McDonnell Douglas

F-4 Phantom II

For many people, myself included, the Phantom represents the pinnacle of Western Cold War fighter aircraft. First flying in 1958 and entering service with the US Navy in 1960, it remains in front-line service with a number of air arms across the world in 2020, some 60 years later.

The Phantom II started life as a speculative private venture, intended as a supersonic (Mach 2.2) naval carrier-borne all-weather fleet-defence fighter.  As well as US Navy, service as the F4H-1 Phantom it was quickly adopted by the USAF as the F-110 Spectre, but eventually reverted to a common F-4 Phantom designation.

British F-4 Phantoms

The Phantom entered UK service in 1968 with 48 FG.1 aircraft delivered to the Royal Navy and 118 FGR.2 aircraft for the RAF.   Although based on the US Navy F-4J, British aircraft were noticeably different, with larger Rolls Royce Spey engines requiring a redesign of the after fuselage.  As well as fitting UK avionics, drooping ailerons and enlarged wing flaps enabled lower landing speeds and the tail-hook was strengthened to allow greater wire loads.  For the FG.1, a 40 inch extending nosewheel  allowed launch from the RN’s shorter catapults.

With only one conventional carrier in service, surplus RN orders were transferred to the RAF where they replaced the BAC Lightning on air defence duties.  When HMS ARK ROYAL was finally paid off in 1978, the remaining RN aircraft followed suit.

In 1984 the RAF also added 15 refurbished ex-US Navy F-4J aircraft to its inventory, backfilling the gap caused by the permanent deployment of an FGR.2 flight to the Falkland Islands and to mitigate delays with the entry into service of the Tornado.

Phantom FG.1, 767 Sqn Fleet Air Arm

RNAS Yeovilton, 1971.

Fujimi - build “out the box”.  The Fujimi kit remains the best option for a British Phantom model.  Link to Rebuild

767 Sqn was the RN’s 2nd line Phantom Training and HQ Squadron, based ashore at RNAS Yeovilton.  Formed in January 1969, in its original form it also trained RAF FG.1 pilots, but was disbanded and replaced by a RAF Leuchars-based joint RN-RAF Phantom Training Flight in 1972.

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F4H-1 (F-4B) US Navy

F-4E USAF Vietnam

F-4K Phantom FG.1 RN


F-4M Phantom FGR.2 RAF

F-4J (K) Phantom RAF


Phantom FGR.2, 228 OCU (64R Sqn) RAF

RAF Leuchars, 1987

Fujimi - build “out the box”.  The Fujimi kit remains the best option for a British Phantom model.  

The main difference between this kit and the FG.1 above is the lack of slotted tailplanes that were fitted to enable lower landing speeds on the RN’s carriers and the lack of an extending nose wheel, also fitted to assist in RN carrier operations. Link to build

228 OCU was the RAF’s 2nd line conversion unit for UK-based Phantoms. Operating initially out of RAF Conningsby, in 1987 it moved north with its FGR.2 aircraft  to RAF Leuchars, where it was accommodated alongside the FG.1s of 43 Sqn and 111Sqn.      

Phantom F-4J (UK), 74 “Tiger” Sqn RAF

RAF Wattisham, 1988

Italeri F-4S with wing modifications (removal of outer wing combat slats) and Kits-World decals.  Link to build

74 Sqn was formed in 1984 as a backfill for 23 Sqn’s deployment to RAF Stanley to defend the Falklands .  Ex USN F-4js were removed from storage at the vast Davis Monthan AMARC facility in Arizona desert and partially modified to F-4S standards.   Retaining their American J79 engines (and thus slimmer aft fuselage), the aircraft were faster at altitude and able to manoeuvre with greater loads.  To minimise costs, the aircraft saw little modification to UK standards, so aircrew had to use some US equipment including helmets and oxygen masks.  They were eventually replaced by surplus FGR.2s that became available in 1991 as RAF Germany drew down its Phantom force.

Phantom F4H-1 (F-4B),  VF-74 “Be-devillers” US Navy

USS FORRESTAL, Gulf of Tonkin, east of Vietnam, 1967

Airfix F-4B with spare Fujimi canopy   Link to build

This early USN aircraft is marked for an aircraft of VF-74, present onboard the USS Forrestal at the time of its horrific 1967 flight deck fire during operations of the Vietnamese coast. Zuni rockets from an aircraft parked on deck fired accidentally, setting fire to a large number of armed aircraft on deck and igniting sensitive WW”-era munitions that were being used for bombing raids contrary to USN Safety regulations..

Many fight deck crew were killed and injured whilst fighting the massive fire and explosions that followed.

During the Vietnam war, US Navy F-4s downed 40 enemy aircraft for a loss of 7 Phantoms.  USMC pilots also claimed another 4 kills for one loss.

Phantom F-4E,  469 TFS, 388 TFW, USAF

Royal Thai Air Base Korat, Thailand 1969

Hasegawa built “out the box”   Link to build

The F-4E variant was developed from the earlier USAF F-4C and D and drew heavily on Vietnam combat experience and incorporating an internal M61 Vulcan cannon in the nose for dogfighting.  

