“They had a parade scheduled for the next day and they had to cancel that. All the windows were boarded up when we drove downtown,” former Blue Angels Team Leader Bill Wheat.
In response to Navy requirements for a high-altitude interceptor to defend carriers with long-range air-to-air missiles against attacking aircraft, McDonnell Douglas delivered the F4H (later redesignated F-4) Phantom II. Its performance and versatility eventually attracted the interest of not only the US Air Force (USAF), but also the air forces of ten foreign nations, making it one of the most widely-employed aircraft in the history of aviation.
The Phantom II quickly demonstrated that it was a special aircraft, establishing twelve world speed, altitude, and time-to-climb records in the space of just 28 months, the pilots on some of those flights including future astronauts John Young and Richard Gordon.
McDonnell Douglas built 5,195 Phantom IIs during a production run that lasted from 1958 to 1979, making it second only to the MiG-21 in numbers produced. The F-4 was also only aircraft flown concurrently by the Navy and Air Force flight demonstration teams the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.
The F-4 allowed the Blue Angels to perform the Dirty Loop maneuver on takeoff, in which the aircraft’s landing gear and flaps are left down, while they climb directly into a loop. The maneuver highlighted the Phantom’s raw power. Team Leader Bill Wheat recalls in Nicholas A. Veronico’s book The Blue Angels a Fly-By History: “We could just leave the gear and flaps down and go right up over the top after takeoff.”
Because the Phantoms were faster, the Blue Angels were also able to add enough maneuvers to fill a 22-minute demonstration.
In August 1969, the Phantom demonstrated its ability to exceed the speed of sound at Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Wheat said, “We were practicing over the waterfront area. There are mountains on either side and a straight flight line above the waterfront and the center of town. We were practicing the crossing maneuver where we broke apart at altitude, and we came down and crossed in front of the crowd from four different directions. Ernie Christensen was flying number three and Vince Donile was flying number two. When Christensen saw that Donile was going to be late for the cross over, he told him to hustle. When he told him that, Donile put it into burner and didn’t quite take it out in time, and he broke the sound barrier right at the crossing. He made the cross, but we knocked all of the windows out for eight city blocks.
“The mayor’s office sat right on the waterfront looking out on a nice beautiful park and water. We had been in his office earlier in the day to receive a key to the city, and I’m sorry to say his whole 8-foot by 10-foot glass window was knocked out.
“They had a parade scheduled for the next day and they had to cancel that. All the windows were boarded up when we drove downtown,” Wheat recalled. There were signs on the boarded-up windows saying ‘Yankee Go Home: So I got the city fathers together that night and told them it was an error, a mistake that we would not make again if they would please let us fly. I told them we would fly very safe and sane—a good air show. Thankfully, they said OK. We flew a beautiful air show for them the next day. It was rather embarrassing to say the least.’
Photo credit: U.S. Navy