As a Vietnam Veteran I had the opportunity to see many different types of combat aircraft in action against the opposing forces in that war. Next to the impressive B-52 bombers of which I only saw the results of their Arc Light strikes, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was without a doubt my favorite. It was the sexiest aircraft in the airs over that beautiful country – a tandem two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor aircraft/fighter-bomber with a top speed of 1,473 miles per hour. It can carry more than 18,000 pounds of weapons on nine external hard points, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and various bombs.
The appearance of the aircraft was enhanced by its dihedral wings that were angled up only at the outer portions and its anhedral all-moving tailplane angled down 23 degrees. What that means in laymen’s speak is that the wing tips were angled up and the tail fins were angled down and that made it look as good as a Richard Petty race car.
The aircraft with all its warts and accomplishments during the Vietnam War is described in a story in The National Interest Magazine titled: America’s F-4 Phantom: Taking On the World’s Best Fighters (At Almost 60 Years Old) submitted by Sebastien Roblin. Roblin tells how initially after its introduction to combat flying in Vietnam several glaring problems with the F-4 became readily apparent.
One big problem was that it did not have a built-in cannon. The designers relied on the idea that future aerial warfare would rely solely on air to air missiles and guns would be an anachronism. The North Vietnamese Air Force disproved that theory. Another problem was that Phantom’s J79 engines produced thick black smoke, which combined with the aircraft’s larger size, made it easier to spot and target from a distance.
Most of the shortcomings of the F-4 were corrected by war’s end and it became an even better fighter bomber. It’s record in Vietnam is as follows, they shot down 150 enemy aircraft, 40 were shot down by enemy fighters and 474 were shot down by ground fire.