McDonnell F4H-1/F-4B Phantom II

Last revised May 7, 2021

The F4H-1 (Model 98AM) was the first definitive production version of the Phantom, the earlier F4H-1F being considered developmental. The first Phantom to be considered fully-operational was the block 6 version of the F4H-1. To distinguish these aircraft from the earlier 47 aircraft, on May 1, 1961 the latter were redesignated F4H-1F, with the 48th and subsequent aircraft retaining the F4H-1 designation. In September 1962, the F4H-1F was redesignated F-4A, with the F4H-1 becoming F-4B.

The first block 6 production Phantom with the J79-GE-8A or -8B engine (BuNo 148363) flew on March 25, 1961, test pilot Thomas Harris being at the controls. Overall, there was very little difference between it and late Block 5 F4H-1F aircraft. The engines were J79-GE-8As, rated at 10,000 lb.s.t. dry and 17,000 lb.s.t. with afterburner. This aircraft and subsequent machines were fitted with revised air intakes that had the fixed forward ramp set at 10 degrees from the flight axis versus 5 degrees for the modified ramps of the earlier Phantoms. In addition, the variable ramp had a maximum setting of 14 degrees versus ten degrees. They were otherwise similar to late production F4H-1Fs with raised canopies and larger radomes containing APQ-72 radars.

The F-4B had the AJB-3 nuclear bombing system, the General Electric AN/ASA-32 analog autopilot and flight control system, and the full set of nine hardpoints. All F-4Bs had the Aero-27A ejector rack on the fuselage centerline which could carry a 600 US gallon drop tank. They could also carry a LAU-17A inboard pylon under each wing that could each carry one Sparrow or two Sidewinders. Two MAU-12 outboard underwing pylons were also mounted, which could each carry 370 US-gallon fuel tanks. Four underfuselage slots were provided, each of which could accommodate a semi-recessed Sparrow missile. In the air to ground role, the F-4B could carry a load of up to 16,000 pounds of ordnance. It could carry 8 1000 pound bombs, four AGM-12C Bullpup B air to surface missiles, or fifteen packs of 2.75-inch FFARs.

The APR-30 radar homing and warning system with fin-cap antennae facing to front and rear was fitted to all F-4Bs, although it was added to the first 18 by retrofit.

In a series of flights under Project High Jump, production F4H-1s set several time-to-climb records. On February 21, 1962, two time-to-height records were set at NAS Brunswick, Maine. Lt.Cdr. John W. Young reached an altitude of 3000 meters (9843 feet) in 34.523 seconds, and Cdr D. M. Longton reached 6000 meters (19,685 feet) in 48.787 seconds. John Young was later to become an astronaut in both the Gemini and Apollo programs and was to be the pilot of the first Shuttle flight in 1981. Three more time-to-climb records were set at NAS Brunswick on March 1, 1962. Lt. Col. W. C. McGraw reached altitudes of 9000 meters (29,528 feet) and 12,000 meters (39,370 feet) in 61.629 seconds and 77.156 seconds respectively. Lt Cdr D. W. Nordberg reached an altitude of 15,000 meters (49,213 feet) in 114.548 seconds. On March 31, 1962, flying from NAS Point Mugu in California, Lt Cdr F. T. Brown reached 20,000 meters (65,617 feet) in 178.500 seconds. On April 3, 1962, Lt Cdr John Young reached an altitude of 25,000 meters (82,021 feet) in 230.440 seconds. The last record was set by Lt Cdr D. Nordberg on April 12, 1962, reaching an altitude of 30,000 meters (98,425 feet) in 371.430 seconds. In setting this record, Lt Cdr Nordberg zoomed over the 100,000 foot mark, surpassing the record set earlier by Cdr Flint in the second YF4H-1 back in 1959. However, this mark was not officially recognized by the FAI.

The first production F4H-1s for the Navy went to operational training units. VF-121, a training group based at Miramar, received its first F4H-1s (F-4B) in early 1961. VF-101, a training group based at NAS Oceana, Virginia, began to supplement its F4H-1Fs with F4H-1s later in 1961.

The first fully-operational Phantom squadrons were VF-74 (NAS Oceana, Atlantic Fleet) and VF-114 (NAS Miramar, Pacific Fleet), which were equipped with F4H-1s in mid-1961.

