27 May 1958: At Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation test pilot (and future company president) Robert C. Little made the first flight of the YF4H-1 prototype. The twin-engine Mach 2+ airplane was the first pre-production model of a new U.S. Navy fleet defense interceptor that would be developed into the legendary F-4 Phantom II fighter bomber.
Initially designated XF4H-1 and assigned Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) 142259, the identifier was changed to YF4H-1. It had been in development for over five years based on a company proposal to the Navy.
During the first flight, a hydraulic leak caused Bob Little to leave the landing gear down and restrict his airspeed, but he continued to conduct several tests. Problems with the engines led to a redesign of the inlets.
After 11 test flights at St. Louis, Little flew the YF4H-1 west to Edwards Air Force Base in California where more detailed testing and evaluation took place. Eventually the airplane was returned to McDonnell where it continued as a test aircraft. On 21 October 1959, a failure of an engine access door led to a series of problems which resulted in the loss of the airplane and death of the pilot, Gerald “Zeke” Huelsbeck.
The McDonnell F-4 Phantom was adopted by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as the F4H-1F Phantom II. The Air Force ordered its own version, the F-110A Spectre. Under new Pentagon rules, the two variants became the F-4B and F-4C Phantom II. It was in production for twenty years with 5,057 aircraft built at St. Louis.
3 April 1962: At NAS Point Mugu, Ventura County, California, future NASA astronaut, U.S. Navy test pilot Commander John W. Young, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) time-to-altitude world record by flying his McDonnell Aircraft Corporation F4H-1 Phantom II, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 149449, from the surface to 25,000 meters (82,020.997 feet) in 230.440 seconds.
FAI Record File Num #9092 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 25 000 m
Performance: 3 min 50.44s
Course/Location: Point Mugu, CA (USA)
Claimant John Watts Young (USA)
Aeroplane: McDonnell Douglas F-4H-1
Engines: 2 G E J79
John Young served as Pilot of Gemini III; backup pilot, Gemini IV; Commander for Gemini 10; Command Module Pilot on Apollo 10; back-up commander for Apollo 13; Commander, Apollo 16; and back-up commander for Apollo 17. Later, he was Commander of the maiden flight of the space shuttle Columbia STS-1 and again for STS-9. He was in line to command STS-61J.
McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 149449, redesignated F-4B-11-MC, served with VF-96 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-61) (NG613), VF-151 aboard USS Coral Sea (CV-43) (NL108) and was later assigned to Marine Air Group 13, VMFA-323, “Death Rattlers”, based at Chu Lai, South Vietnam with tail code WS. On 2 August 1968 it was hit by small arms fire near An Hoa, 17 miles southeast of Da Nang. Unable to land, the pilot, Major D.I. Carroll, USMC, and Weapons System Officer, First Lieutenant R.C. Brown, USMC, ejected one mile off the coast. Both were rescued by a U.S. Army helicopter. The record-setting Phantom II was lost in the South China Sea.
24 January 1962: The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation delivered the first F-110A Spectre to Colonel Gordon Graham and Colonel George Laven, United States Air Force, at the McDonnell plant at St. Louis, Missouri. The F-110A was soon redesignated as the F-4C Phantom II.
Two Phantoms were delivered to the Air Force for evaluation at Langley Field, Virginia. They were U.S. Navy F4H-1 Phantom IIs, Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers 149405 and 149406. Initially the aircraft retained the Navy serial numbers but eventually were assigned Air Force numbers 62-12168 and 62-12169.
McDonnell built 5,057 Phantom IIs. They served with the United States Navy and Marine Corps, the U.S. Air Force, and many allied nations. The last Phantom II, an F-4E, was completed 25 October 1979. The U.S. Air Force retired its last operational Phantoms from service 20 December 2004, 42 years, 10 months, 27 days after receiving the first F-110A.