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.
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 2016, remained in service.
25 February 1975: At Edwards Air Force Base, California, Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force, made his final flight as an active duty Air Force pilot, flying this McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II.
During his career, General Yeager flew 180 different aircraft types and accumulated 10,131.6 flight hours.
General Yeager retired 1 March 1975 after 12,222 days of military service.
13 February 1923: Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired), was born at Myra, West Virginia.
“Who is the greatest pilot I ever saw? Well, uh. . . Well, let me tell you. . . .”
The following is from the official U.S. Air Force biography: (Photographs from various sources)
“The world’s first man-made sonic boom told the story. On Oct. 14, 1947, over dry Rogers Lake in California, Chuck Yeager rode the X-1, attached to the belly of a B-29 bomber, to an altitude of 25,000 feet. After releasing from the B-29, he rocketed to an altitude of 40,000 feet. Moments later he became the first person to break the sound barrier, safely taking the X-1 he called Glamorous Glennis to a speed of 662 mph, faster than the speed of sound at that altitude. His first words after the flight were, ‘I’m still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off neither.’
“Yeager was born in February 1923 in Myra, W. V. In September 1941, he enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps. He was soon accepted for pilot training under the flying sergeant program and received his pilot wings and appointment as a flight officer in March 1943 at Luke Field, Ariz.
“His first assignment was as a P-39 pilot with the 363rd Fighter Squadron, Tonopah, Nev. He went to England in November 1943 and flew P-51s in combat against the Germans, shooting down one ME-109 and an HE-111K before being shot down on his eighth combat mission over German-occupied France on March 5, 1944. He evaded capture by the enemy when elements of the French Maquis helped him to reach the safety of the Spanish border. That summer, he was released to the British at Gibraltar and returned to England. He returned to his squadron and flew 56 more combat missions, shooting down 11 more enemy aircraft.
“Returning to stateside, Yeager participated in various test projects, including the P-80 Shooting Star and P-84 Thunderjet. He also evaluated all the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war. This assignment led to his selection as pilot of the nation’s first research rocket aircraft, the Bell X-1, at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.). After breaking the sound barrier in 1947, Yeager flew the X-1 more than 40 times in the next two years, exceeding 1,000 mph and 70,000 feet. He was the first American to make a ground takeoff in a rocket-powered aircraft. In December 1953 he flew the Bell X-1A 1,650 mph, becoming the first man to fly two and one-half times the speed of sound.
“After a succession of command jobs, Yeager became commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School (now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School), where all military astronauts were trained.
“On Dec. 10, 1963, he narrowly escaped death while testing an NF-104 rocket-augmented aerospace trainer. His aircraft went out of control at 108,700 feet (nearly 21 miles up) and crashed. He parachuted to safety at 8,500 feet after battling to gain control of the powerless aircraft. He thus became the first pilot to make an emergency ejection in the full pressure suit needed for high altitude flights. Yeager has flown more than 200 types of military aircraft and has more than 14,000 hours, with more than 13,000 of them in fighter aircraft.
“Yeager retired from active duty in the U. S. Air Force in March 1975, after serving as the United States defense representative to Pakistan and director of the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, Calif.
“Retirement was never part of his plans. He remains an active aviation enthusiast, acting as adviser for various films, programs and documentaries on aviation. He has published two books, entitled Yeager, An Autobiography and Press On: Further Adventures in the Good Life.”
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.
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.