The F-4E was first deployed to the Vietnam operational theatre in 1968, where it began to replace the F-105 in the bombing role and as the primary Air Superiority fighter.

The Commander of the 388th TFW, 13th Air Force was Colonel Paul Douglas, a WWII P-47 ace with 8 victories flying the "Arkansas Traveler".  In Vietnam, F-4E 67-0288 "Arkansas Traveler II" became his personal aircraft and was adorned with the same 8 victory markings and nose art of a hillbilly riding a bomb that were on his P-47.

During the Vietnam War USAF F-4s were credited with 107 victories for 33 F-4  air-to air losses, although many more aircraft were destroyed by anti aircraft fire or on the ground.  

Phantom FG.1, 892 Sqn Fleet Air Arm


Fujimi - build “out the box”.  The Fujimi kit remains the best option for a British Phantom model.  Link to Build Page

Due to the UK’s dire economic situation at the end of the 1970s, 892 Sqn was the RN’s sole front-line Phantom squadron, based onboard the carrier HMS ARK ROYAL (after HMS EAGLE was paid-off early and the new CVA-01 HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH was cancelled).  

Even with this reduced force, alongside its Buccaneer strike aircraft and Gannet AEW aircraft, the Fleet Air Arm was more powerful than most air forces around the world, but RAF planners convinced a naive Labour Government that land-based aircraft could protect British interests around the world just as easily (allegedly by changing a map).  In retrospect, it is easy to speculate that had ARK ROYAL and its air group remained in service in 1982, the Falklands war, undertaken far beyond the reaches of the RAF, would not have happened.

When not at sea, 892 Sqn was initially based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, but later moved to RAF Leuchars in Fife which became the centre of UK Phantom fighter activity.  

This aircraft bears special nose markings applied for HM The Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.  Sadly, bad visibility limited the planned flypast at the Silver Jubilee Feet Review of the Royal Navy at Spithead on the Solent.   

The RN’s Phantoms were withdrawn and transferred to the RAF when HMS ARK ROYAL paid off in 1979.

Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds

Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds

Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds

Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds

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F-4K Phantom FG.1 RN

US F-4 Phantoms

Perhaps best known for its role in Vietnam, the Phantom began life as a US Navy all-weather Fleet Defence Interceptor designated F4H-1.  Powered by 2 General Electric J79 engines, it was capable of Mach 2,.2 at height.  The first fully operational Naval version was the F-4B, with deliveries commencing in 1961.   

The USAF also received Phantoms as part of a US Government initiative to rationalise the number of different aircraft in use by the US Forces, initially as the F-110 Spectre .  To its credit, the F-4 succeeded in this dual-identity where many other aircraft had failed, quickly adapting to the USAF Strike role but retaining its air to air superiority.  The USAF F-4C version, based on the Navy’s  F-4B, first flew in 1963. Three years later, the USN received its first improved F-4J versions with more powerful J79 engines and significantly upgraded radar.  This formed the basis of all future USN variants, including the later F-4N (reworked F-4Bs and the final F-4S (updated to include some F-14 Tomcat capabilities and reduce engine smoke).  

The USAF received similar updates to reflect experience in Vietnam, first with the F-4D, which adopted the USAF’s unsuccessful AIM-4 Falcon air to air missile (which quickly reverted back to the Navy’s AIM-7 Sidewinder), then the definitive F-4E with an internal cannon for dogfighting (and which underpinned most land-based export variants).  The RF-4 B, C and E specialised in reconnaissance whilst there were also specialised SEAD “Wild Weasel” variants.

Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds

Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds

Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds

F4N US Navy


Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds

Phantom F4N,  VF-111 “Sundowners” US Navy

USS CORAL SEA, Vietnam, 1975

Fujimi   Link to build

From the 1970s onward, the US Navy began to upgrade its F-4Bs and F-4Js into the F-4N and F-4S respectively.  A complete remanufacturing programme saw the aircraft emerge almost as new” with modernised weapons and sensor systems, plus smoke abatement measures for the infamously smoky J-79 engines..  VF-111 swapped its F-4Bs for F-4Ns for a very short period in 1975 before moving to the F-14 .

Phantom FGR.2, 111 Sqn RAF

RAF Leuchars, 1975

Another Fujimi build , this time with Xtradecal (and a few Modeldecal) markings, carrying a ground attack weapon load.    

The earlier FGR.2s lacked the promiinent fin mounted ECM antennae. Later in their careers, they could also sometimes be seen with FG.1 style slottted tailplanes.  Link to build

111 Sqn fomred up on the F-4M at RAF Coningsby in 1974.   In 1975 they moved to RAF Leuchars to join 43 Sqn in the Air Defence Quick Reaction Alert role. alongside the FG.1s of 43 Sqn and occasionally of 892 Naval Air Squadron.      111 did not retain their FGR.2s for long, swapping them for the lighter and more air defence optimised FG.1s  in 1979 when HMS ARK ROYAL paid off and the ex-RN Phantoms became available to the RAF.

Link to Phantoms reference pictures and walkarounds


F-4M Phantom FGR.2 RAF