[Source]McDonnell Douglas responded with a ground attack optimised F-4 Phantom II in the early 1970s. Primarily aimed at the European market, this impressive aircraft was fitted with TFR, FLIR and a laser target designator. A fuselage ‘plug’ and uprated engines gave the new Phantom impressive range/payload performance. The aircraft was dubbed ‘Strike Phantom’.
Interesting story: the fratricide shotdown of a RAF Jaguar by a RAF Phantom over Germany.
Former RAF Jaguar pilot tells the story of when he was shot down by a RAF Phantom interceptor - The Aviation Geek Club"Only on the way back to Brüggen did I find out what had happened. The Phantom I had seen fly over the farmer's field had shot me down!" Group Captain Steve Griggs, RAF Jaguar pilottheaviationgeekclub.com
"Grandpa Flew Phantoms"...
“Hey, Grandpa,” the young lad said to me; “tell me a war story. What did you do in the war?”
“I flew “Phantoms. Rhino. Big Ugly.” Fascination and concern shone in his eyes. “Phantoms?” “Absolutely,” I said, looking off into the wild blue yonder and the setting sun. “Tell me about the Phantoms, Grandpa.”
I thought for a moment about what to say. How much could he really understand? Not much, actually. But kids sure like airplanes, even big kids like Grandpa. I thought a little more about what to tell him:
Actually, they’re called F-4s. The term, “F-4,” is like a scientific definition for a giant wild animal that will level your 18-wheel truck if it feels like it. The Phantom was the biggest, loudest, meanest-looking, raw power fighting machine ever built. It was a Man’s jet.
Spectators’ innards rumbled when Phantoms took off! Wide-eyed kids instantaneously decided they were going to be a fighter pilot just like me. They didn’t understand about back-seaters and crew chiefs, but they did understand brute power and speed. You could point this airplane at the moon and for a while you thought you were going to get there. It went a mile per breath at high cruise. A mile per breath!
Phantom. The big leagues. Normal earth people never witness the splendor nor feel the terror of Big Ugly closing for guns. Over the years, my jet fought them all: Tomcats, Eagles, Falcons, Hornets, F-5s, F-106s, A-4s, A-7s, F-111s, Buffs, B-1s, U-2s, even the F-105. Yeah, my pilots lost some, but won plenty! Don’t try to run from a Thud. To win with “Big Ugly,” use power, altitude, vertical, surprise.
Don’t get slow; speed is life. Cut across the circle. Don’t bury the nose. Kill the bandit now. Take that slashing gunshot. Don’t say the pilot cheated; he got the shot. You can’t outrun the missile.
That magnificent airplane remained a major player in our nation’s defense for decades, despite sharing birthdays with early pocket calculators. Is anybody still driving a ’65 Chevy? It’s the people who bring this aircraft to life and provide the brainpower. A roomful of Phantom crews sets a unique social environment. Seemingly insignificant behaviors and unusual events create career-spanning nicknames and legends. “Two Dogs” shot the tanker. “Tripod” kissed the colonel’s dog. They remember forever! Don’t believe the dreaded words, “Your secret is safe with me.” Don’t point fingers, for if you live by the sword, you will die by it.
It’s a rare combination of he-man pilots whose egos, fangs, and foolishness are tempered by an inseparable conscience embodied in the blind, trusty WSO who almost equally share credit for the fabulous success of this durable-crew airplane. It’s a we airplane – not an I, not a me, but we airplane. “We shot the drone. We didn’t go out of our airspace – not us.” The new stuff extends off duty as well. We were at the movies when the windows shattered. You get the idea.
Riding in the “pit,WSOs are among the bravest souls on earth, betting their lives and reputation on the driver up front who will take them who knows where at a moment’s notice. The backseater lives by his cunning, competing against advanced technology with systems as old as himself. His understanding of human thought processes makes great WSO’ing an art form. He must be ready for any eventuality and provide timely information in a logical, understandable sequence for the multitasked Phantom driver to digest in small pieces. The key is to make the driver, “Mr. Sometimes Macho,” think it was his idea in the first place. The WSO must sense when his inputs have gone unheeded, yet never waste a second with unnecessary or mistimed information. He must find the target and get the frontseater’s eye on it. Then it’s grunt time, fighting the Gs while the animal frontseater maneuvers for the kill. No whimpering gents; we’re riding a Rhino! Sometimes we become the Rhino!
A flight of F-4s paired against multiple bogies creates instant comm jamming when only half the crewmen are talking. Hit the merge and they’re all start yakking away, like a gaggle of geese sorting out the variables. Phantoms somehow excel in defeating large numbers of superior aircraft under severe comm conditions. The more targets, the better. Rhinos charge the fight, shoot bogies and accept a few losses. There’s no way to recall everything that happened in a multi-ship merge, but each crewman brings back various recollections to defend vigorously at the debrief. At the height of the discussion, several pilots talk at once while gesticulating hands “gun” each other. The WSOs nod approvingly. Somehow, most participants emerge from the debrief with the positive notion that “we did fairly well…considering the circumstances.”
Computers changed the flying professional, but an evolution of slippery Phantom tactics continued to confound the sometimes embarrassed good pilots in modern machines. There was a lot of challenge. You were always up against supposedly better aircraft. Phantom crews shriek with delight, like the wide-eyed kid, when describing unobserved stern missile launches or tracking gunshots against a magic dream machine. Yet, satisfaction is rarely displayed in the presence of your opponent. The adversary must think that Phantoms gunning Hornets is fairly common, which it is, if you don’t keep exact score.
Let’s see now, 14 years and 2,500 hours flying Phantoms. No wars, only one engine problem, only one hydraulic failure (on the ground). Hot brakes once (my fault). Never lost a generator, no gear problems, never diverted, two fire lights (both false), no high speed aborts, can’t remember my last air abort (it’s been years). Can’t remember my last ground abort, either.
Never had a compressor stall. Killed a horse once. Popped circuit breakers a few times (usually they reset). Took the cable once for antiskid (no big deal). What a great airplane! Dependable with a capital D. Weather? No problem. Ice? Wind? No problem. The F-4 has done the job as an all-weather, day/night fighter extraordinaire.
Big ugly. Been my friend. Never scared me, never hurt me. Knock on wood. I suppose we’ll launch missiles at her at Tyndall – from some new magic jet. They’ll miss; too bad. Or, Big ugly will drag them back home stuck in her sides like porcupine quills. And someday we’ll look back at our Rhino pictures and remember her as we do steam locomotives.
I never knew an engineer or assembler who built the Phantom, and probably never will. But thanks, folks! Helluva job! What a great airplane! It’s been my everlasting pleasure and privilege to fly her. You just can’t imagine.
“Hey, Grandpa,” the little voice urges. “I thought you were going to tell me a war story. I began to tell. “So there we were, trying to dig this F-111 out of the canyon. We spot him flying along the cliff, fast and too low for a missile shot…” I swallowed hard and lost my voice there for a second. Kitchen clatter broke the silence with the distant call, “Food’s ready!”
Okay, guy,” I said quietly. “It’s time to wash your hands. Your mom’s calling for supper.” “I didn’t hear her,” he claimed, with a twinkle in his eye and a knowing smile like my old buddies had. Food’s ready tiger; wash up. I’ll be along shortly.” A couple of minutes slid by. Then I heard the voice from a distance. Grandpa? Grandpa. You okay?” A tear plopped on the window sill. “Yeah, yeah, be there in a minute. Just checking the moon.”
By Major Tom Tolman.