In October of 1961, VF-74 became the first F4H-1 squadron to complete carrier qualifications. The first operational cruise was made in August-October of 1962 by VF-102 aboard the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) during its first shakedown cruise. The first full-scale deployment of Phantoms was made by VF-74 when this squadron went to the Mediterranean aboard the USS Forrestal (CVA-59) from August 1962 until March of 1963. In October of 1962, Soviet missiles were discovered in Cuba, and in that month the F-4Bs of VF-41 were transferred from NAS Oceana to NAS Key West in Florida. At the same time, Phantoms operating from the USS *Enterprise* and the USS Independence (CVA-62) participated in the imposition of the quarantine of Cuba.

By the time of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August of 1964, 13 Navy fighter squadrons were equipped with F-4Bs. The first Phantom combat sorties were flown during Operation Pierce Arrow on August 5, 1964 from the USS Constellation (CVA-64). These were flown by F-4Bs from VF-142 and VF-143, which flew top cover to warplanes striking North Vietnamese torpedo boat bases in retaliation for the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

The first Phantom air-to-air kill of the Vietnam War did not actually involve a North Vietnamese fighter. It took place in a battle between F-4Bs from the USS Ranger (CVA-61) and Chinese MiG-17s near Hainan Island on April 9, 1965. F-4B BuNo 151403, piloted by Lt jg Terence M. Murphy of VF-69 shot down a Chinese MiG-17. However, he himself was shot down immediately thereafter, probably by a Sparrow fired by one of his wingmen. This incident was not generally reported, lest it complicate Chinese-American relations.

The first American crew to shoot down a North Vietnamese fighter were Commander Thomas C. Page and Lieutenant Jon C. Smith Jr of VF-21 flying F-4B 151488 from USS Midway (CVA-41), who destroyed a MiG-17 near Haiphong on June 17, 1965.

In air-to-air combat the F-4 had to rely on its Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles, there being no internal cannon fitted. As a result of combat experience in Vietnam, chaff dispensers were added above the rear fuselage sides. ECM capabilities were steadily improved, with the addition of Radar Homing and Warning Systems and Deception Systems such as the ALQ-51 and AN/ALQ-100.

The Marine Corps received its first F4H-1s in June of 1962 when VMF(AW)-314 traded in its F4D Skyrays for the Phantom. Beginning in April of 1965, Marine Corps F-4Bs were based at airfields in Vietnam and Thailand (as well as aboard the USS America (CVA-66)). They took an active part in the Vietnam war, primarily in the ground support role. 72 Marine F-4Bs were lost in combat and three others were destroyed in operational accidents.

A total of 649 F-4Bs were built and delivered to the Navy and the Marine Corps between June 1961 and March of 1967.

Navy F-4Bs were flown by operational squadrons until the late 1960s. During the early 1970s, 228 F-4Bs were upgraded as F-4N under Project Bee Line. The first F-4N flew on June 4, 1972. Other F-4Bs were replaced in service by the F-4J, which was a later production variant of the Phantom. The last two active duty Navy squadrons to operate the F-4B, VF-51 and VF-111, finally traded in their planes in 1974.

Some F-4Bs leaving active service were transferred to the reserves. F-4B Phantoms first reached the Naval Air Reserve in 1969 when F-4Bs were assigned to VF-22L1 at NAS Los Alamitos, California. Naval Reserve units for a couple of years thereafter, after which they were consigned to storage at the Davis-Monthan facility in Arizona.

The last Marine Corps unit to use the F-4B, VMFA-323, finally traded in its planes for F-4N conversions in 1979, bringing the service life of the F-4B to a close.

The F-4B served with the following Navy fighter squadrons

Atlantic Fleet:

VF-11, VF-14, VF-31, VF-32, VF-33, VF-41, VF-74, VF-84, VF-101, VF-102, VF-103, VF-171.

Pacific Fleet:

VF-21, VF-51, VF-92, VF-96, VF-111, VF-114, VF-121, VF-142, VF-143, VF-151, VF-154, VF-161, VF-191, VF-194, and VF-213.

Naval Reserve:

VF-11L1, VF-301, VF-301.

The F-4B served with the following Marine Corps squadrons:

VMFA-115, VMFA-151, VMFA-122, VMFA-312, VMFA-314, VMFA-321, VMFA-323, VMFA-513, VMFA-531, VMFA-542, and VMFAT-201.

29 F-4Bs were loaned to the U. S. Air Force in support of that service's plan to acquire the Phantom as its primary fighter aircraft under the designation F-110. These included BuNos 149405, 149406, 150480, 150486, 150493, 150630, 150634, 150643, 150649, 150650, 150652, 150653, 150994, 150995, 150997, 150999, 151000, 151002/151004, 151006, 151007, 151009, 151011, 151014, 151016, 151017, 151020, and 151021. These were temporarily assigned the USAF serials 62-12168/12196. Although they were marked as F-110, they retained their F-4B designations.

