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"The F-4 Is a Great Fighter With a Bad Reputation" Topic

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26 Jun 2016 5:40 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Crossposted to Ultramodern Warfare (2006-present) board

2,257 hits since 25 Jun 2016
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2016 2:17 p.m. PST

"The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a legendary aircraft  an icon of the Vietnam War and the archetype of the third-generation jet fighter designs that entered service in the 1960s. More than 5,000 of these heavy supersonic fighters were built, and hundreds continue to serve and even see combat in several air forces today.

But the Phantom's record in air-to-air combat over Vietnam  especially when compared to its successor, the F-15 Eagle, which has never been shot down in air-to-air combat  has left it with a reputation of being a clumsy bruiser reliant on brute engine power and obsolete weapons technology.

This is unfair.

The Phantom's fundamental flaws were corrected by 1970  while more recently, Phantoms have had their avionics and ordnance upgraded to modern standards. These modernized Phantoms flown by the Turkish and Greek air forces can do pretty much what an F-15 can do … at a much lower price…"
Full text here


28mm Fanatik26 Jun 2016 3:01 p.m. PST

Sorry, but the "Spook" never had a bad rep, even when it didn't have guns.

sgt Dutch26 Jun 2016 3:58 p.m. PST

Worked on F-4. Damn fine aircraft. Even badly damaged it would get the crew home. As my maintenance officer told me " The only problem with the Phantom is the back seat driver scream at me." ;)

CavScout8thCav Inactive Member26 Jun 2016 4:03 p.m. PST

The F4 proves that with big enough engines even a brick can fly. Still one of my favorite aircraft, I remember seeing a traveling Air NG exhibit at a fair, no wings but you could go up on this trailer and sit in the cockpit. It was awesome for a 7 year old kid. Wanted to be an Airforce pilot after that. Unfortunately my eye sight went south so I joined the army and became a Scout.

Mako11 Inactive Member26 Jun 2016 4:35 p.m. PST

Actually, the reputation is/was well deserved for the aircraft in the US inventory, back in the day, not that it was really ever bad.

Certainly wasn't a nimble, F-8 Crusader, but had the excess brute force to get the job done.

USAF/Navy brass wanted two in the cockpit, and missiles instead of guns, so the Last of the Gunfighters (F-8) didn't stand a chance against it.

Most of those upgrades were added at the twilight of its career in the USA, or afterwards.

A superb, multi-role jet, for its day.

Chuckaroobob26 Jun 2016 5:26 p.m. PST

I've dug F-4's ever since I saw the Blue Angels fly them at our local airshow Waaaaay on back.

Murvihill27 Jun 2016 8:49 a.m. PST

"…has left it with a reputation of being a clumsy bruiser reliant on brute engine power…"

I think an airplane stops being an airplane when it can accelerate while going straight up. Then it's just a rocket with larger control surfaces.

Legion 427 Jun 2016 8:58 a.m. PST

The F4 proves that with big enough engines even a brick can fly.
I remember when cross-training with the USAF, a pilot said similar.

She has been flown by many air forces for a long time … regardless …

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP27 Jun 2016 9:55 a.m. PST


Who needs wings anyway ?

HammerHead Inactive Member27 Jun 2016 10:12 a.m. PST

wow Patrick R. Chuckroobob I saw the Blue Angels in the UK many years ago. Fantastic display with a heavy a/c still have the BA programme..somewhere

Windward Inactive Member31 Jul 2016 6:32 a.m. PST

The bad rep was caused by poor training in the Navy as well as the Air Force. For the Navy the introduction of Top Gun, changed the game. The Navy was flying with roughly the same equipment in '72 as the had in '67. But they ran the tables on the VPAF in '72.

Lack of guns would always be an issue for the Naval aircrews, but they learned to work around it.

Gennorm31 Jul 2016 11:57 a.m. PST

Too successful to have a bad reputation.

Fred Cartwright01 Aug 2016 4:23 a.m. PST

You have to remember the F-4 was designed as a fleet defence fighter, hence a big plane with a big and capable for its day radar and BVR capable radar guided missiles. Its job was to protect the carrier from hostile aircraft by engaging them from well outside their effective weapon ranges. It is ironic that it spent most of the time in fighter to fighter combat as a dogfighter using short range IR missiles and guns. Both the F-14 and Tornado F-3 were designed to the same formula. The F-15 was designed as an air superiority fighter from scratch.

Mithmee Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2016 6:31 p.m. PST

The problem back in the 1960's was that the Air Force considered that guns were not needed.

This proved to be a very major issue since missiles suck at close range where guns would have gotten the kill.

The other thing about the F-4 was that it could carry quite a bit of ordnance. So it was a great Ground Attack aircraft as well.

Virginia Tory14 Sep 2016 9:26 a.m. PST

Bad reputation? I think not.

