Phantom Phantoms & 4000 other Phantoms

On this day in 1971, the 4000th F-4 Phantom was delivered. To celebrate use discount code PHANTOM4000 for a phabulous 20% discount on The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes (today only). Pre-order here.

Everyone loves the F-4 Phantom, a brutal smoking Cold War monster that polluted the sky in an apocalyptic belch of black sooty thunder. As thrilling as the actual Phantoms that entered service were, there is a tantalising family of F-4s that almost made it into the real world. Several of them were cancelled for being too good and threatening sales of newer aircraft — and one succeeded in its role as a unique test aircraft. Here are some of the Phantoms that never were. 

RF-4X Mach 3 Hellraiser 

rf-4x_3.jpg

 In the 1970s, the Israeli air force wanted a reconnaissance aircraft capable of carrying the extremely impressive HIAC-1 camera. The F-4 was considered, but the G-139 pod that contained the sensor was over 22 feet long and weighed over 4000 pounds – and the Phantom did not have the power to carry such a bulky store and remain fast and agile enough to survive in hostile airspace. One solution was to increase the power of the engines with water injection, something that had been done for various successful F-4 record attempts. This combined with new inlets, a new canopy and huge bolt-on water tanks promised a mouth-watering 150% increase in power. This would have allowed a startling top speed of mach 3.2 and a cruising speed of mach 2.7. This level of performance would have made the F-4X almost impossible to shoot-down with the technology then in service. 

rf-4x_4.jpg

 The F-4X would also have been a formidable interceptor – something that threatened the F-15 development effort, causing the State Department to revoke an export licence for the RF-4X. Even with the increase in power, the Israeli air force was still worried about the huge amount of drag, but a solution came in the form of a slimmed-down camera installation in a specially elongated nose. This meant the interceptor radar had to be removed, which assuaged the State Department’s fears and the project was allowed to continue. However worries from the F-15 project community returned (as did worries about how safe the F-4X would have been to fly) and the US pulled out. Israel tried to go it alone but didn’t have enough money, so the mach 3 Phantom never flew. 

f-4x03.jpg

F-4E(F) ‘Ein Mann’ 

RAF F-4M-GA PHANTOM FG3.02_zps0yrydewe.jpg

 The Luftwaffe are cheapskates: historical examples including their desire to procure a Eurofighter ‘Lite’ with no sunroof, stereo or defensive aids — and the fact they kept the F-4F in service until 2013! To be fair, their less than zealous desire for free-spending militarism is probably a good thing considering the 20th century. Their Deutschmark-saving instincts for poundshop versions of popular aircraft applied to the Phantom, and a simplified single-seat F-4E was considered. This intriguing option was passed up for a simplified F-4E, dubbed the F-4F (which later became formidable). I couldn’t find any illustrations of this variant so have included a mock-up of a speculative RAF single-seater.

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RF-4M ‘Big nosed Brit’ 

McDonnell Report B617 RF-4M

 When the RAF ordered Phantoms they considered a dedicated reconnaissance version. McDonnell (it being 1966 — a year before the merger with Douglas) proposed a F-4M airframe with internal reconnaissance equipment. Known as the RF-4M (model 98HT), the longer camera nose would have made the aircraft over two and-a-half feet longer longer than a F-4M. Range would have been greater than a Phantom with an external recce pod, as this left the centreline station free for a drop-tank — and the removal of the Fire Control System and AIM-7 related hardware reduced weight. After considering the cost of such an undertaking, the RAF instead opted for an external recce pod meaning that any airframe in the fleet could perform the reconnaissance mission without sacrificing a beyond-visual-range weapon. Fascinating interview with a British Phantom pilot here.

On this day in 1971, the 4000th F-4 Phantom was delivered. To celebrate use discount code PHANTOM4000 for a phabulous 20% discount on The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes (today only). Pre-order here.

One comment

  1. exhorderhd

    I seem to remember from some document, that the proposed single-seat F-4E(F) would have looked exactly the same as the original two-seat Phantom, since the rear canopy was to remain in place (without the rear cockpit and ejection seat underneath, of course). As it turned out, developing this single seat variant was both more expensive and more time-consuming, so the Luftwaffe reluctantly went for the F-4F in its original two-seat guise.

    Keep in mind that the F-4F had merely been a stop-gap solution when MRCA turned out to be more of a bomber, intended to serve “five to ten years” at most. German fighters at that time had sort of a “mop up” role. They would have intercepted those Warsaw Pact aircraft that had survived the two SAM belts and the line of US/British fighters. Thus, low cost, system maturity and sheer numbers were more important than raw performance. All those $s in the German “offset” account had to be spent anyway.

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