Twelve F-4Bs were modified as F-4Gs (a Navy designation, not to be confused with the USAF F-4G, which was a Wild Weasel aircraft). The Navy F-4G was a version modified for the evaluation of the feasibility of automatic carrier landing operations. These twelve aircraft were flown by VF-213 from the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63). They operated in the Gulf of Tonkin from November 1965 until June of 1966. One was lost to North Vietnamese AAA, but the others were later brought back to F-4B standards.

Three F-4Bs (151473, 151497, and 151497) were modified as YF-4Js, the prototype for the next and final fighter version of the Phantom to be placed in service with the Navy and the Marine Corps.

Several F-4Bs were modified as DF-4B drone director aircraft.

In December 1976, the Navy approved the use of the EF-4B designation for F-4Bs that were serving with VAQ-33 in support of the Navy's electronic warfare support effort. Long after most F-4Bs had been retired to storage, five F-4Bs remained in service with VAQ-33 as high-speed targets and as threat simulators to train radar operators. They were provided with electronics countermeasures pods and jammers carried underneath their wings. By the time the designation change was approved, the only F-4B remaining with VAQ-33 was BuNo 153070. The last EF-4B aircraft was finally retired in 1981.

Two F-4Bs were modified as research and development aircraft under the designation NF-4B. They served in test work at the Naval Air Development Center at Warminster, Pennsylvania. The "N" prefix meant that structural modifications prevented their return to full operational status.

Serials of the F-4B:

148363/148386 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-6-MC 
148387/148410 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-7-MC 
148411/148434 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-8-MC 
149403/149426 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-9-MC 
149427/149450 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-10-MC 
149451/149474 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-11-MC 
150406/150435 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-12-MC 
150436/150479 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-13-MC 
150480/150493 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-14-MC 
150624/150651 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-14-MC 
150652/150653 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-15-MC 
150993/151021 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - later redesignated F-4B-15-MC 
151397/151398 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-15-MC 
151399/151426 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-16-MC 
151427/151447 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-17-MC 
151448/151472 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-18-MC 
151473/151497 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-19-MC 
151498/151519 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-20-MC 
152207/152215 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-20-MC 
152216/152243 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-21-MC 
152244/152272 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-22-MC 
152273/152304 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-23-MC 
152305/152331 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-24-MC 
152965/152994 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-25-MC 
152995/153029 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-26-MC 
153030/153056 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-27-MC 
153057/153070 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-28-MC 
153912/153915 	McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom - Later redesignated F-4B-28-MC 

Specification of the F-4B Phantom:

Engines: Two General Electric J79-GE-8A/-8B/-8C turbojets, 10,900 lb.s.t. dry, 17,000 lb.s.t. with afterburner. Performance: Maximum speed 1485 mph at 48,000 feet, 845 mph at sea level. Initial climb rate 28,000 feet per minute. Service ceiling 62,000 feet, combat ceiling 56,850 feet. Combat range 400 miles, maximum range 2300 miles with maximum external fuel. Weights: 28,000 pounds empty, 44,600 pounds gross, 38,500 pounds combat weight, 54,600 pounds maximum takeoff weight. Dimensions: Wingspan 38 feet 5 inches, wing area 530 square feet, length 58 feet 3 3/4 inches, height 16 feet 3 inches. Fuel: Maximum internal fuel was 1986 US gallons (1358 gallons in fuselage, 630 gallons in wings). Maximum external fuel load was 600 US gallons in centerline tank underneath the fuselage and 740 US gallons in two underwing tanks, bringing total fuel to 3328 US gallons. Armament; Armed with four AIM-7D or -7E Sparrow semiactive radar homing missiles in underfuselage recesses. Inner underwing pylons could each accommodate an additional Sparrow or a pair of AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared homing missiles. In ground attack mode, could carry as much as 16,000 pounds of ordnance on centerline pylon underneath the fuselage and on four underwing hardpoints.


  1. The World's Fighting Planes, William Green, Doubleday, 1964.

  2. McDonnell F-4 Phantom: Spirit in the Skies. Airtime Publishing, 1992.

  3. Modern Air Combat, Bill Gunston and Mike Spick, Crescent, 1983.

  4. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  5. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  6. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.

  7. The World Guide to Combat Planes, William Green, Macdonald, 1966.

  8. The World's Great Attack Aircraft, Gallery, 1988.