The F-4 Phantom II was a twin-engine, all-weather, fighter-bomber. The aircraft could perform three tactical air roles — air superiority, interdiction and close air support — as it did in southeast Asia. First flown in May 1958, the Phantom II originally was developed for U.S. Navy fleet defense and entered service in 1961. The USAF evaluated it for close air support, interdiction, and counter-air operations and, in 1962, approved a USAF version. The USAF's Phantom II, designated F-4C, made its first flight on May 27, 1963. Production deliveries began in November 1963. In its air-to-ground role the F-4 could carry twice the normal bomb load of a WW II B-17. USAF F-4s also flew reconnaissance and "Wild Weasel" anti-aircraft missile suppression missions. Phantom II production ended in 1979 after over 5,000 had been built--more than 2,600 for the USAF, about 1,200 for the Navy and Marine Corps, and the rest for friendly foreign nations, including to Israel, Iran, Greece, Spain, Turkey, South Korea, West Germany, Australia, Japan, and Great Britain. Used extensively in the Vietnam War, later versions of the aircraft were still active in the U. S. Air Force inventory well into the 1990s. F-4s are no longer in the USAF inventory but are still flown by foreign nations.
The F-4C first flew for the Air Force in May 1963 and the Air National Guard began flying the F-4C in January 1972. The Air Force Reserve received its first Phantom II in June 1978. The F-4D model, with major changes that increase accuracy in weapons delivery, was delivered to the Air Force in March 1966, to the Air National Guard in 1977, and to the Air Force Reserve in 1980.
The first F-4E was delivered to the Air Force in October 1967. The Air National Guard received its first F-4E in 1985, the Air Force Reserve in 1987. This model, with an additional fuselage fuel tank, leading-edge slats for increased maneuverability, and an improved engine, also has an internally mounted 20mm multibarrel gun with improved fire-control system.
Starting in 1973, F-4E's were fitted with target-identification systems for long-range visual identification of airborne or ground targets. Each system is basically a television camera with a zoom lens to aid in positive identification, and a system called Pave Tack, which provided day and night all-weather capability to acquire, track and designate ground targets for laser, infrared and electro-optically guided weapons. Another change was a digital intercept computer that includes launch computations for all AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles. Additionally, on F-4E/G models, the digital ARN-101 navigation system replaced the LN-12 inertial navigation system.
With the introduction of newer, more capable weapons systems, the F-4 mission narrowed to specializing in the suppression of enemy air defense. Following their 90-day deployment supporting Operation Provide Comfort 15 December 1995, the F-4G Phantoms assigned to the Idaho Air National Guard's 190th Fighter Squadron retired to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, otherwise known as the "boneyard," at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.
The replacement to the Phantom is the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which itself, is being replaced by the F/A-18 Hornet.