Losses and Aviation Safety

Airman explains why USAF F-4 Crew Members who Ejected two times from a Phantom II were Grounded and Never Flew an F-4 Again

The F-4

Built as a high-altitude interceptor, the F-4 Phantom II quickly demonstrated that it was a special aircraft, establishing over a dozen world speed, altitude, and time-to-climb records. Unique in that it carried no internal cannon, the F-4 relied on radar-guided missiles for offense and required a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) to operate its advanced sensors and weapons systems.

The aircraft’s maiden flight occurred in 1958 with deliveries to Navy and Marine Corps squadrons beginning in 1960. Its performance and versatility eventually attracted the interest of not only the US Air Force, but also the air forces of ten foreign nations, making it one of the most widely-employed aircraft in the history of aviation.

For over two decades the F-4 served as both the Navy and Air Forces’ premier air superiority aircraft, and flew with both the Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds.

While there isn’t any doubt about the aircraft tremendous capabilities, was there anything bad about the iconic F-4 Phantom II?

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USAF F-4 Phantom II crew members were grounded

David Ecale, who served in the US Air Force, explains on Quora;

‘For F-4 pilots who eject a second time from an F-4, there is a very special punishment:


‘Who gives them this punishment? Their boss? Nope! The Board of Inquiry? Nope! The Flight Surgeon? Yup!

‘You see, ejection from an F-4 permanently compresses your spine. Two times & you’re done! (Note the profile of the WSO [the photo depicts a US Navy Phantom II hence the backseater was called RIO] in this picture. That’s some serious acceleration. You can actually see the compression in action.)

‘WSOs get grounded, too!

‘I was at Luke AFB when the Base Commander ejected. I watched him get wheeled into the Hospital ER on a gurney. … It was his second F-4 bailout.’

By contrast there was not a two-ejection limit for US Navy Phantom II crews as explains John Chesire, former F-4 and F-14 Tomcat pilot;

‘While the two-ejection limit was true for the Air Force, it was not true for the US Navy. I once knew and flew with a Navy RIO who had five ejections. Only the first four were successful. (Lt. David J. “Goose” Lortscher. His callsign Goose later became the RIO character’s callsign in the movie, Top Gun.)’

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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