One of the most successful fighter designs of all time was the McDonnell Douglas "Phantom II" twin-seat, twin-jet multirole fighter. Nearly 5,200 of the type were produced from 1958 until 1981 and the aircraft was taken into service with many American allies during the lengthy Cold War period (1947-1991) including Australia, West Germany, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom. In time, the excellent airframe was modified to cover other over-battlefield roles including that of the radar-hunting "Wild Weasel", remote-controlled target drone, and tactical reconnaissance. The F-4 series has the distinction of having operated with three of the four major United States armed forces simultaneously - the United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN), and United States Marine Corps (USMC) - such was its value.
In the tactical reconnaissance role, the aircraft was designated the "RF-4" and carried over all of the excellent traits of the F-4 fighter.
The RF-4B (F4H-1P), built from the F-4B fighter mark, were tactical reconnaissance mounts developed for the USMC. Changes to the base design included an extension of the fuselage in which the frontal section gained over four feet of length. A more compact form of the AN/APQ-99 series radar was fitted and, beyond this, the aircraft held three camera bays to house various camera fits for the role. It also carried the ALQ-126 series Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) suite and the AN/AAD-4 InfraRed (IR) reconnaissance system. A first-flight for this mark was had on March 12th, 1965 and 46 of this mark were built.
The RF-4C was an all-weather reconnaissance model developed for the United States Air Force (USAF) with two YRF-110A (YRF-4C) prototypes used to prove the design sound. These carried the AN/APQ-99 radar set at first before graduating to the AN/APQ-172 series. There was broader support for available camera fits and the HIAC-1 LOROP (long Range Oblique Photography) pod could be carried along its fuselage centerline (ventrally). The hardpoint also supported a single nuclear bomb if needed. Total production of this mark ended at 503 units.
RF-4Cs participated in the Gulf War of 1991 and its reworked nose was reused in the F-4E fighter models which integrated the M61 Vulcan internal cannon as part of the Phantom II's standard, fixed armament. The RF-4C(H) was a proposed offshoot of the C-model reconnaissance birds and intended to carry IR equipment for the "night hunter" role. The design was to emerge from converting existing RF-4C models but the project was not advanced.
The RF-4E was an unarmed export version offered to U.S. allies. Total production yielded 149 of the mark. The RF-4EJ was a local Japanese air service model with a nose-mounted M61 Vulcan cannon. 15 aircraft were converted to the standard. The final variant of the RF-4 became the RF-4/TM "Isik" operated by the Turkish Air Force - having since been thoroughly modernized to keep up with battlefield requirements and emerging threats.
The RF-4M was another proposed RF model form based in the F-4M and intended for sale to the British Royal Air Force (RAF). This project was not furthered. The RF-4X was to be based in the advanced F-4X high-performance reconnaissance development for Israel. The project was not advanced for budgetary reasons related to the new McDonnell Douglas F-15 "Eagle" air superiority fighter.
Status Active, Limited Service
Production 715 Units
McDonnell Douglas - USA
West Germany; Japan; Turkey; United States
- Reconnaissance (RECCE)
58.07 ft (17.7 m)
38.42 ft (11.71 m)
16.47 ft (5.02 m)
2 x General Electric J79-GE-15 afterburning turbofan engines developing 17,000lb of thrust each.
1,400 mph (2,253 kph; 1,217 kts)
59,596 feet (18,165 m; 11.29 miles)
1,749 miles (2,815 km; 1,520 nm)
40,000 ft/min (12,192 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the McDonnell Douglas RF-4C production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
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