 5,195 Phantoms were built in a dozen variants and flown by a dozen nations, making it the most prolific supersonic American warplane ever built.

“The Phantom has become, arguably, the most important fighter aircraft of the second half of the twentieth century,” aviation historian Robert Dorr writes in his 1989 book, The McDonnell F-4 Phantom . More than 60 years after its first flight, the F-4 still flies in several air forces around the world.

Beauty and the Beast

The Phantom is still beloved for many qualities. Beauty is not one of them. Its fat nose gave the F-4 a face that only a mother (or aircraft designer) could love. Compared to the sleek F-16 or the gracefully curved F-35 , the F-4’s upward-sloping wing and downward-sloping tail looked like a model aircraft kit that had been assembled wrong. One British admiral even asked whether the aircraft had been delivered upside-down. Others said the Phantom proved a brick could fly if you stuck two big engines on it.

To understand the Phantom story, we need to step back into an era of black-and-white televisions and closet-sized computers. When the Phantom first appeared on the drawing board in 1953, fighter jets had been around for less than a decade.

The F-4 began life as a redesign of the troubled F3H Demon carrier-based fighter from McDonnell Aircraft Corp. (later McDonnell Douglas, which eventually merged with Boeing). The Navy ordered two prototypes of the “Super Demon” —a primordial Phantom—as an all-weather fighter-bomber.

There was no reason to expect the new plane to become a classic; dozens of new fighter and bomber designs appeared in the 1950s. Most would remain prototypes, quickly fade into obsolescence, or appear in museum displays. But three pivotal moments would shape the Phantom saga.

view of factory producing f 4 phantom jet planes

The first came in 1955, when the U.S. Navy asked McDonnell Aircraft for a carrier-based interceptor to protect the fleet from bombers. Though interceptors are mostly extinct today, they were common in the 1950s, when guided missiles were new and high-altitude manned bombers posed the greatest threat.

Nations wanted fast jets that could zoom to high altitudes and intercept bombers before they reached their targets. Also useful would be a powerful radar and newly developed air-to-air guided missiles. But maneuverability or a cannon weren’t needed against clumsy bombers—or so thought military planners, convinced that dogfights were obsolete, and that future air combat would be waged with missiles alone.

The next plot twist was written in the early 1960s by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Notorious for a data-driven efficiency approach that proved disastrous in the Vietnam War, McNamara believed that a common fighter for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines would save money (the same controversial approach would be repeated 40 years later with the F-35 program).

McNamara also insisted on a common name. The new aircraft would be designated the F-4 Phantom, with the Navy and Marines flying the F-4B, and the Air Force the F-4C (rather than the F-110 Spectre as originally planned).

Biggest Fighter on the Block

By any name, the Phantom was a beast compared to its contemporaries. Most fighters have one seat, but the F-4 had two: a pilot in front, and a radar and weapons officer in back. A fully loaded F-4 weighed 28 tons: France’s Mirage III weighed 14 tons, while the Soviet MiG-21 was only 10 tons. At 63 feet long, the F-4 was 10 feet longer than the other two planes.

Yet the Phantom was muscle, not fat. Mounted on a rugged airframe—designed to absorb the impact of carrier landings—were two massive General Electric J79 engines capable of 18,000 pounds of thrust each, or 36,000 pounds combined. The Mirage’s single engine could pump out only 13,000 pounds of thrust, and the MiG-21 could only put out 15,000 pounds (though lighter planes required less powerful engines). Despite its bulk, the F-4 could fly at Mach 2.2 and reach 60,000 feet. Its first flight in May 1958 was soon followed by 16 world records, including a zoom climb to 98,557 feet in 1959 and a speed of 1,606 miles per hour in 1961.

“It was a wonderful aircraft that had lots of power,” Joe Latham, a retired Air Force colonel who in 1966 became one of the first F-4 pilots to shoot down a North Vietnamese MiG-21 , tells Popular Mechanics .

f4 phantom at fort bragg air base

Size and engine power enabled the Phantom to carry a remarkable payload for its time. The F-4 could heft 18,000 pounds of missiles, bombs, external fuel tanks, and jamming gear on nine hardpoints under its wings and fuselage (the Mirage could only carry 10,000 pounds, and just 3,000 for a MiG-21). The F-4 could almost tote the bomb load of a World War II B-29 bomber , and quadruple the payload of a B-17 . For aerial combat, the Phantom could carry four heat-seeking AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, plus another four AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar missiles that homed in on targets illuminated by the Phantom’s radar.

All of this made the Phantom perhaps the most versatile warplane in history. The F-4 was a true multi-role aircraft that could handle air-to-air combat, air-to-ground combat, Wild Weasel strikes against air defenses, and reconnaissance sorties.

Phantoms over Vietnam

The final turning point in the Phantom story was the Vietnam War, in which the F-4 made its combat debut and cemented its reputation. The Phantom has drawn a lot of historical flak for its deficiencies —including poor rearward visibility, a wide turn radius, and a tendency to depart controlled flight during sharp maneuvers—but three flaws stood out in particular. The F-4’s engines left highly visible smoke trails; early models lacked an internal cannon for close-in shots at a time when most air-to-air missile shots missed their targets; and instead of long-distance missile duels, Vietnam air combat was usually World War II-style low-speed, close-range “knife fights” in which the smaller MiG-17, MiG-19, and MiG-21 were more maneuverable in horizontal turns.

