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The History of The King of Skies in 20th Century: McDonnel Douglas F4 Phantom

13 September 2020, 09:41

The McDonnel Douglas F4 Phantom II is now more than 30 years old as a design. It started operational life as a carrier born fighter but then developed rapidly and succesfully as one of the western world most important land based tactical aircraft. After decades Phantom still used by 10 different countries today.

The Phantom began life in the early 1950s as a McDonnel AH-1 twin engine supersonic attack aircraft but from May 1955, after the succesful tests, the new turbojet engine J79 is cleared for operational service. While the engine has been succesful, McDonnel Douglas was planning for a new naval attack aircraft or not. Instead, the Navy asks for an all weather defence interceptor. The desing was recast as the F4H-1 two seat fleet defence fighter with Mach 2 plus performance. It used 4, 20mm cannon and 4 AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles as primary armament with on the lower fuselage supported by powerful search and fire control radar. As such the F4H was the world first self contained search an destroy capability fighter aircraft.

The story of the Phantom belongs also the General Electric which provided the GE-J79 turbojet which was the most powerful jet engine at the time. The company began work in 1951 aiming the produce new axial flow engine providing low weight an great fuel economy at Mach 1.9 but the strength and thrust for Mach 2 performance. To achieve this the J79 used radical design features. The most important one was the variable stator compressor with adjustable blades with the afterburning exhaust nozzle. Variable stator vanes allowed the engine perform at its peak at all altitudes. They will become a standart feature for military engines in years to come.

GE-17-J79 Turbojet Engine Specifications

  • Max Thrust: 11,905 lbf (52.96 kN) dry; 17,835 lbf (79.33 kN) with afterburner
  • Dry weight: 1,750 kg
  • Compressor: Single spool 17 stage axial compressor, with one row of variable inlet guide vanes (VIGV’s) followed by 6 rows of variable stator vanes
  • Combustors: Cannular
  • Turbine: 3 stage

The F4H-1 had many unique features that will ultimately appeal the air force as well as the navy. The pilot sits in the front seat, the radar officer behind him can use a darker cockpit to see the radar screen. Crew members sit on Martin-Baker MK5 ejection seats. They can safely eject at ”0” altitude and its speed as slow as ”150” miles per hour.

2 fully variable inlet rams help the J79 engines reach Mach 2. A splitter plate diverts the boundry layer to slow moving air close to fuselage. And the inlet ram allows speeds over Mach 1.4 to control the shockwave and maintain even flow of air rate to face to the engine. The aircrafts data computer controls this fully automatic system.

On the port side of fuselage, automaticly extended ram air turbine generates the power if the engine fails. Down to a speed 220 miles per hour, the turbine provides electrical power then switches to hydraulic power for the landing systems.

4 pylons under the wing supplement the centerline for carrying stores. On the leading edges of the wings 3 section slats maintain airflow and reduce stalling speed.

The airframe has 2 trailing edge flaps. Landing requires full flaps setting and takeoff requires half flaps. Spoilers and ailerons provide lateral control. The under side of each wings have the hydraulicly operated speed brakes provide rapid deceleration from its top speed Mach 2.4. The plane can land safely with the speed brakes extended.

Under the rudder there is a vent for the 6 fuel tanks located in the fuselage. The aircraft also had the ability to carry 3 drop tanks. The elevators provide full pitch control under all flight conditions. Their 23 degree angle improves directional control by increasing effective side area of the rear fuselage.

The arresting hook located between the J79 tail pipes. Normally stored under the fuselage fairing but extended with carrier landings. In the rear fusalage stainless steel, titanium ram air cooling provide heat resistance. Also the compartment at the tail end contains braking parachute.

World Records

  • Operation Top Flight: On 6 December 1959, the second XF4H-1 performed a zoom climb to a world record 98,557 ft (30,040 m). Commander Lawrence E. Flint Jr., USN accelerated his aircraft to Mach 2.5 (2,660 km/h; 1,650 mph) at 47,000 ft (14,330 m) and climbed to 90,000 ft (27,430 m) at a 45° angle. He then shut down the engines and glided to the peak altitude. As the aircraft fell through 70,000 ft (21,300 m), Flint restarted the engines and resumed normal flight.
  • On 5 September 1960, an F4H-1 averaged 1,216.78 mph (1,958.16 km/h) over a 500 km (311 mi) closed-circuit course.
  • On 25 September 1960, an F4H-1F averaged 1,390.24 mph (2,237.37 km/h) over a 100 km (62.1 mi) closed-circuit course. FAI Record File Number 8898.
  • Operation LANA: 24 May 1961, Phantoms flew across the continental United States in under three hours and included several tanker refuelings. The fastest of the aircraft averaged 869.74 mph (1,400.28 km/h) and completed the trip in 2 hours 47 minutes.
  • Operation Skyburner: On 22 November 1961, a modified Phantom with water injection, piloted by Lt. Col. Robert B. Robinson, set an absolute world record average speed over a 20-mile (32.2 km) long 2-way straight course of 1,606.342 mph (2,585.086 km/h)
  • Operation High Jump: A series of time-to-altitude records was set in early 1962: 34.523 seconds to 3,000 m (9,840 ft), 48.787 seconds to 6,000 m (19,700 ft), 61.629 seconds to 9,000 m (29,500 ft), 77.156 seconds to 12,000 m (39,400 ft), 114.548 seconds to 15,000 m (49,200 ft), 178.5 s to 20,000 m (65,600 ft), 230.44 s to 25,000 m (82,000 ft), and 371.43 s to 30,000 m (98,400 ft).

USAF F-4 Summary for Vietnam War action

AircraftWeapons/TacticsMiG-17MiG-19MiG-21Total
F-4CAIM-7 Sparrow401014
AIM-9 Sidewinder1201022
20 mm gunpod3014
Maneuvering tactics2002
F-4DAIM-4 Falcon4015
AIM-7 Sparrow422026
AIM-9 Sidewinder0235
20 mm gunpod4.5026.5
Maneuvering tactics0022
F-4EAIM-7 Sparrow02810
AIM-9 Sidewinder0044
AIM-9+20 mm gun0011
20 mm gun0145
Maneuvering tactics0101
Total33.5866107.5


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