F-4 Phantom

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The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was a supersonic long-range all-weather fighter-bomber used by the United States military from 1960 to 1996.

It was the fighter and fighter-bomber used by the United States Air Force, Navy and Marines during the Vietnam war. It was used both by the Navy Blue Angels demonstration team and the Air Force Thunderbirds.

Some are still in service with other nations who bought them from the United States.

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom

Type: Supersonic fighter bomber

Powerplant: Two General Electric J79-GE-10 afterburning turbojet

Performance: Top speed 1500 mph

Dimensions: Wingspan 38 ft. 4 in. Length 58 ft 2 in.

Armament: One 20 millimeter Vulcan cannon (E and F models only[1]), and either four AIM-7 Sparrow missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles or 16,000 lb bombload.

Contents

Phantoms over Vietnam

The conflict most commonly associated with the F-4, at least by Americans, is the Vietnam War. The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps all flew Phantoms throughout the conflict. In the first part of the war, they were mainly tasked with escort duties.[2] Consequently, most of the MiGs shot down over Vietnam, including the first ones, fell to Phantom-launched missiles. The Phantoms had the advantage of speed, but were less maneuverable than their opponents. In addition, the requirement to protect the bombers and the restrictions placed on the rules of engagement prevented the American pilots from using their planes to their fullest potential. As time went on, the role of the Phantoms expanded to include support attacks and eventually the bombing of strategic targets.

Operation Bolo

The most famous (and one of the most successful) Phantom operation of the Vietnam War was Operation Bolo, the brainchild of WWII ace Air Force Colonel Robin Olds. In response to the increasing MiG threat, an intricate ambush was planned, and on January 2, 1967, executed. 56 Phantoms, pretending to be a typical strike package, lured a dozen MiG-21s up to fight and shot down seven with no losses. A few days later, a smaller Phantom force repeated the trick and downed two more MiGs. As a result, North Vietnam's remaining MiG-21 force was out of action for three months while the pilots retrained and replacements were acquired.

Phantoms over Israel

The Phantom was first acquired by the Israeli Defense Forces in September 1969. Phantoms took part in the War of Attrition, the Yom Kippur War (suffering heavy losses), and the 1982 war in Lebanon. The Phantom was used mainly as a fighter-bomber, although Israeli F-4s scored a total of 116.5 air-to-air kills.[1] The Israeli name for the F-4 was the Kurnass (sledgehammer).

War of Attrition

Phantoms were thrown into combat almost as soon as they arrived. In late 1969, Israel was in middle of a conflict with Egypt that would later be known as the War of Attrition. The first Phantoms arrived on Sept 5, 1969, and the first operational mission of the Kurnass was a month and a half later, on October 22. The plane scored its first aerial victory for Israel three weeks later, when a Phantom of the 201 Squadron downed an Egyptian MiG-21 while on a combat air patrol.[2]

One of the more prominent Phantom missions during the War of Attrition was on May 16, 1970. Eight F-4s, led by Six Day War veteran Aharon “Yalo” Shavit, flew to the Egyptian port of Ras Banas and sank an Egyptian destroyer in retaliation for the sinking of an Israeli patrol boat a few days earlier. It was the longest-range fighter-bomber mission taken by the IAF up to that time. Phantoms were also extensively used against Egyptian SAM sites that year in what became known as Electronic Summer, in Wild Weasel-type missions using tactics developed by American pilots in the Vietnam War.

The War of Attrition ended with a negotiated ceasefire in August. Half a dozen Phantoms had been lost to SAMs and anti-aircraft fire, and IAF Phantoms had shot down six Egyptian aircraft (five MiG-21s and an Ilyushin jet bomber). The first loss of a Phantom in aerial combat happened on April 2, 1970, when a Syrian MiG-21 downed a Kurnass near Mt. Hermon.[3]

The Yom Kippur War

When the Egyptian and Syrian air forces attacked on October 6, 1973, Israeli Phantoms bore the brunt of the initial strikes. Kurness units were hard-pressed, but scored 23 air-to-air victories that day, over a quarter of their total for the entire conflict. In what was probably the first aerial battle of the war, two Kurnass crews from 119 Squadron defended their base from 28 Egyptian fighters, destroying six MiG-17s and a MiG-21 between them. However, the other attackers managed to get through and bomb the base, cratering the runway and damaging facilities. Other Phantoms were scrambled to blunt the Arab ground advance, but ten of them were lost to SAMs and anti-aircraft fire in the first few hours. The F-4 made its biggest contribution for the day after dusk. With light fading, the Egyptians sent several Mi-8 helicopters loaded with commandos into the Sinai in an attempt to cause havoc in the Israeli rear areas. Two of these raids were smashed by Phantoms that shot down fourteen helicopters in all. One Kurnass crew accounted for five Mi-8s by themselves. IAF Mirages arrived later and destroyed more of the raiders.