“We had to maneuver vertically,” Latham recalls. “We could not go into a level turn with those guys.” Long after the war, Nguyen Van Bay, a North Vietnamese ace with seven claimed kills, told Latham that if he “could get in close, then he would get us, because he could turn so much tighter.”

The F-4’s kill ratio against the MiGs was a disappointing 2:1, and at times even 1:1. But how much of this was the Phantom’s fault? Rules of engagement barred U.S. pilots from shooting at planes without visual identification, with precluded beyond-visual-range Sparrow shots. Like Royal Air Force pilots in the Battle of Britain, North Vietnamese pilots were assisted by ground radars that enabled the MiGs to set hit-and-run ambushes, or pick off battle-damaged stragglers.

three f4 phantom planes flying over vietnam

And worst of all, the U.S. suffered from unprepared pilots and inadequate tactics, such as Air Force formations that were too rigid in combat. “I didn’t realize until recently how poorly trained our pilots were, and how bad our tactics were,” Latham says.

It’s not that the Phantom couldn’t evolve; later models were armed with a 20-millimeter cannon. Pilots learned to exploit the F-4’s superior speed by climbing and diving, rather than turning (just as American pilots in World War II did against nimble Japanese Zero fighters). By 1972, the Navy’s Top Gun training program enabled Navy F-4s to achieve a 13:1 kill ratio.

Nonetheless, Vietnam has not gone down as the finest hour for U.S. airpower, and Double Ugly made a beautiful scapegoat. Yet the question wasn’t whether the Phantom was flawed—it was—but which aircraft would have performed better under such political and technological constraints.

The biggest threat to aircraft in Vietnam wasn’t MiGs, but flak. Ground fire – ranging from radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns to a Viet Cong guerrilla firing an AK-47 – destroyed most to the aircraft and helicopters lost to enemy fire. Even if the F-4 had been a super-dogfighter bristling with cannon, it still would have faced challenges that would have taxed even a modern stealth fighter.

Israel’s Sledgehammer

Next to America, Israel has had the most combat experience with the Phantom. When they received the F-4 in 1969, some Israeli pilots reluctantly gave up their peppy little Mirages for the American giants (the joke was that pilots strapped on a Mirage, but strapped into a Phantom). Yet for a small air force that couldn’t afford lots of specialized fighters and bombers, the multi-role F-4 was invaluable.

Israeli pilots soon learned to love the Phantom, appropriately nicknamed the Kurnas (Hebrew for “sledgehammer”). It could do it all, including air superiority, “flying artillery” to support the ground troops, and even deep-penetration strategic bombing . Despite primarily being assigned ground-attack missions, Israeli Phantom crews were credited with 116.5 aerial kills between 1969 and 1982, according to Israeli historian Shlomo Aloni.

Flying the F-4 for two air forces gave Danny Grossman a unique view of the Phantom. After serving six years as a U.S. Air Force F-4 weapons officer, he spent 20 years as an Israeli Air Force Kurnas navigator and flew 200 combat missions. His most memorable flight was a secret reconnaissance mission over Iraq in early 1982, when two reconnaissance F-4s—bereft of fighter escort—were intercepted by an Iraqi MiG-21 that popped up next to them.

refueling f 4 phantom ii

“You could put out your hand and touch it,” Grossman, who snapped a photo of the Iraqi fighter, tells Popular Mechanics . But under orders to snap the photos and go home, the Phantoms lit their afterburners. “I had never broken the sound barrier before while flying that low.”

Flying the later F-4E version with wing slats , Grossman found the Phantom maneuvered very well at low altitudes “if you keep the fight in a very aggressive hard turn.”

While newer fighters like the F-16 are more capable, they’re also less versatile, according to Grossman. “There’s not a mission the Phantom can’t do. It will kick and buck if you don’t treat it right. But it takes care of you.”

When replaced by F-15 and F-16 fighters in the 1980s, the F-4 became a Wild Weasel (special units tasked with the dangerous mission of destroying enemy air defenses) in Operation Desert Storm. The U.S. military finally retired the Phantom from combat in 1996. Still the F-4 flew into 2016 as the QF-4 target drone .

Greece, Turkey, and South Korea still operate a few F-4s. Ironically, the biggest Phantom user today is Iran, which recently displayed F-4s at an underground air base .

Phantom Love

The Phantom has numerous fans today, such as the F-4 Phantom II Society . Out of the hundreds of fighter jets built since 1945, why all the affection for this one? Perhaps it’s a bit of baby boomer nostalgia for an aircraft that featured so prominently in their younger days. Or, it’s fascination with a fighter with such a long and colorful history.

But perhaps the real reason for the Phantom’s enduring popularity is simple respect for the underdog—admiration for the awkward, but plucky, machine that got the job done. All aircraft look good on the drawing board, and many may even work well under ideal conditions. But real-world conditions are rarely ideal, and history is littered with beautiful planes that failed the test of combat.

A classic fighter isn’t the one that performs well when everything goes right. It’s the one that accomplishes missions that it was never designed to do. The courage and skill of its crews made the Phantom successful, but this required an aircraft capable and versatile enough to allow it.

The F-4 Phantom was neither pretty nor elegant. But it did its job when so many other aircraft in history couldn’t. That’s what counts.

You can find Michael Peck on Twitter at @Mipeck1 .

