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F-4 Phantom II


Under its own financing and initiative, McDonnell Aircraft began developing an all-weather attack fighter in August 1953, shortly after it lost a competitive bid to build a Navy supersonic air-superiority fighter. McDonnell had already produced more than 1,000 carrier-based jet aircraft, the FH-1 Phantom, the F2H Banshee and the F3H Demon.

The McDonnell FH-1 Phantom, which made its first flight on January 26, 1945, was first operated from a carrier in the summer of 1946, and entered squadron service in 1948. The aircraft was conventional in design and employed an unswept wing with simple high-lift devices; manual flight controls were provided about all three axes. Mounted in the wing roots were the two 1560-pound-thrust Westinghouse axial-flow jet engines. Although not visible in the photograph, the inlets were located in the leading edge of the wing roots. Because newer aircraft had much superior performance, the short service life of the FH-1 ended in 1950.

The company focused on developing a single-seat aircraft with 45-degree swept wings to replace the Demon. McDonnell worked on a design first designated the F3H-G and then the AH-1. Although there was no established military requirement for the aircraft, the Navy released details of a desired mission: an aircraft to be deployed from a carrier, armed with air-to-air missiles instead of guns, that could cruise out to a radius of 250 nautical miles, stay on combat patrol, attack an intruder when necessary, and return to the carrier deck within three hours. McDonnell reconfigured the AH-1, removing the guns, adding Sparrow missiles, and substituting more powerful engines. The combined thrust of the GE J-79 engines would allow the F-4 to climb straight up after takeoff and give the Navy its first Mach 2 aircraft. Since the Navy was undecided about an aircraft with 1 or 2 places, the company designed both versions.

The configuration of the aircraft evolved through the signing of the detail specifications in July 1955 when the primary mission for the 2-place Phantom became an all-weather fleet air defense aircraft, retaining the attack capabilities from earlier designs. In mid-1955 the full-scale engineering mock-up of the twin-engine aircraft featured a swept wing with no dihedral, and the horizontal tails drooped down at an angle of 15 deg. At the request of the Navy, tests began in the NASA Langley Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel to determine the supersonic performance and stability and control characteristics of the original configuration. Results of the first phase of tunnel tests indicated that the F4H exhibited serious deficiencies in lateral-directional stability characteristics at supersonic speeds, including unstable dihedral effect and marginal directional stability. To cure these problems, McDonnell introduced 12 deg of geometric dihedral into the outer wing panels (which were foldable for carrier operations) and increased the size of the vertical tail.

First flown in May 1958, the Navy awarded a production contract to McDonnell in December 1958. In July 1959, the aircraft was formally christened the F-4 Phantom II in tribute to McDonnell's FH-1 Phantom.

The first Navy squadron began to train with the fighters on 29 December 1960, and the first F-4 aircraft went into operational squadron service with the fleet in October 1961. The F4H Phantom II boasted more than just brute power. It was the beneficiary of a nascent revolution in systems and sensors technology. It was configured with a sophisticated fire control radar system that could detect airborne threats at beyond visual range and direct Sparrow semi-active radar guided missiles against them. Subsequently redesignated the F-4B in 1962, this first model was developed directly from the prototype. The US Navy was the sole client, buying all 649 planes manufactured. The Navy deployed them aboard aircraft carriers, as missile-armed interceptors for defending the Navy's ships and supply convoys.

The Navy fighter garnered a host of world speed and time-to-climb records. On 06 December 1959 Commander L.E. Flint, piloting a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II powered by two GE J-79 engines bettered the existing world altitude record by reaching 98,560 feet over Edwards Air Force Base. On 05 September 1961 an F4H-1 Phantom II, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas H. Miller, USMC, set a new world record for 500 kilometers over the triangular course at Edwards AF Base with a speed of 1216.78 mph. On 25 September 1961 an F4H-1 Phantom II, piloted by Commander John F. Davis, averaged 1390.21 mph for 100 kilometers over a closed circuit course, bettering the existing world record for the distance by more than 200 mph. On 25 May 1961 three F4H Phantom II fighters competing for the Bendix Trophy bettered the existing record for transcontinental flight from Los Angeles to New York. The winning team of Lieutenant R. F. Gordon, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) B. R. Young, RIO, averaged 870 mph on the 2,421.4 mile flight and set a new record of 2 hours, 47 minutes. A Phantom set a world absolute speed record of 1,606.505 mph at Edwards on 22 November 1961. In March 1962 new world climb records to 9,000 and 12,000 meters were established at NAS Brunswick, Maine, when an F4H-1 piloted by Lieutenant Colonel W. C. McGraw, USMC, reached those altitudes from a standing start in 61.62 and 77.15 seconds, respectively. The F4H-1 continued its assault on time-to-climb records at NAS Brunswick as Lieutenant Commander D. W. Nordberg piloted the Phantom II to 15,000 meters altitude in 114.54 seconds. -Lieutenant Commander F. Taylor Brown piloted the F4H-1 Phantom II at NAS Point Mugu, to a new world time-to-climb record for 20,000 meters with a time of 178.5 seconds.

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