F-4 Phantom Guide for the Masses

Jay Chladek and Steve Bamford from ARC have very kindly allowed us to reproduce Jay's article on the main differences between the variants of the F-4 Phantom II.  This article is a very useful summary!


Fighter Variants

F-110A Spectre

"F-110A" was the original designation for the Air Force Phantom until the USAF was mandated to standardize name and type designations with the US Navy types (thus becoming the F-4C). The first couple of dozen Phantoms (reports say 29) sent to the Air Force were essentially F-4Bs and used for training until the first F-4Cs came on line. These planes were identical to F-4Bs except for the USAF titles.


The F-4C was the first major USAF production variant. It featured bulged wings top and bottom, unslotted stabilizers, short 'burner cans, larger main wheels and gear tires (up from 7.7 inch Navy high pressure tires to 11.5 inch wider tires), an IR seeker bulge below the nose (no IR seeker mounted though), and flight controls for the rear seat. An in-flight refuelling boom recepticle was fitted in the spine of the aircraft, resulting in a cover door being mounted there (standard to all USAF F-4 variants). USAF based Phantoms did not have the rectangular bulges on the wings found on Navy Phantoms and they also did not have catapult launch bridles. The nose gear front door was equipped with different landing lights than the Navy Phantoms, which featured colored lights as part of the carrier approach system for Navy jets. Rounded leading edge weapons pylons for the inboard wings were also introduced on the F-4C around 1966 (RF-4C and Navy variants utilized straight leading edge pylons, as did 'C models prior to 1966-67 Vietnam deployments).

F-4C (also known as the EF-4C) Wild Weasel

A small number of F-4Cs were equipped with special radar detection and jamming equipment for SAM hunting. Differences from the "standard" F-4C included RWR blisters mounted in the IR seeker bulge below the nose, two radar detection blisters just behind the nose at 10 and 2 o'clock positions, an additional pair of RWR antenna ports on the intakes just behind the leading edge of the wings, and two antenna blisters mounted on the drag-chute door. The unofficial designation for the planes was EF-4C and it is referred as that in some publications. 36 were produced (modified from standard F-4C's) - 12 of these saw combat in the latter days of the Vietnam conflict with the 67th TFS, whilst 12 were stationed at Spangdahlem with the 81st TFS and the last 12 went to the 35th TFW at George AFB.


This was the second major USAF variant.  It was optimized for more capability and externally was very similar to the F-4C, hence most F-4C kits are designated F-4C/D. The bulge under the nose was a different shape to house elements of an ECM unit. Some early 'Ds were delivered without the bulge, but it was soon retrofitted.

F-4D Wild Weasel

2 F-4Ds were converted to Wild Weasels under Project Wild Weasel IV-B, although neither of these made it to operational status.


The F-4E was the definative USAF variant. The nose profile was changed extensively to fit an internally mounted M61 Vulcan cannon and was very different from earlier Phantoms. The gun muzzle shape changed from early to late F-4E versions (to help prevent gun gas injestion during firing of the gun, all planes were eventually retrofitted with the later style).  Early 'birds had the same wing as F-4C and 'D versions (also known as the Hard Wing). Other feature differences included longer 'burner cans and slots on the horizontal stabilizers.

In June 1972, a slatted wing became standard on the F-4E with pretty much every early F-4E still flying being retrofitted to this configuration by the late 1970s. Pretty much all birds that fought in Vietnam had the hard wing. Another external feature mounted from the mid 1970s and 80s was TISEO, an optical tracking camera port on the left wing root which allowed for visual ID of distant aircraft targets. Some USAF F-4Es mounted TISEO.

Some 71 model F-4Es with LES and TISEO were sent to the 432nd TFRW (later 432nd TFW) under project Rivet Haste. They were assigned to the 555th TFW which had exchanged their F-4Ds for F-4Es either shortly before or during Linebacker II. The Rivet Haste F-4Es were uncoded and initially had RRRRIBIT in yellow on the tail, which was later painted out and just the fin cap was painted green. From Smoke Trails, Vol. 3 # 4, Tail Codes, 432 TFRW, by Harley Copic. By 1975, when Saigon fell, I'm sure that the F-4Es still flying in Thailand had the LES installed. Most of them were later sent to Clark and Korea.

The Thunderbirds display team operated non-slatted winged F-4Es throughout their display time period with the jets. Some of these jets are thought to have remained without slatted wings when they became NF-4Es and were operated as test aircraft out of Edwards AFB.


The F-4G was based on the F-4E and was optimized for Wild Weasel anti-SAM strikes. The main change was the replacement of the internally mounted Vulcan cannon with special ECM and detection equipment, giving the plane a very different looking nose. The tail also has a distinctive bulge antenna at the top. All F-4Gs had slatted wings.


Reconnaissance Variants


The RF-4C was a USAF Phantom variant with a new nose design which mounted reconnaissance cameras. Early RF-4Cs featured a squared off lower camera bay, whilst later ones (with some intermeshing of noses during production) featured a lower nose with a slightly more rounded appearance. The main features of the RF-4C were short 'burner cans, flight controls for the aft cockpit, unslotted stabilizers and two enclosed bays on fuselage in front of tail for ejection of photo flash cartridges. All camera nose Phantoms had no recesses in the fuselage for Sparrow missiles, meaning that any ECM pods mounted have to be carried on pylons and not sem-recessed in a Sparrow bay. RF-4Cs used straight Navy style inboard wing weapon pylons.


Foreign Phantom Variants Used by the USAF


This was a "detuned" F-4E Phantom which was delivered to West Germany. It included the slatted wing of the F-4E, but had an unslotted stabilizer. German F-4s also utilized the British style seat harnesses in the cockpit instead of the US type. The F-4Fs has slotless stabilators throughout their life. A number of these airframes were operated by the 20th FS based at Holloman AFB on behalf of the West German government for training WG crews.

Article by Jay Chladek, reproduced courtesy of Jay and Steve Bamford from ARC