Headshot of Michael Peck

Michael Peck writes about defense and international security issues, as well as military history and wargaming. His work has appeared in Defense News, Foreign Policy Magazine, Politico, National Defense Magazine, The National Interest, Aerospace America and other publications. He holds an MA in Political Science from Rutgers University. 

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F-4 Phantom II

Powerplant: two 79.62 kN (17,900 lb st) General Electric J79-GE-17A turbojets

Dimensions: length 19.20m (63 ft 0 in); height 5.02m (16 ft 5� in); wing span 11.77m (38ft 7� in)

Weights: take-off ('clean') 18.818 kg (41,487 lb); Max Take-Off Weight 28.030 kg (61,795 lb)

Performance: max level speed at 10.975m (36,000 ft) Mach 2.17 or 2.301 km/h (1,430 mph); service ceiling 17,905m (58,750 ft)

Armament: one 20mm M61A1 Vulcan six-barrel cannon with 640 rounds; 7,257 kg (16,000 lb) of disposable stores, including nuclear weapons, ASMs, AAMs, free-fall or guided bombs, cluster bombs, napalm tanks, drop tanks and ECM pods, carried on nine external hardpoints

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From the ultrafast F-4X to the F-4E(S): the Odyssey of Israel's recce Phantoms

  • Aviation History
  • Military Aviation

From the ultrafast F-4X to the F-4E(S): the Odyssey of Israel’s recce Phantoms

f 4 2000 super phantom

The F-4X would have featured an increase in engine thrust by 150% to allow dash speeds of Mach 3.2, cruise at Mach 2.4, and flight up to 78,000ft (23,775m) altitude

Acquired by Israel in 1969 the  McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II  quickly became the backbone of the  Israeli Air Force (IAF) thanks to its range, payload and bombing accuracy.

Along with the F-4Es the IAF ordered also several RF-4s. These aircraft were a welcome addition to the service reconnaissance assets. Their speed and range combined with their superior camera systems, allowed more complex missions to be flown with less risk to man and machine than had been possible with the Mirages and Vautours. As explained by Bill Norton in his book Air War On The Edge: A History of the Israel Air Force and its aircraft since 1947 , the IAF was only the second customer for the RF-4 and these were the first to be equipped to operate with AIM-9 missiles for self-defense , employing wing pylons with twin launchers, while also retaining the bombing systems. As is common with RF-4s, the IAF recce Phantoms were equipped with the aft fuselage ejector units for photo-flash cartridges to be used during night missions. The reconnaissance aircraft were distributed among most of the F-4 squadrons.

From the ultrafast F-4X to the F-4E(S): the Odyssey of Israel's recce Phantoms

According Norton, “during the War of Attrition recce aircraft were important assets in keeping track of the Egyptian missile boxes and locating targets for follow-up strikes. Photo reconnaissance was especially critical immediately following the War of Attrition. The cease-fire terms required that Egypt freeze its missile batteries in place, and not continue to move SAM boxes closer to the Canal. These terms were very important to Israel, and very hazardous recon flights were made to verify compliance and then monitor movement when the cease-fire terms were clearly violated. Flights into the area were made at 600kts and at such a low altitude that the major hazard was from bird strikes and hitting fishing boat masts.”

Although the IAF had ordered RF-4Es, the aircraft did not begin to arrive until February 1971 and flew their first mission on Mar. 9. To help the service accomplish this essential task, two IAF F-4Es (coded 17 and 19) were modified locally in a two-month crash program to fit a camera in the nose. By removing the gun and installing environmental and electrical modifications, either a Zeiss RMK 15/23 medium-altitude mapping camera or Fairchild KA-52 low-altitude panoramic camera could be carried. These two machines began operational missions at 69 Squadron on Mar. 24, 1970 before transitioning to 201 by September. This IAF effort may have been the source of rumors that the U.S. loaned Israel two RF-4Cs between August 1970 and March 1971 under Operation Night Light (or Peace Night Lite) for which Israel reportedly paid $143,000. They were operated by 69 Squadron during their short stay.

As Norton says “it has been suggested that Israel had a much earlier exposure to the RF-4. One source asserts that the crews and aircraft of the USAF 38th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron were deployed from Spain to Israel – probably Hatzerim – to provide their services during the Six Day War. The RF-4Cs were supposedly given IAF markings and operated in the area until Jun. 12. While the American administration had certainly begun to lean towards the Israeli side in the Middle East conflict by 1967, this kind of material assistance during wartime was very unlikely. The IAF could certainly have used the help, freeing up their recon planes for strike missions. Another book records an even more unlikely event in 1962 when what may have been Israeli pilots collected a number of USN F-4Bs at Wheelus AB in Libya and flew them to an undisclosed location in the east. There has also been an extraordinary claim made that the U.S. Navy provided carrier landing training in the Red Sea to some 100 IAF F-4 aircrew in 1971.”

From the ultrafast F-4X to the F-4E(S): the Odyssey of Israel's recce Phantoms

It was not long before the SAM batteries were observed being moved forward. However, no one in the U.N., the U.S., or many even in Israel welcomed this news because of the possible consequences of renewed hostilities. The U.S. especially did not want anything to interfere with the scheduled Geneva peace talks. No immediate action was taken. The RF-4Es proved their worth the next summer when two, one flown by Aviem Sella , sped over southern Syria for 20min to obtain the first clear photos of mobile SA-6 batteries. Months of planning and training had gone into the mission that, because it was performed on a holiday and without top cover or ECM , went completely undisturbed by Syrians. The hazards of such missions were clear, as in October 1971 when an RF-4 returned with an SA-7 embedded in one engine. In April 1973 the IAF began high-altitude recce missions with their RF-4s, requiring the crew to wear pressure suits.

