Click for Video – As a U.S. pilot in Vietnam, when you needed to intercept an enemy aircraft, you wanted the fastest fighter you could fly to close the gap quickly. The F-4 Phantom II, a two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet, fit that need perfectly. With a top speed of 1,472 mph (Mach 2.23), the Phantom II was fastest interceptor aircraft/fighter-bomber of its time. With the thrust from two General Electric J79-GE-17A axial compressor turbojets, the F-4 allowed a pilot to engage and disengage his opponent at will during aerial combat. During Vietnam, it was the principal air superiority fighter for both the Navy and Air Force. It served alongside the Vought F-8 Crusader in patrolling the skies over Vietnam.
The Phantom did have disadvantages. The engines put out black smoke, allowing the enemy to easily pick it up in the sky. Also, like other interceptors of its time, the F-4 did not have an internal cannon. During this time period it was believed that because of supersonic speeds, pilots could not engage in tight-turning aerial combat. Therefore, aerial combat would take place at further distances and fighters were to be fitted with rockets and no guns.
Despite the nine hardpoints enabling the Phantom to carry up to 18,650 lbs of weapons like air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground rockets, and bombs, pilots were still engaging the enemy in tight-turning aerial combat. They would slow down to get behind their opponent and found there was a great need for a cannon.
In 1965, the F-4C was fitted with two external 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan cannons, which were 6-barrel Gatling cannons. They were mounted to hardpoints, increasing the aircraft’s drag since they were not connected with gunsights, proving to be inaccurate in air combat. In 1972, with the introduction of the F-4E, the Vulcan cannon would be moved inside the aircraft, allowing it to be linked with lead-computing gunsights. This move to an internal mounting on the aircraft greatly improved the Phantom’s accuracy during engagements with enemy combatants.
Excluding the initial shortcomings of the cannons, there would be 5,195 Phantom IIs produced between 1958-1981 at a cost of 2.4 million dollars each. More than just the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps, the F-4 would see service in eleven other countries like Australia, United Kingdom, Egypt, Israel, Japan, and South Korea to name a few.
Enjoy a couple of videos below about the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. Have a great Friday! See all our Jet Friday posts