McDonnell Douglas RF-4 Phantom II
A number of factors made the F-4 Phantom suitable for conversion as a reconnaissance platform, including its speed (hence survivability), range and availability.
Development of the reconnaissance Phantom was done at the beckon of the US Air Force, who ordered the RF-4C in 1965 to replace its RF-101 Voodoos (also a McDonnell product). The RF-4C retained the basic airframe and systems of the F-4C fighter but introduced a lengthened nose containing an APQ-99 forward looking radar for mapping and terrain clearance plus an APQ-102 side looking radar and various optical cameras. Cameras to be fitted to RF-4Cs include the KS-72 and KS-87 forward looking oblique cameras, the KA-56A low altitude camera, the KA-55A high altitude panoramic camera and the 167cm (66in) focal length KS-127. Other systems fitted to the RF-4 include the ARN-101 digital navigation and reconnaissance system, infrared linescan cameras, Elint and ESM sensors.
The YRF-4C prototype first flew on August 9 1963, while production RF-4Cs were delivered from the following year. In all McDonnell built 505 RF-4C Phantoms for the USAF through to December 1973, and these have served widely including during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars. By 1995 however just two Air National Guard units operated the RF-4C and retirement was imminent with their role due to be taken over by pod equipped F-15s or F-16s. Surplus USAF RF-4Cs were supplied to Spain in the early 1970s and to South Korea from 1988, and the type looks set to remain in service with these nations for some years.
Similar to the RF-4C were the 46 RF-4Bs built for the US Marines from 1965. The survivors were retired in the early 1990s.
The export RF-4E was developed initially for Germany and flew for the first time in September 1970. Compared with the RF-4C, the RF-4E was based on the F-4E and did not feature some of the RF-4C’s more sensitive systems. New build RF-4Es were delivered to Germany, Japan, Israel, Greece and Turkey (the latter two now also operate ex Luftwaffe RF-4Es). Israeli RF-4Es are fitted with indigenous sensors and avionics and can fire the Shafir and Python AAMs for self defence.
Country of origin: United States of America
Type: Tactical reconnaissance fighter
Powerplants: RF-4C – Two 48.5kN (10,900lb) dry and 75.6kN (17,000lb) with afterburning General Electric J79-GE-15 turbojets.
Performance: RF-4C – Max speed at 40,000ft 2348km/h (1267kt), max speed at sea level 1445km/h (780kt). Max initial rate of climb 48,000ft/min. Service ceiling 59,400ft. Ferry range with external fuel 2815km (1520nm). Combat radius 1355km (730nm).
Weights: RF-4C – Empty 12,825kg (28,275lb), max takeoff 26,308kg (58,000lb).
Dimensions: RF-4C – Wing span 11.77m (38ft 8in), length 19.17m (62ft 11 in), height 5.03m (16ft 6in). Wing area 49.2m2 (530.0sq ft).
Accommodation: Pilot and Reconnaissance Officer in tandem.
Armament: None, although max theoretical external load is 7255kg (16,000lb). Many RF-4s wired to carry two AIM-9s for self defence.
McDonnell Douglas F-4G Wild Weasel
The F-4G Wild Weasel is designed to detect, locate, identify and destroy enemy radar, and hence is the USAF’s only specialised SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) aircraft.
During the course of the Vietnam War US tactical fighters encountered a growing threat from SA-2 SAMs. To counter this the USAF sponsored the development of optimised aircraft for anti radar attack – the Wild Weasels. Initially anti radar attacks were flown by Douglas EB-66s, then by modified F-100 Super Sabres and F-105 Thunderchiefs.
To replace these aircraft in the early 1970s the USAF ordered the development of an anti radar Phantom. By this time the multirole Phantom was well and truly established as the USAF’s primary tactical fighter and had replaced a range of specialised fighters in roles ranging from air defence to ground attack to reconnaissance.
The initial Wild Weasel Phantoms were converted F-4Cs, carrying a Westinghouse ECM pod and AGM-45 Shrike missiles. These Phantoms were unofficially referred to as EF-4Cs.
The success of the F-4C Wild Weasels led the USAF to develop the definitive F-4G Wild Weasel IV (initially called Advanced Wild Weasel). The 116 F-4Es converted to F-4G standard from the mid 1970s had their M61 cannon removed (with that space now occupied by mission specific avionics) and were fitted with the McDonnell Douglas APR-38 RHAWS (components of which are installed in a fin tip fairing). Initially the F-4Gs were armed with the Shrike, however the HARM is now the Wild Weasel’s standard offensive weapon (the G is currently the only aircraft that can utilise all of the HARM’S operating modes).
The F-4G played an important part in Gulf War operations in early 1991, and their operations there staved off then imminent retirement. However in 1995 the F-4G’s future was again uncertain and just two Air National Guard units operated the type.
Country of origin: United States of America
Type: Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) aircraft
Powerplants: Two 52.5kN (11,810lb) dry and 79.6kN (17,900lb) with afterburning General Electric J79-GE-17A turbojets.
Performance: Max speed at 36,000ft Mach 2.2 or 2390km/h (1290W), cruising speed at MTOW 920km/h (495kt). Service ceiling 62,250ft.
Ferry range 3185km (1718nm). Combat radius 965km (520nm).
Weights: Empty equipped 13,300kg (29,320lb), max takeoff 28,300kg (62,390lb).
Dimensions: Wing span 11.77m (38ft 8in), length 19.20m (63ft Oin), height 5.02m (16ft 6in). Wing area 49.2m2 (530.0sq ft).
Accommodation: Pilot and Weapon Systems Operator in tandem.
Armament: One centreline and four underwing hardpoints can carry 7255kg (16,000lb) of ordnance. Current typical fit is two AGM-88 HARM anti radiation missiles on inboard wing pylons. Can also carry AGM-45 Shrike anti radiation missiles and AGM-65 Maverick ASMs, plus two AIM-7s in rear underfuselage stations and AIM-9 Sidewinders for self defence.