According Norton, so important was the photo intelligence generated by the IAF’s high-speed RF-4Es that the IAF sought a means of retaining this invaluable source of intelligence in the face of increasing threats to overflights of target sites. The IAF became interested in Americans’ 1,228lb (557kg) CAI KA-90 HIAC-1 ultra-long focal length (66in or 168cm) Long Range Oblique Photography (LOROP). This remarkable camera could resolve a 10in (25cm) object at 20nm range, allowing the Israelis to monitor activities near their borders without actually crossing the frontier. The Israelis made overtures to obtain one or more of the American RB-57Fs modified to carry the system. But, the U.S. rebuffed these queries.

A podded 1,500lb (680kg) version of the camera, designated the G-139, was eventually developed by General Dynamics (GD). The camera was in an enormous pod, 22ft (6.7m) long, that could accommodate 4,000lb (1,814kg) of equipment, including the associated environmental control system. In 1971 the U.S. Congress authorized export of the G-139 to Israel, and they arrived in October. The G-139 was employed on the centreline of the RF-4s and on two specially modified F-4Es. It is known to have been operated by at least 119 Squadron. How long the podded camera served is unclear.

From the ultrafast F-4X to the F-4E(S): the Odyssey of Israel's recce Phantoms

The IAF found the system very effective but the drag of the large pod degraded the Phantom’s performance to an operationally prohibitive extent. This is said to have limited maximum altitude to 50,000ft (15,240m) and maximum speed to just under Mach 1.5. Greater altitudes would permit more valuable images, but the degraded performance also placed the expensive and unique asset in grave jeopardy should an enemy attempt an intercept, and extended exposure to static anti-aircraft defenses.

Norton explains: “To answer the limitations imposed by the G-139, GD began work to boost the performance of the F-4 engines with a series of airframe modification under a program named Peace Jack. In 1971 the Israelis were invited to participate in the American effort. The Peace Jack airframe was initially to have included a radically revised inlet design and special low drag external ‘saddle’ tanks. The latter, including pumps, were to provide fluid for an engine pre-compressor cooling (PCC) water injection system to cool the intake air and increase overall engine mass flow. The two 2,500lb-capacity (1,134kg) tanks were to be mounted atop the jet, between the inlet ducts and the spine of the fuselage. These changes would, in theory, have increased engine thrust by 150% to allow dash speeds of Mach 3.2, cruise at Mach 2.4, and flight up to 78,000ft (23,775m) altitude. The conceptual aircraft was tentatively identified as the F-4X, but no actual airframe ever bore this designation.

“By 1974 a reduced size and weight LOROP camera had been designed that could be enclosed in a revised F-4 nose cavity lengthened by 12in (30.5cm) for 70ft 3 (2m 3 ) of volume. The nose included two windows on the bottom quadrant and two on either side. The entire camera could be rotated to view from any one of these windows. A separate environmental control system in the nose maintained the camera within an optimal temperature range. The design was termed the RF-4X but, again, no actual aircraft was identified with this designation. The IAF provided F-4E 69-7576 in December 1974 to General Dynamics at Fort Worth, Texas, which, over the next five months, served as the basis for a mock-up of the envisioned modifications. The combination was calculated to have allowed a Mach 2.7 cruise speed.”

From the ultrafast F-4X to the F-4E(S): the Odyssey of Israel's recce Phantoms

Up to this point, the Israelis had been financial partners in the Peace Jack effort with the USAF, but the latter eventually withdrew. The program faced at least an additional year of development, but the Israelis urgently needed an operationally HIAC capability. Alone the IAF could only afford to fund the camera installation, and the program proceeded with this goal – the saddle tanks and PCC being dropped. This design was designated the F-4E(S), with the S representing ‘Special’. The IAF had a separate KS-87 vertically mounted camera added aft of the HIAC. A number of other optical sensors could also be installed in the voluminous nose and the Air Force had no doubt developed additional packages throughout the years. A sight used to ensure that a photo target was within the oblique field of view of the cameras, was mounted on one or both of the canopy sills. Two other IAF F-4Es (69-7567 and -7570) joined 69-7576 in Fort Worth to undergo modification. First flight of the F-4E(S) was on Dec. 20, 1975 and the first of three modified aircraft was delivered on Jul. 30, 1976, the rest shortly afterwards to 199 Squadron.

While in Texas the noses of the aircraft were painted as if they still had black radome in an effort to conceal the modification. According Norton the (S) aircraft were maintained under the strictest security after returning to Israel until 1998. The type may have taken on more of an electronic warfare role late in the 1980s and ’90s, and is known to have had Elta jammers installed (the EL/L-8230 internal unit having been mentioned).

From the ultrafast F-4X to the F-4E(S): the Odyssey of Israel's recce Phantoms

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin, Israeli Air Force and  Bukvoed via Wikipedia 

Dario Leone

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  • 1950s United States fighter aircraft
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List of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II variants

  • View history

The McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II variants were numerous versions and designations of the F-4 and are described below.

  • 2 Proposals
  • 3.2 Citations
  • 3.3 Bibliography

Variants [ ]

An XF4H-1 1959.

F-4Bs from VF-213 , 1967.

An EF-4C in 1972.

A Kentucky ANG RF-4C showing camera installations and drag chute.

A 301st TFW F-4D, 1985.

The F-4E introduced the integral 20 mm Vulcan cannon.


Two F-4E Kurnass 2000's.

A left side view of Japanese F-4EJ (413) of 306 Sqn shortly after taking off from Komatsu Air Base during the joint US Japanese Exercise Cope North '86-3.


Two RF-04E's of the JASDF .

Two F-4F ICE Phantoms of the Luftwaffen .

F-4G Phantom II wild weasel

An F-4G Wild Weasel V.

A U.S. Navy F-4J, 1971.

F-4K of 892 NAS launched from HMS Ark Royal , 1972.

A U.S. Marine Corps F-4N aboard USS Coral Sea , 1980.

Proposals [ ]

Imagining of an F-4U Terminator

Imagining an F4U-Terminator (based on the the F-4E-2020) Terminator in service of the Ukrainian Air Force.

4X-JPA, the Super Phantom prototype, on display at the Israeli Air Force Museum

References [ ]

Citations [ ].

  • ↑ Francillon 1979, p.559.
  • ↑ Francillon 1979, pp.559-560.
  • ↑ Sweetman 1987, p. 531.
  • ↑ Dorr 1987, p. 39.
  • ↑ Eden 2004, p. 278.
  • ↑ Francillon Air International July 1994, pp. 15–17, 20.
  • ↑ Project Dark Gene and Project Ibex
  • ↑ Dorr and Donald p.194.
  • ↑ Francillon Air International July 1994, p.17.
  • ↑ 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 F-4 Phantom on the "warriorsoul" , Turkish Armed Forces website, Retrieved: 8 February 2008
  • ↑ Phantom for Turkey , J Baugher, May 20, 2000.
  • ↑ 12.0 12.1 12.2 Donald and Lake 1996
  • ↑ 13.0 13.1 Miller 1985, pp.19-25.
  • ↑ Francillon Air International July 1994, pp. 17–20.
  • ↑ Francllion 1979, p.568.
  • ↑ The Royal Air Force - History Section
  • ↑ Spick 1985, pp. 289-90.
  • ↑ Spick 1985, pp. 290-291.
  • ↑ http://www.faqs.org/docs/air/avf4_3.html

Bibliography [ ]

  • Baugher's Index of Phantom Variants
  • Donald, David and Lake Jon, eds. Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft . London: AIRtime Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-880588-24-2 .
  • Dorr, Robert J. and Donald, David. Fighters of the United States Air Force . London:Temple Press/Aerospace, 1990, ISBN 0-600-55094-X .
  • Dorr, Robert F. Phantoms Forever . London: Osprey Publishing Limited, 1987. ISBN 0-85045-742-4
  • Eden, Paul ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft . London: Amber Books Ltd, 2004. ISBN 1-904687-84-9
  • Francillon, René J. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920 . London:Putnam, 1979. ISBN 0-370-00050-1 .
  • Francillon, René J. ""Wild Weasel Phantoms". Air International , July 1994, Volume 47 No 1. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. pp. 15–21.
  • Miller, Jay. "Peace Jack: An Enigma Exposed". Air International , July 1985, Volume 29, No. 1. Bromley, UK: Fine Scroll. pp. 18–23.
  • Spick, Mike. "2001 Phantom Odyssey". Air International . December 1985, Volume 29, No. 6.Bromley, UK: Fine Scroll. pp. 287–292.
  • Sweetman, Bill and Bonds, Ray. The Great Book of Modern Warplanes . New York, New York: Crown Publishers, 1987. ISBN 0-517-63367-1


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f 4 2000 super phantom

F-4X: The Fastest Phantom

On November 6, 1971, a MiG-25R “Foxbat” reconnaissance plane from the Soviet Union ’s 63rd Independent Air Detachment rolled out of its hardened shelter at an air base near Cairo. In the cockpit was one of a group of men designated as “farm workers” by the Soviet Union and sent to Egypt in response to an urgent request by President Anwar Sadat. In reality, these were highly trained pilots, led by Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel Alexander Bezhevets.

The Soviet MiGs wore Egyptian Air Force markings, and the men flying them observed strict radio discipline, but their Israeli opponents were not fooled. As the Foxbat sped over the Sinai at 75,000 feet on a mission to photograph Israeli positions near the Mitla Pass that November, it did not go unnoticed. Since March the Israeli Air Force had been frustrated time and again by its inability to intercept the brazen intruders with ground-to-air missiles or fighter aircraft.

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This time the Israelis were ready. A pair of McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantoms , specially modified to be as light as possible and armed with AIM-7E Sparrow missiles, waited on standby. The Phantoms climbed to 44,000 feet and launched their missiles,which rose to the Foxbat’s altitude and detonated, but by then the MiG had long since passed their position. The Sparrows’ proximity detonators couldn’t deal with the closing speed of the encounter.

Back to the drawing board. Israel’s Knesset discussed the reconnaissance overflights twice in emergency sessions, also sending in commandos disguised as Bedouins to have a closer look at the base where the MiGs were stationed. They offered the pilots a million dollars and a villa on the coast to defect. None of it worked. Though the Soviet overflights stopped with the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War , the MiGs left a powerful impression.

