At a time when jet aircraft were said to lack character in comparison to their piston-engined forbears, the F-4 Phantom II had character in spades. With its polyhedral wings, massive intakes for the great J79 jet engines, huge radar, seemingly vestigial cockpit, and anhedral tail, the Phantom was an unforgettably brutal design. It also boasted incomparable performance, with a radar and missile combo that outperformed virtually all other systems of its era. It broke 15 performance records when it was first entering the inventory in 1959, including the world absolute speed and absolute altitude records for aircraft of its class.
The most numerous American jet fighter aircraft of all time, with more than 5,000 built, the Phantom II served with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force, as well as 11 other nations. While the last U.S. Phantom was retired from service in 1996, it is still flown as a remotely-controlled target for the Air Force, and continues to fly in the armed forces of seven countries.
While the Phantom II first flew in 1958 and was first delivered to the Navy in December 1960, VF-74 “Bedevilers” at NAS Oceana became the first deployable Phantom squadron the following year, receiving their F4H-1s (later redesignated F-4Bs on order of then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara) on July 8, 1961. The first Air Force Phantom II, the F-4C, flew in May 1963.
For more Phantom photos, see Phantom Phiftieth Anniversary | Photos