The F-104, OTOH…

Deadles Inactive Member10 Oct 2016 1:46 p.m. PST

It's only got a bad reputation with those that have limited interest in aviation. Most aviation buffs have recognised for decades that the F-4E variant was a superb multi-role combat aircraft for the day and probably the best fighter around until the F-14 and F-15 entered service. It was still better than most fighters in the 1980s.

And that's not taking into account its superb service as a Wild Weasel, recce and foreign service.

The article does skew something the 1991 war result.

1. All Iraqi MiGs including MiG-29S were monkey model exports, not full spec Soviet or even Warpac models.

2. Only "advanced" jet operated by the Iraqis was the Mirage F1 which despite being a decent bird is no match for an F-15. It had scored some success against even Iranian F-14s but these weren't latest model F-14s nor were they guided by AWACS.

3. Iraqi air defence C3 network was French built Kari system. As such it was compromised from the start of the war as the French provided all specs to the Coalition.

4. American F-117s and cruise missiles smashed what C3 was operational.

Thus Iraqi fighters operated in a spasmodic and uncoordinated manner.

5. American jets were all guided by E-3 and E-2 AWACS. Iraqi AWACS was primitive and based on 3 converted Il-76 freighters with French radars. These played no role in the conflict 1 was destroyed on the ground and two were evacuated to Iran.

Thus Iraqis effectively had no AWACS coverage.

AWACS coverage has proven decisive in both real conflict and exercises.

In one Polish exercises, a 4 v 4 engagement between MiG-29S and F-16S (Poland operates both), the F-16s "shot down" all 4 MiGs in long range combat when guided by a NATO E-3. Without AWACS the ratio went from 4-0 to 2-2.

6. A large number of Iraqi aircraft shot down were helicopters, ground attack jets or aircraft fleeing to Iran. This allowed even the A-10 to score 2 air-to-air kills against Bo-105 and Mi-8 helicopters.

In any case these weren't true dog fights.

7. Iraqi air force had been purged just prior to 1991 war after an Iraqi MiG-23 tried to bomb Saddam. Not only were staff like pilots purged, flying was kept to a minimum.

8. Virtually all A2A was assigned to USAF F-15 squadrons. Even USN F-14 units weren't assigned A2A (rumour has it the Air Force didn't want the Navy getting any of the glory).

A2A kills by F-14 (mere 1 Mi-8 chopper), F/A-18 (2 MiG-21S), A-10 (2 helos), EF-111 (unarmed jet took down a Mirage F1 through fancy flying) were achieved whilst flying other sorties.

So given these circumstances, a USAF F-4E probably would have done quite well in A2A against the Iraqis.

freecloud26 May 2017 1:57 a.m. PST

I remember an RAF guy telling tme the diference between an F4 and a Tornado one actually flies, the other keeps itself up on its jets alone. For its era though it was fast, could carry a lot of hardware, go a long way, and was as tough as old boots. More a great general purpose fighter/bomber/etc than a great fighter IMO, but it was certainly "good enough" at that job too.

As to usefulness now, arguably its getting more useful… increasingly the only thing you need the airframe to do is get into the air, with enough power and fuel to get into combat radius of the enemy. At that point the missile, onboard and AWAC electronics take over. From that pov the bigger 2-jet airframes that can carry more gear are more flexible esp if upgraded.

Its also increasing unclear that "Stealth" is as good as cracked up to be so it may be that the older planes wil be around for a lot longer than we thought

Only issue with F-4 is airframe ageing and cost of operation vs more modern craft, but it's like buying a good 2nd hand car rather than a new one lower cost of purchase, higher cost of ongoing ownership.

On that matter though, I do know that some of the older airframes are much easier to maintain/more robust so air:ground hours are better, and others are total b*tches. I don't know if the F-4 fits in the "easy to maintain" or the other category.

freecloud26 May 2017 2:16 a.m. PST

Also sort of on this topic of relevance of obsolete 'planes the return of the turboprop in our airforces

Lion in the Stars26 May 2017 6:11 a.m. PST

While I prefer newer birds in the simulators, there's nothing wrong with the F4E for either air or ground attack.

Just don't try to dogfight an F16 or F22… (or an Su37). Go for the long-range kills there.

Turboprop planes aren't significantly cheaper when you pack them with $10 USDmil worth of combat electronics, freecloud.

capnvic Inactive Member29 May 2017 8:50 p.m. PST

Turbo Prop air frames have a shorter life than most jet aircraft, due to the stresses from the powerplant and the propeller. A lot of ground maintenance guys and some pilots told me that a long time ago. That is one reason commuter airlines operate jet propelled aircraft, and have gone away from turboprops.
I also believe that is why the US tried to push the sale of the F5 Freedom Fighter to countries like South Vietnam, Iraq and the Philippines. They were easier to maintain versus the Skyraider and the Trojans. The F-5 and the Cessna T-37 Dragonfly were very inexpensive to operate and maintain.

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