The G-139 pod, shown on an RF-4C, allowed just four inches’ clearance from the runway. (Courtesy Jay Miller)


The Israelis had already been looking for their own effective reconnaissance platform.They thought they found it in the HIAC-1 advanced high-altitude reconnaissance camera, built by General Dynamics. But the camera was so large it had to be carried in an RB-57F, a recon version of the British Canberra bomber license-built by Martin and General Dynamics, which had not been approved for export by the United States.

By 1971, the attitude in America toward such exports had changed. The U.S. Air Force had developed a pod, designated the G-139, that could house the camera and be mounted under the fuselage of an F-4 Phantom. Even then, however, the camera was so large that the pod was more than 22 feet long and weighed over 4,000 pounds. The camera/pod combo was flown on many reconnaissance flights (designated Bench Box) near the North Korean border, attached under RF-4C Phantoms.

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The Israelis were interested in the camera-carrying Phantoms, which led to the birth of Project Peace Jack. A major concern was the adverse impact of the enormous camera pod on aircraft performance. General Dynamics’ engineers decided the best way to address the problem was to increase the F-4’s performance rather than trying to design a lighter camera system. The company sought to boost the thrust of the Phantom’s engines using water injection,an idea for which there was a precedent.

On December 9, 1959, Operation Skyburner had commenced as an attempt to secure high-altitude flight records using the Phantom. But the Skyburner program also had the absolute speed record in its sights. For that attempt, McDonnell engineers added water-methanol injection to an F4H-1. A large tank was installed in the rear cockpit, in the space normally occupied by the weapon systems officer. In addition, the windscreen had to be reinforced,since it would be in danger of breaking due to friction heat at the higher speeds. On November 22, 1961, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Bob Robinson flew the modified Phantom to an absolute world record speed of 1,606.342 mph.

The RF-4X mock-up contrasts a stock intake (right) with the enlarged version for the PCC. (Courtesy Jay Miller)

The General Dynamics team applied those same lessons to what was now designated the F-4X. The new aircraft would have large 300-gallon conformal water tanks mounted above the fuselage engine fairings. Demineralized water would be used for pre-compressor cooling (PCC) of the General Electric J79 engines, serving three purposes: cooling the air entering the compressor, increasing the total mass flow through the engine (thereby increasing thrust) and adding more oxidizer to the afterburner. GE had tested the engines, and passed along that data to General Dynamics,simplifying the job for the F-4X project engineers. PCC was calculated to increase the J79 engine thrust by 50 percent—more than satisfactory.

To allow for much faster air speeds, larger engine air intakes were designed, complete with a sophisticated system of internal plates and bleeds. A new polycarbonate cockpit enclosure would deal with the friction heat.The flight controls were also modified, and the tail area was increased.

In 1973 a smaller, updated version of the HIAC-1 camera was installed in the jet’s nose. With the reduction in drag from the pod’s elimination, the Phantom’s performance was now calculated to increase to a cruising speed of Mach 2.4 and dash speed of Mach 3.2.

But this brought the export of the F-4X into doubt. No country other than the United States and the Soviet Union had aircraft with Mach 3+ performance. In his book Spyplane: The U-2 History Declassified, Norman Polmar cited an example of why that might be a concern. Starting in August1970, two U.S. Air Force U-2R reconnaissance planes were stationed at the RAF base in Akrotiri, Cyprus, during the Suez Crisis. After the first day of U-2 overflights, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan called the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv into his office and complained that the U-2s had deviated from the narrow5-kilometer-wide corridor the Israelis had assigned them. Dayan then threatened to shoot them down using F-4Es.


It’s understandable that the State Department would be worried that another nation—even an ally—might acquire interceptors that could threaten U.S. reconnaissance aircraft. However, the F-4X was not equipped with radar and so was unlikely to be used as an interceptor. The program was thus allowed to continue. In November 1974, an Israeli F-4E was flown to General Dynamics’ Fort Worth facility to serve as a mock up for the new aircraft. Engineers worked on the jet well into 1975, by which time the program had run into problems. After extensive testing, General Dynamics concluded that PCC would cause the turbine compressor blades to expand and hit the engine case, causing catastrophic failure.

Meanwhile, the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle was finishing its test program and about to become operational. Because theF-4X might offer superior performance in some ways at a lower cost, Air Force officials feared Congress would cut back on F-15 funding. The State Department was also still concerned the IAF would use the F-4X as an interceptor, and that a successful shoot-down of a Soviet reconnaissance plane would create an international incident. This signaled the death knell for the F-4X.


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The program wasn’t a complete bust, however, as Israel still wanted the nose-mounted HIAC-1s. Two additional IAF Phantoms joined the F-4E used for mockup work, with all three converted into the new RF-4E(S) variant. Because of the F-4X program’s early termination and budget limits, the converted aircraft still used conventional unmodified J79 engines.

The three RF-4E(S) reconnaissance planes were finally delivered to the IAF in 1976 and 1977. With characteristic irony, the Israelis nicknamed them Tsalam Shablul, or Photographer Snail. Because the Shabluls flew their missions at altitudes approaching 70,000 feet, the pilot and systems officer wore full pressure suits, the same David Clark Company A/P22S-6 suits used by American reconnaissance pilots.

