25 October 1979: The 5,057th and very last Phantom II—an F-4E-67-MC, U.S. Air Force serial number 78-0744—was rolled out at the McDonnell Douglas Corporation plant, Lambert Field (STL), St. Louis, Missouri, and the production line was closed.
78-0744 was transferred to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) under the Foreign Military Sales program Peace Pheasant II and assigned to the 17th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Cheongju International Airport (CJJ). One source says that it was “written off” but details are lacking.
5 September 1983: A Strategic Air Command Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker of the 42nd Air Refueling Squadron, Loring AFB, Maine, was sent to rendezvous with a flight of McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II fighter bombers crossing the Atlantic Ocean enroute to Europe. As they began to refuel the fighters, one F-4E began to lose power in one of its engines, and also lost part of its hydraulic system. The Phantom’s pilot had difficulty maintaining speed and altitude as he tried to hook up with the tanker, and the second engine began to overheat. The two aircraft flew at just above the Stratotanker’s landing speed so that the Phantom could keep up, but as it slowed further, the Phantom’s angle of attack had to increase to maintain lift. This exceeded the mechanical limits of the refueling boom and the two airplanes separated without the fighter having received a full fuel load.
The crew of the F-4E was in serious danger. It was unlikely that the airplane could remain in the air for much longer. It was decided to head for Gander, Newfoundland, the closest place to land, 500 miles (806 kilometers) away. Captain Robert J. Goodman, U.S. Air Force, aircraft commander of the Stratotanker, decided to escort the crippled fighter which continued to lose altitude. It was necessary to try to refuel it three more times, and on occasion, the tanker actually towed the fighter back to altitude.
With the help of the tanker, the Phantom II finally arrived at Gander and landed safely.
For their efforts to save the lives of the crew of the F-4E, Captain Goodman and his crew, Captain Michael F. Clover, 1st Lieutenant Karol F. Wojcikowski and Staff Sergeant Douglas D. Simmons, Crew E113, were awarded the Mackay Trophy “For outstanding achievement while on a routine refueling mission involving F-4E aircraft, saving a valuable aircraft from destruction and its crew from possible death.”
The Mackay Trophy which is awarded annually for “the most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force person, persons, or organization.” It is kept at the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.
24 May 1978: McDonnell Douglas delivered the 5,000th F-4 Phantom II, F-4E-65-MC 77-0290, to the United States Air Force in a ceremony at the McDonnell Aircraft Company division at St. Louis, Missouri.¹ This was almost twenty years to the day that the YF4H-1 prototype first flew. [See TDiA, 27 May 1958]
The Mach 2 fighter bomber was developed in the early 1950s as a long range, missile-armed interceptor for the U.S. Navy. The first Phantom II, XF4H-1 Bu. No. 142259, made its maiden flight at St. Louis with future McDonnell Douglas president Robert C. Little at the controls. During flight testing, the U.S. Air Force was impressed by the new interceptor and soon ordered its own version, the F-110A Spectre. Under the Department of Defense redesignation, both Navy and Air Force versions became the F-4. Its name, “Phantom II,” was chosen by James S. McDonnell, and was in keeping with his naming the company’s fighters after supernatural beings.
The Phantom was a very powerful aircraft and set several speed, altitude and time-to-altitude records. The second aircraft, YF4H-1 Bu. No. 142260, flew to 98,557 feet (30,040 meters) on 6 December 1959. On 22 November 1961, the same Phantom set a World Absolute Speed Record of 1,606.509 miles per hour (2,585.425 kilometers per hour). 142260 was entered in the record books again when it established a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight of 66,443.57 feet (20,252 meters), 5 December 1961. Future astronaut Commander John W. Young, United States Navy, flew another Phantom II, Bu. No. 149449, from the runway at NAS Point Mugu on the southern California coast to an altitude of 30,000 meters (82,020.997 feet) in 3 minutes, 50.440 seconds.
The Phantom II first entered combat during the Vietnam War. It became apparent that the all-missile armament was insufficient for the subsonic dogfights that it found itself in, and a 20 mm Gatling gun was added. Designed as an interceptor, it evolved into a fighter bomber and carried a bomb load heavier that a World War II B-17 bomber. The last American “aces” scored their victories while flying the Phantom over Vietnam.
The F-4 served with the U.S. Air Force until April 1996. The last operational flight was flown by an F-4G Wild Weasel assigned to the Idaho Air National Guard. A total of 5,195 Phantom IIs were built, most by McDonnell Douglas at St. Louis, but 138 were built in Japan by Mitsubishi. The Phantom is still in service with several air forces around the world.
McDonnell Douglas F-4E-65-MC Phantom II 77-0290 was transferred to the Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force), where it retained the U.S. Air Force serial number. It was written off 30 May 1989, however, it was later modernized by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to the F-4E-2020 Terminator standard and as of 25 June 2019, remained in service.
¹ “Phantom Guest Of Honor At Birthday Party,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Vol. 100, No. 144, Thursday, 25 May, 1978, Page 3A at Columns 3–6
1 February 1971: The 4,000th McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, F-4E-44-MC serial number 69-7294, was delivered to the United States Air Force.
In 1989, 69-7294 was converted to the F-4G Wild Weasel V configuration. The Wild Weasel was an aircraft equipped to attack surface-to-air missile sites and targeting radars, using a variety of high-speed radar-homing missiles. The F-4G had its M-61 Vulcan rotary cannon removed and replaced with a radar homing and warning radar, as well as improvements to the rear cockpit for management of electronic warfare systems. 134 F-4E Phantom II fighters were converted to F-4G Wild Weasels.
69-7294 served with the U.S. Air Force 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Clark Air Base in the Philippines and in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War as part of the “Philippine Expeditionary Force” and later in Operation Southern Watch with the 190th Fighter Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard. After twenty-five years, 7294 was retired to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona in 1996.
The Wild Weasel was next converted to a QF-4G drone. Removed from long term storage and returned to airworthy condition by the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center, 7294 was flown to Mojave Airport, California, where the drone conversion was completed by Tracor, Inc. Launched from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, 69-7294 was “expended” as a remote-controlled aerial target, 4 November 1998.