20 November 1963: The U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Command accepted its first two production McDonnell F-4C Phantom II jet fighters, F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 ¹ and F-4C-15-MC 63-7416. These aircraft were the ninth and tenth production F-4Cs. They were flown from the McDonnell plant at St. Louis, Missouri, to MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, by Brigadier General Gilbert Louis Meyers, commanding the 836th Air Division, and Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, a world-famous test pilot, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron. Co-pilot for General Meyers was Captain Joseph D. Moore. Captain Thomas C. Ross flew with Colonel Everest. The two new fighters arrived at 11:00 a.m., local time.
Lieutenant General Charles B. Westover, Vice Commander, Tactical Air Command, formally accepted the new fighters on behalf of TAC. Up until this time, the 4453rd had been training crews with McDonnell F-4B Phantom IIs on loan from the United States Navy.
The McDonnell F-4C Phantom II (originally designated F-110A Spectre) was produced for the U.S. Air Force, based on the U.S. Navy McDonnell F4H-1 (F-4B after 1962) fleet defense interceptor. Evaluation testing had shown the the Navy’s F4H was superior to the Air Force Convair F-106 Delta Dart. It was faster, could fly higher, had a longer range and greater payload. It was also better suited as a tactical fighter.
The Navy operated its Phantom IIs with a pilot and a radar systems operator. The Air Force’s F-4C variant was equipped with dual flight controls and was flown by two rated pilots. The F-4C was externally the same as the F-4B, but otherwise differed by the addition of a ground attack capability. Also, while the F-4B used a hose-and-drogue system for air-to-air refueling, the F-4C was equipped with a boom refueling system. It retained the folding wings and arresting hook of the Navy variant, but deleted catapult provisions.
The F-4C was 58 feet, 3¾ inches (17.774 meters) long, with a wingspan of 38 feet, 5 inches (11.709 meters) and height of 16 feet, 3 inches (4.953 meters). Its empty weight was 28,496 pounds (12,926 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 58,000 pounds (26,308 kilograms).
The F-4C-15-MC was powered by two General Electric J79-GE-15 engines. The J79 is a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine, with a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-15 is rated at 10,900 pounds of thrust (48.49 kilonewtons) and 17,000 pounds (75.62 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 17 feet, 4.7 inches (5.301 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter and weighs 3,699 pounds (1,677.8 kilograms).
The F-4C had a maximum speed of 826 miles per hour (1,329 kilometers per hour)—Mach 1.09—at Sea Level, and 1,433 miles per hour (2,306 kilometers per hour)—Mach 2.17— at 48,000 feet (14,630 meters). The fighter’s service ceiling was 56,100 feet (17,099 meters). Its maximum unrefueled range, with external fuel tanks, was 1,926 miles (3,100 kilometers).
The standard armament for the F-4C were four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing missiles carried in recessed in the bottom of the fuselage. Four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles could be carried on underwing pylons. A maximum of 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) of bombs on five hardpoints.
During the Vietnam War, the missile armament of the Phantom II was found unsatisfactory in dogfights with enemy aircraft. The violent maneuvers of Air Combat Maneuvering (“ACM”) made it difficult for the missiles to align and track the intended target. Of 612 AIM-7 Sparrows fired by F-4s, only 56 enemy aircraft were destroyed, while 187 AIM-9 Sidewinders brought down 29 enemy aircraft. This was a kill ratio of 9% and 16%, respectively.
Forward-thinking planners had assumed that an all-missile armament was all that was required in the modern era, so F-4s were built without any machine guns or cannon. The Air Force used an SUU-16/A pod containing a General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon with 1,200 rounds of ammunition mounted to the F-4’s centerline hardpoint. (Two additional SUU-16/A pods could be mounted on the outboard underwing hardpoints.) This was useful in close-in combat, but the airplane was not equipped with a suitable gun sight. It was not until the F-4E variant that a gun was incorporated into the airplane.
McDonnell F-4C 63-7416 crashed at the Avon Park Bombing Range, Florida, 22 May 1964, killing both pilots, Captain Joseph P. Onate and Captain William F. Buhrman.
The F-4C first flew 27 May 1963. 583 of this variant before production shifted to the F-4D in 1966. The F-4C remained in service until the last was retired from the Oregon Air National Guard in 1989.
Recommended reading: Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts Into Systems by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996
¹ Source: UNITED STATES AIR FORCE STATISTICAL DIGEST FISCAL YEAR 1964 (19th Edition), Directorate of Data Automation (AFADA), Comptroller of the Air Force, Headquarters, USAF, Washington, D.C.: Chronology of United States Air Force Major Events— FY 1964, at Page XXXVIII
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes