F-4J Phantom II
The F-4J aircraft featured a much improved radar and avionics, as well as improved aerodynamic design. In addition it had an improved J-79 engine with a longer afterburner nozzles. Gone from was The infrared seeker under the nose that was a mainstay of the F-4B/C/D versions was deleted. Although it did not carry a gun, the aircraft performed well as an interceptor with its Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles. The Navy's only Vietnam aces flew the F-4J for all of their five kills.
Navy Lieutenant Randy "Duke" Cunningham was America's first pilot ace of the Vietnam War, flying F-4J Phantoms. Assigned to the USS Constellation in 1971, he was crewed with Lieutenant "Willy" Driscoll as his Radar Intercept Officer and began flying combat missions against the North Vietnamese. On 19 January 1972, he engaged two MiG-21s at treetop level and claimed his first victory by downing one of the enemy fighters with a Sidewinder missile--the first MiG kill following a 2 year lull in the air war over the North. While over North Vietnam on 8 May 1972, he engaged three MiG-17s, and while he was being fired on by two of the MiGs, he destroyed the remaining foe which was "on the tail" of his wingman. Two days later, Cunningham's section was on a flak suppression mission south of Hanoi when 22 enemy fighters attacked them. During the intense aerial combat that followed, he quickly destroyed a MiG-17 with a Sidewinder, then turned to assist the other Navy Phantoms, which were now boxed in by enemy aircraft. Cunningham reentered the battle and saved his group's Executive Officer while downing his second MiG-17. With the arrival of more MiGs, the American fighters were making a dash for the coast when he encountered another MiG head-on. Cunningham soon realized his adversary was no ordinary pilot. After a 4-minute "see-saw" duel, he claimed his third aircraft of the day; his victim was Colonel Toon--North Vietnam's leading ace. Following their third victory of the day, Cunningham and Driscoll were forced to eject into the Gulf of Tonkin when a SAM hit their aircraft as they headed home. Rescued by a Navy helicopter, Cunningham would receive the Navy Cross for his heroism and superior airmanship on this day.
Soon after the F-4J entered US Navy service the British decided to adopt the Phantom for the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy's F-4K Phantom used the British Roll-Royce Spey engine, which is rather larger than the American J-79. The resulting design was larger, heavier, and somewhat slower than the American F-4, though with greater acceleration and faster at low level. The Royal Navy acquired 52 F-4K aircraft. The Royal Air Force acquired 118 aircraft under the F-4M designation, though eventually both were redesignated FG.1 [RN] and FGR.2 [RAF].
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