USAF Phantom II pilot tells the story of when he belly landed his stricken F-4D without his backseater

USAF Phantom II pilot tells the story of when he belly landed his stricken F-4D without his backseater

By Dario Leone
Jul 8 2023
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‘In retrospect, my ordering WSO to eject was a mistake which I have always regretted. I felt at the time I was saving his life and I intended to eject after he did,’ Major Ben “Ray” Battle, F-4D Phantom II pilot.

First flown in May 1958, the Phantom II originally was developed for US Navy fleet defense and entered service in 1961. The USAF evaluated it for close air support, interdiction and counter-air operations, and in 1962 approved a USAF version. The USAF’s Phantom II, designated the F-4C, made its first flight on 27 May 1963. Production deliveries began in November 1963. The F-4D is very similar to the F-4C, but with improved avionics and other systems.

On Nov. 18, 1968, an F-4D #66-0249 belonging to 433rd TFS, Ubon RTAB, Thailand, was Stricken by 37mm Anti-Aircraft fire that rendered the Phantom uncontrollable. Pilot Major Ben “Ray” Battle ordered his weapons system officer (WSO) 1Lt Robert “Kenny” Boone to eject.

Robin Olds Operation Bolo F-4C print
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Col. Robin Olds’ F-4C Phantom II FP/63-7680, as it appeared during Operation Bolo, January 2, 1967 – note the missing chin pod, which was not yet retrofitted at the time of Operation Bolo.

After the ejection, the aircraft became controllable and Major Boone made a gear up landing at Ubon.

Battle survived the landing and Boone was rescued unhurt from the Laotian jungle.

Ray Battle recalls;

“Kenny Boone and I were flying a fast mover FAC mission along the Ho Chi Min trail in Laos. It was an orientation ride for Kenny as he was newly assigned to my unit. We were at 4000 feet and Kenny was flying the airplane when I heard an explosion, the aircraft shuddered and the front windscreen was covered in what turned out to be hydraulic fluid. My sensation was that the aircraft as out of control and I ordered Kenny to eject which he did. Instinctively, I took the stick and throttles in hand and to my amazement, the aircraft was flyable. I called for help for Kenny and headed back for Thailand where we were stationed. I was given the option of ejecting or landing gear up as the landing gear would not come down. I elected to land gear up and catch the runway wire with my tailhook.. I have 150 aircraft carrier landings and thought I could easily make an arrested landing on the runway. I pulled the power off just as I touched down and the aircraft settled onto the wire cutting it. The aircraft slid down the runway and veered off to the right before fish-hooking to the right and stopping. It caught on fire and I jumped out safely. As you know Kenny was recovered after spending a nervous night hanging in a tree in Laos. In retrospect, my ordering Kenny to eject was a mistake which I have always regretted. I felt at the time I was saving his life and I intended to eject after he did. We both survived the incident for which I am grateful.”

F-4D emergency landing

As reported by Sierra Hotel Aeronautics, F-4D #66-0249 was eventually repaired, needing a new nose cone, some paint and a new seat for the guy in back. She was returned to service two years later in February of 1970, and went on to enjoy a long career. Sadly Ol’ #249 saw her end with a plunge in the Florida Gulf, flying out of Tyndall AFB in 1985.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

F-4 model
This model is available AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Dario Leone

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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    This link provides proof there were no F-4Cs at MacDill AFB during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The first user of the F-4C was the 4453 CCTW that activated at MacDill AFB, Florida, 1 January 1963. This is the Order of Battle of units involved and their aircraft. NO PHANTOMS are listed because the USAF never received any F-4Cs at this period. The 4453 received 27 F4Bs for training in Febru ary 1963, then retrurned these once the F-4Cs arrived from McDonnell in St. Louis, MO. Your last paragraph in the Bond the F-110 article is incorrect in stating F-4 were at MacDill AFB du ring the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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