The Shabluls were retired in May 2004 after a long and busy career. Two were placed into storage at Ovda, and the third can still be seen at the Israeli Air Force Museum at Hatzerim Air Base.

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Simple Flying

Everything you need to know about the mcdonnell douglas f-4 phantom ii fighter jet.

The aircraft was originally developed by McDonnell Aircraft for the United States Navy.

Initially developed in the 1950s by McDonnell Aircraft for the United States Navy, the F-4 Phantom II Fighter Jet became one of the premier fighter jets for the American military and 12 other countries. Designed to be a tandem two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic interceptor and fighter bomber, the F-4 Phantom II saw combat in Vietnam, Israel, Iran, and Turkey.

At first, the aircraft's name was going to be either Satan or Mithras, but in the end, the plane maker went with the far less controversial Phantom II. Because the plane was manufactured for use on aircraft carriers, it needed to have reinforced landing gear. The nose strut was also extended to increase the angles of attack when using a catapult for takeoff.

Because of new advanced weapons systems, the Navy thought that a single pilot would have too much to handle during combat and asked McDonnell to design the cockpit to be flown by two pilots sitting in tandem.

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II served with every branch of the US military

The Phantom took to the skies for the first time on May 27, 1958, and while the maiden flight had hydraulic issues, all subsequent flights went to plan. The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II made its first carrier takeoff and landing on the USS Independence (CV/CVA-62) on February 15, 1960.

Wanting all military branches to have a unified fighter, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara proposed a version of the Phantom for the Air Force and Marines. Unlike the Navy and Marines, who had a pilot in the front seat and a weapons specialist in the rear, the USAF employed two pilots per example. However, Air Force pilots did not particularly enjoy being in the back seat because of its limited visibility and instruments. The Air Force took such complaints and placed a navigator and weapons systems operator instead of another pilot.

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was used extensively during the Vietnam War

During the plane's maiden flight with the United States Air Force, it exceeded Mach 2. The aircraft then went on to set numerous speed records, five of which stood until the F-15 Eagle appeared in 1975.

The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II saw extensive service during the Vietnam War, claiming 280 victories more than any other American aircraft involved in the fighting. During Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991), the USAF deployed Phantoms to Shaikh Isa AB, Bahrain, and used the planes for various reconnaissance missions.

Other nations where the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was used in combat

Israel received around 210 McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs and used them extensively from Arab/Israeli conflicts, including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, right up to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The last Phantoms in the Israeli Air Force were retired in 2004 after being replaced with more advanced fighter jets.

Before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the USA and Iran were allies, with the United States having no problem supplying Iran's military with arms. In total, the Iranian Air Force had 225 Phantoms, which it later used extensively in the Iran/Iraq War.

As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United States sells military equipment to Turkey, including over 100 Phantoms. Turkey used its F-4s to bomb Kurdish PKK bases in Northern Iraq.

Other nations to have the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II in their militaries were:

  • South Korea
  • United Kingdom

Other than the United States, the United Kingdom was the only country to use the Phantom for its Navy, with the UK deploying the aircraft on the HMS Ark Royal. The UK also sent several Phantoms to defend its base on Ascension Island during the 1982 Falklands War.

During its production run between 1958 and 1981, McDonnell Douglas built 5,195 examples of the type. While now retired from most militaries, the plane remains in service with the air forces of Iran, South Korea, Greece, and Turkey.

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Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) F-4E Kurnass 'Super Phantom' 2000 for Strike Fighters 2

By dtmdragon , November 4, 2012 in Thirdwire: Strike Fighters 2 Series - File Announcements

Recommended Posts

+ dtmdragon    2,594.

Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) F-4E Kurnass 'Super Phantom' 2000 for Strike Fighters 2

Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) F-4E Kurnass 'Super Phantom' 2000 for Strike Fighters 2

*************** Now with brand new SF2 'Super_F4.LOD' *****************

IAI planned a second level of updating for the Kurnass 2000 ( http://combatace.com...ike-fighters-2/ ) designated the "Super Phantom 2000", in which the aircraft were to be fitted with twin Pratt & Whitney (P&W) PW1120 turbofan engines.

The PW1120 was a derivative of the P&W F100 used on the F-15 and F-16, and was developed for the IAI Lavi fighter program, which was ultimately cancelled. The PW1120 was shorter and lighter than the J79 but almost the same diameter, making installation the Phantom relatively straightforward. The PW1120 offered 25% more dry thrust and 30% more afterburning thrust than the J79.

A single Super Phantom 2000 prototype was implemented and flown at the Paris Air Show in 1987. It could exceed Mach 1 without afterburners and was hoped to become a lucrative update offered by Israel to current Phantom operators.

However the program never went beyond the prototype with the 'official' line being that there were no takers as the cost of the engine update was a significant fraction of the cost of an entirely new aircraft, and nobody thought it sounded like a good deal. Boeing also had considered a similar Phantom update and abandoned the idea. But is is generally accepted that the real reason was McDonnell Douglas/ Boeing scuttled the project because it equalled the F/A-18C/D in performance and endangered any future sales of the F/A-18 and F-15 as current Phantom operators could upgade thier fleet to a similar level instead of having to replace them.

