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F-4 Phantom II - Variants

First flown in May 1958, the Phantom II originally was developed for U.S. Navy fleet defense and entered service in 1961. The Air Force evaluated it as the F-110A Spectre for close air support, interdiction and counter-air operations. In 1962, U.S. Air Force version was approved. The Air Force's Phantom II was designated F-4C, and first flew May 27, 1963. Production deliveries began in November 1963.

There were twelve distinct configurations of the F-4: nine fighters; and three reconnaisance models. The first fighter model, the F-4A, comprised 47 aircraft, 26 of which were employed as research and development vehicles -- prototypes in a very real sense -- and the remaining 21 were assigned to training squadrons.

It was replaced by the F-4B, which was the U.S. fleet's primary air defense interceptor from 1962 until 1967, when it was replaced by the F-4J. The F-4B incorporated the larger radar antenna, longer nose, and more powerful engines. The US Air Force adopted the F-4C as its primary Tactical Air Command aircraft in 1962. Certain changes were introduced to accommodate the different mission requirements of the Air Force, including cartridge air starters, various inertial navigation systems, and incorporation of other air-to-ground mission capability aids.

A version of the F-4C, known as the F-4D, was developed to yet further improve the air-to-ground mission capability. A lead-computing optical sight weapons-release computer was installed and the radar was modified to include air-to-ground ranging. The F-4D was purchased by the air forces of Korea and Iran.

The F-4E, also employed by the U.S. Air Force, incorporated an M-61 Vulcan cannon to complement the long-range Sparrow III and medium-range Falcon missiles. An improved J-79-GE-17 engine was also installed, together with a more reliable radar -- the APQ-120. The F-4E was purchased by Iran, Japan, Israel, and Australia.

The F-4F, purchased by the German Air Force, used the same basic airframe as the F-4E, but was optimized for air superiority by the addition of leading edge maneuvering slats and systems simplifications which permit operation by a single pilot.

The F-4J was the final version of the Phantom II employed by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The primary modification was incorporation of the AWG-10 pulse-doppler radar with a look-down capability to permit the detection and tracking of aircraft flying at lower altitudes with radar sea and ground return. The F-4J employs higher thrust J-79 engines, a one-way data link with automatic carrier landing capability, and dropped ailerons and slotted stabilator to xeduce landing speeds. Structural changes were also incorporated to permit heavier carrier landing weights.

The U.K. Royal Navy purchased the F-4K, an outgrowth of the F4-J, the primary modification being the substitution of the Roils Royce Spey bypass engine, which provided higher power and longer cruising radius. Structural modifications were also incorporated to permit the installation of the new engines.

The F-4M, employed by the Royal Air Force, was essentially the F-4K adapted to primarily land-based operations. Certain carrier suitability features were therefore removed. In addition, the F-4M was equipped with a long-range voice communications capability.

Reconnaisance versions of the Phantom II included the RF-4C, employed by the U.S. Air Force, in which the forward fuselage section was designed to house the optical electronic sensor equipment needed to perform tactical reconnaisance. The RF-4B was employed by the U.S. Marine Corps with the addition of an inertial navigation capability not found in the F-4B. It was essentially an RF-4C with a higher thrust J79-GE-17 engine. It was purchased by Germany, Israel, and Iran. The German Luftwaffe also developed a new longer range side-looking radar version.

The QF-4 full-scale target is a drone version of the F-4 fighter aircraft. As of 2005 it was projected that he available inventory of QF-4 targets would be depleted by about 2011 at the current usage rate of 25 per year and the current production rate of about 20 per year. The DSB Task Force believed the development of a drone version of the F-16 aircraft, a QF-16, could fill this need and provide suitable mid- to long-term availability. This approach involves up-front development costs, which are causing resistance in the services. A competing approach was to continue to modify available F-4 aircraft, even though the modification costs would continue to grow as the most suitable F-4 variants are used up.

The F-4 Phantom had flown for U.S. forces for 55 years, serving for the last couple of decades strictly in the Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) drone role. The last regenerated QF-4 drone was delivered to Tyndall's 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron (ATRS) in late 2013. Since 1997, the Air Force had flown 315 QF-4 drones as targets for training and weapons testing. On 30 May 2015, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron operated the last of the fleet on a training mission out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The jet was destroyed during a live weapons testing flight.

As of November 2015 it as planned tha the last of 22 Air Force QF-4 target drones would be taken out of service by mid-2017.

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