Israeli commanders were confused at first by the sudden attack, so counterstrikes by the IAF over the next couple of days met with mixed success. Kurnasses shot down four Egyptian MiG-21s for no loss on the morning of October 7, but an attack on Syrian air defenses that afternoon was ineffective and cost the Israelis six more precious Phantoms. Another four were lost the next day (including one in air-to-air combat). In less than 72 hours, Israel had lost approximately one fifth of its Kurnass force and over a tenth of its Kurnass aircrews.

By the end of Day Four, however, the situation had stabilized. The Egyptian and Syrian offensives had been halted, and the IAF was able to poke holes in the SAM nets through which to attack. The F-4s were still hard-pressed, but only three were lost over the next four days. Over the same period, Kurnass crews shot down twelve MiG-21s and one MiG-17. Most of the fighting at this time took place over the Syrian front. After the first week of the war, the United States initiated Operation Nickel Grass, an emergency resupply program for Israel that replaced the planes lost in combat. When the war ended two weeks later, Israel, and its Kurnass force, was battered but still intact. In addition to the literally hundreds of ground targets destroyed, Israeli Phantoms shot down 85 Arab combat aircraft, mostly MiG-21s, for a kill-loss ratio in aerial combat of 17-1 during the war.[4]

Post-Yom Kippur

After the war ended, tensions were still high, and Phantoms saw combat again in the following year over both the Sinai and the Golan Heights, including aerial contests that ended with four MiGs shot down. When Israel bought its first F-15 Eagles in 1976, the Kurnass was edged out of the air-to-air niche, and Kurnass crews only scored two and a half more aerial victories after the Eagle was introduced. However, the Phantom’s role was expanded with the acquisition of RF-4Es for reconnaissance. Israeli Phantoms were heavily involved in the fighting in Lebanon in mid-1982, successfully attacking several Syrian SAM sites and PLO facilities. One Phantom was lost to MiGs,[5] but another Kurnass crew downed a MiG-21 the next day.

By the mid-1980s, the Phantom was starting to get a little long in the tooth compared to the F-15, F-16, and the newer MiGs in service at the time with many Arab air forces. The Kurnass 2000 project was initiated to give the Phantom a new lease on life, and 130 planes were re-equipped with new avionics and modifications to the hydraulic and fuel systems. Kurnass 2000s have seen action in Lebanon.

Phantoms over Kuwait

By the time of the Gulf War, the Phantom had been mostly superseded in American service by the F-14, F-15, and F-16. The USAF still used RF-4s for tactical reconnaissance, and sent a total of eighteen of them to the Coalition forces in Saudi Arabia.

Playing a more prominent role were the Air Force’s F-4Gs, specialized for SAM-suppression. Phantoms from the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing flew with the airstrikes, destroying missile sites and radars with their Shrike and HARM missiles when they threatened the strike aircraft. 250 Iraqi radars were destroyed in total, mostly by Phantoms. In spite of the risky nature of their mission, only one F-4G was lost in combat in the war, to anti-aircraft fire. The highest scoring F-4G crew were pilot Captain Vince Quinn and WSO Major Ken Spaar, who destroyed twelve SAM sites during their tour.

Other Users

Notes

  1. Although other models could carry external gun pods.
  2. In the beginning, F-100 Super Sabres flew escort missions, but they were found incapable of dealing with MiGs, and re-assigned.
  3. The pilot of the Fishbed was Bassam Hamshu, who became an ace in the Yom Kippur War and ended his career with seven confirmed victories, including another Phantom.
  4. This is particularly impressive considering that in most situations, MiG-21 air defense fighters were intercepting bomb-laden Phantoms. IAF Mirages had a similar kill ratio for the YKW, but most of their victories were in situations where Mirages on air defense intercepted bomb-laden MiGs
  5. But not in a fair fight. For some reason, the F-4 lost power in one of its engines, and as the crippled fighter tried to egress, the MiGs pounced. The crew was recovered safely.

Sources

Vietnam

  • The Phantom in Vietnam
  • Rolling Thunder: Jet Combat from World War II to the Gulf War, by Ivan Rendall, Dell Publishing, 1997
  • Fast Movers: Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience, by John Darrell Sherwood, St. Martin’s Press, 1999
  • Mig-21 Units of the Vietnam War, by Istvan Toperczer, Osprey Publishing, 2001

Israel

  • Rolling Thunder: Jet Combat from World War II to the Gulf War, by Ivan Rendall, Dell Publishing, 1997
  • Israeli F-4 Phantom II Aces, by Shlomo Aloni, Osprey Publishing, 2004
  • JewishVirtualLibrary: F-4 Phantom II
  • Arab MiG-19 and MiG-21 Units in Combat, by David Nicolle and Tom Cooper, Osprey Publishing, 2004

Kuwait

  • Desert Storm: Air War, by Robert F. Dorr, Motorbooks International, 1991
  • The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft, ed. by Paul Eden, Amber Books, 2004
  • Coalition Aircraft Combat Attrition
  • Rolling Thunder: Jet Combat from World War II to the Gulf War, by Ivan Rendall
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