Fighters For The Missile Era
F-4B, F4H-1F, F4-B, F4-C
A series of record-breaking flights advertised the Phantom’s performance, including a zoom climb to 98,556 feet on December 6, 1959, a sustained altitude of 66,443 feet two years later, and a 1,606 mph (Mach 2.57) world’s speed record set by the modified second prototype on November 22, 1961, along with a climb to 49,212 feet in 114 seconds. No armament was fitted for any of these records, of course. On May 10, 1962, a Sparrow III missile fired from an F4H-1 made the first successful head-on attack on a Regulus supersonic cruise missile.
The first operational version, flown on March 27, 1961, became the F-4B on September 18, 1962, while the first 47 F4H-1s became the F-4As, after being known as F4H-1F models for a short time. VF-102 was aboard the shakedown cruise of the Enterprise, the first nuclear carrier, from February to April 1962, while in June the first Marine F-4B squadron became VMF (AW)-314. VF-74 became the first full operational F-4B squadron on the Forrestal (CV-59) in August, beginning 24 years of carrier deployments.
Powered by J79-GE-8s, the F-4B had a slightly raised canopy, APQ-72 radar with an infrared detector underneath the nose, and leading and trailing edge flaps for boundary layer control. Four AIM-7D Sparrows and two 370-gallon drop tanks on the inboard pylons was normal, but a 600-gallon tank or a 2,040-pound Mk 28 nuclear bomb could carried on a center-line pylon. Another option allowed from 12 to 24 500-pound Mk 82 bombs or other stores and four AIM-9B Sidewinders could be added when desired. An inflight refueling probe was provided to replenish JP-4 fuel on long flights.
Two 14-plane Navy F-4B squadrons served each of the large carriers, but five Essex-class carriers still in service retained Vought F-8 Crusaders. Nine Marine F-4B VMF (AW) all-weather fighter squadrons were redesignated VMFA (Fighter Attack) squadrons in 1964. In 1964, VF-213 tested 12 designated F-4Gs with ASW-21 data systems, but all were converted to standard F-4B configurations in 1966.
By January 27, 1967, 649 F-4Bs were delivered to 22 fleet squadrons. The RF-4B, a photo-reconnaissance version, flew March 12, 1965, and by December 1970, 46 were delivered to three Marine squadrons: VMC-1, -2, and -3. Upgraded electronics kept the RF-4B in service until August 1990.
Air Force intentions to obtain Phantoms were announced January 17, 1962, and 29 F-4Bs were borrowed from the Navy to train instructor pilots. Designated F-110As, the first two arrived at Langley AFB for TAC on January 24. In March, the first production contract was placed for 310
F-4C and 26 RF-4C aircraft, and their first examples were flown on May 27, 1963, and August 20, respectively. McDonnell delivered 583 F-4Cs to 23 TAC squadrons from November 20, 1963, to May 4, 1966.
Essentially, the F-4C was similar to its Navy counterpart except for J79-GE-15 engines, APQ-100 radar, flight controls in the second cockpit, an Air Force boom flight-refueling receptacle, and larger wheels.
An AJB-7 bombing system directed a Mk 28 nuclear store, six to eleven M117 bombs, or other stores. Four AIM-7D Sparrows were standard, and four AIM-9B Sidewinders or AGM-12B Bullpup missiles could be added on wing pylons.
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