That being said, with the PW1120 engines it is one kick ass Phantom to fly and fight with in the SF2 game! So here it is. Along with the prototype skin that the aircraft wore to the 87 Paris Air show I have also included an operational IAF 119 Squadron skin however it was obviously never used.

None of the default loadouts include any weapons other than drop tanks as the prototype aircraft never carried any. However you can use the single mission editor to load a selection of preset loadouts based on the Kurnass 2000 loadouts.

This mod has its origins in the SFP1 Mirage Factory F-4E Kurnass but most of the 3D work to create the Super Phantom 2000 model has been done by Sundowner.

INSTILATION : Drop files in to appropriate folders, override when asked to.

NOTE: Has only been tested/used in a merged install of ALL SF2 titles

Credit goes to:

Bunyap and Chaser617 for the F-4EJ Kai cockpit / Avionics which we used as a base for the Kurnass 2000 Cockpit and Avionics.

The Viper Team for their IAF F-16C/D/I which some of the weapons came from.

Sundowner for his work on the TMF Kurnass 2000.

And of course the Mirage Factory Team for the original Kurnass Pack.

  • Submitter dtmdragon
  • Submitted 11/04/2012
  • Category Israeli Origin

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Link to post, share on other sites, fastcargo    412.


Cool! Question...wasn't there also a proposal to replace the front windscreen with a one piece unit?

Cool! Question...wasn't there also a proposal to replace the front windscreen with a one piece unit?   FC

+ ace888    327


USAF was testing it but never got the full fleet upgrade. The few F-4E/G that had the mod were transfer (F-4E to Greece and to my surprise Turkey), the G were retired.


That one piece canopy looks like it was part of the original design....nice...

garyscott    11


The single piece wind-shield was seriously considered as it enhanced forward view by 22% due to the bow framing no longer impeding the view. In the CAS and A2A aspect, it was a winner. However, without a serious redesign of the canopy bow sub structure (and forward fuselage attachments), the design suffered from lower impact limits compared to the original design (same spec bird carcass could only be deflected at below 350knts). It was that reason that precluded the single piece transparency from becoming a production article.

That said, both the US E & G units had nothing but high praise for it in the visual arena.

Icarus999    70


That was the Boeing super Phantom proposal It also had an optional modular conformal fuel tank / equipment / weapon pod between the sparrow wells and used the PW 1120 engines.

And informally nicknamed the "BigMac" !

Found this line drawing comparing the Boeing and IAI Super Phantoms, note the modular conformal fuel tank on the Boeing version.


Version 1.1 uploaded:

- Brand new SF2 'Super_F4.LOD' with fuselarge aerial and afterburner nodes that glow correctly when the afterburners are on.


The available file contents are the same with V1.0.

Sorry guys but the updated version (IAF IAI Super Phantom1.1.7z) didn't save for some reason last night so I have re uploaded it just now.

Version 1.1 re-uploaded:

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War Thunder - Official Forum

  • Passed for Consideration

Israel Aerospace Industry F-4-2000 'Super Phantom'


By Tree_of_Sephirot , November 23, 2020 in Passed for Consideration

Survey for IAI Super Phantom   167 members have voted

1. do you want this jet in war thunder, 2. where should be add this.

  • Independent Israel tree 122
  • Others (send comments below) 5
  • I said No 11

3. Which BR would you think fit for this aircraft?

  • Higher than 11.7 45
  • I sad No 11
  • Please sign in or register to vote in this poll.

Tree_of_Sephirot 21

  • Report post


Flight Performance Maximum cruise speed : 605 knots (1120Kph) Maximum speed : Mach 2+ Climb rate : 258m/s(Calculated based on WT F-4E spec) Turn time : 22.1 sec(Calculated based on WT F-4E spec) Take-off distance : 672m(Calculated based on WT F-4E spec) Engine : Pratt & Whitney PW 1120 Turbofan engine Engine thrust : 20,600lbf (92kN class) Thrust/Weight ratio : 1.04 Avionics Mil-Standard 1553B Digital databus avionics Elbit ACE-3 Mission computer Norden/United Technology Companies APG-76 Synthetic-aperture milti mode radar Armament(Same as Kurnass 2000) M61A1 with 640 rounds x4 Short range AAM(Sidewinders, Shafrir 2, Python 3,4) x4 Sparrow medium range AAM 7,247kg of Air to ground weapons References For engine thrust


Special thanks to Flateric from 'Secret Projects UK' forum who provides tons of useful articles to me


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  • Suggestion Moderator


ItssLuBu 1,795


yoyolast 1,707

Looks like a great aircraft, I think it would be especially cool to have as with the Peten and the various Merkavas in the US tech tree you could have a complete Israeli lineup in there.


Z3r0_ 4,127

Could be an event plane on the US tree.


  • 2 weeks later...


angrycartoon 6

Id absolutely love to see this in game! perhaps put it right after the F-4E in game or foldered. It would be a nice upgrade to match the BIS, but nothing too OP. It would be very easy to add too! :)


  • 6 months later...



This would be a wonderful event or gift vehicle for the us. 10/10

  • 1 month later...


modern_primat 182

when israeli (sub)tree is in war thunder, this vehicle will be good, +1

  • 2 months later...


Milocat 4,843

+1 for the new Israeli tree.


Nicholas_Concu 2,634

+1 this is likely going to show up in the new tech tree. 


  • Senior Suggestion Moderator


CokeSpray 7,271

Suggestion passed to the developers for consideration.


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