‘Although some thought it “ugly”, and it had a nickname of “double ugly” I loved its lines,’ John Chesire, Former US Navy F-4 Phantom Pilot.
The McDonnell two-place, twinjet, all-weather F-4 Phantom, with top speeds more than twice that of sound, was one of the most versatile fighters ever built. It served in the first line of more Western air forces than any other jet. Just 31 months after its first flight, the F-4 was the US Navy’s fastest, highest flying and longest range fighter. It first flew May 27, 1958, and entered service in 1961.
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 F-4 established 16 speed, altitude and time-to-climb records. In 1959, its prototype set the world altitude record at 98,556 feet (30,000 meters). In 1961, an F-4 set the world speed record at 1,604 mph (2581 kph) on a 15-mile circuit.
The 5,000th Phantom was delivered on May 24, 1978, in ceremonies that also marked the 20th anniversary of the fighter’s first flight, and McDonnell Douglas delivered the last St. Louis–built Phantom in October 1979.
Given its unique look and capabilities, it comes as no surprise that the venerable F-4 was an icon for those who had the chance to fly it.
‘Because I had top grades, it was the first aircraft I was assigned to upon earning my wings in Navy flight school. It was my first choice, as it was for most of my peers. At the time, it was the US’s premier fighter aircraft and capable of multi-missions too.
‘In the Phantom I could go twice the speed of sound yet be slow enough and stable enough to land on an aircraft carrier.’
‘It had very powerful J-79 engines and could accelerate like a wild beast on fire!
‘It was an ‘honest’ and rock-solid fighter where you would not likely get into trouble like with other fighter aircraft.
‘Although some thought it “ugly”, and it had a nickname of “double ugly” I loved its lines. It looked on the ramp or in the air like a formidable fighter. On the ground, I thought it looked like an angry, imposing, and mean rat.
‘It was an easy fighter to fly. However, because of its wide turning radius, it took some extra instruction on how to defeat tight-turning enemy aircraft. That added instruction worked.
‘When flying in heavy combat, one becomes very close to those who are with you. For me, that not only included my RIO, but the F-4 I flew. I can think of times when the F-4 I was flying saved my bacon, unlike no other fighter at the time could do.’
‘The F-14A that I flew was a close second favorite to the F-4. But I flew early models with the troublesome TF-30 engines, and many parts shortages in those early years.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy