National Air & Space Museum has two F-4 Phantom IIs in its collection. One aircraft earned its place in history by
setting a speed record. One aircraft
earned its place in history in combat.
The F-4 is arguably the best fighter aircraft of the 1960s and early 1970s. The Phantom II is a multirole
aircraft that is probably the most historically significant combat aircraft
during this period. It shot down more
aircraft than any other aircraft during the last 40 years of the 20th
F4H-1F Phantom II, BuNo 145307, Sageburner II
On May 18, 1961 a US Navy F-4H-1, piloted by Commander J. L. Felsman, attempted a low altitude speed record. The aircraft, BuNo 1453161, was named Sageburner. A pitch dampener failure caused the Phantom to break apart in flight and explode. Commander Felsman died in the crash. On August 18, 1961, Lt. Huntington Hardisty , the pilot, and Lt. Earl De Esch, the Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), took off in the F4H-1F BuNo 145307. This aircraft was named Sageburner II. They flew an average of 902.760 mph (1,444 Km/hr) over a 3 kilometer course.2 This set a new low altitude speed record. It is currently in storage at the Paul E. Garber Facility at Silver Hill, Maryland.
1. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II: All Losses in USAF, USN & USMC Service (Part 1)1959 – 1965:including South East Asia Conflict - http://www.ejection-history.org.uk/Aircraft_by_Type/US_Phantoms_01.htm , by Mike Benshar.
2. National Air and Space Museum web site- McDonnell F-4A Phantom II "Sageburner"- https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/mcdonnell-f-4a-phantom-ii-sageburner, last accessed 8/11/2016.
F4-S Phantom II, Bu. No. 157307
McDonnell Douglas built this aircraft as an F-4J. The U.S. Navy on December 18, 1970. On June 21, 1972 this F-4, piloted by Commander S.C. Flynn, with Lieutenant W.H. John as the RIO engaged three North Vietnamese Air Force fighters. The crew shot down a MiG-21 with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.* This aircraft continued to fly missions over North Vietnam until the truce. In 1983 this aircraft underwent an upgrade from an F-4J to an F-4S. When its conversion was completed it was reassigned to the U.S. Marine Corps. This aircraft ended its career on November 28, 1988 and it was given to the National Air and Space Museum. It flew 5,075 hours during its career. This aircraft is on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport.
* National Air and Space Museum web site- McDonnell F-4A Phantom II - http://airandspace.si.edu/collections/artifact.cfm?object=nasm_A19890038000
F-4 Aviation Records
The record set by Sageburner II was one of 14 aviation records set by F-4 Phantom II aircraft. A Phantom II set its first record on December 6, 1959. It flew to an altitude of 98,556 feet (30,040 meters). On April 4, 1962 an F-4 unofficially reached 100,000 feet. During that flight it set a time to height record of 371.43 seconds to 30,000 meters (98,425 feet).*
* The Aviation History Online Museum -
F-4 Combat Record
The F-4 Phantom II first saw combat in the Vietnam conflict. The F-4 served in numerous roles in that conflict. The U.S. lost 528 Phantoms in Vietnam, 454 in combat. Enemy rocket attacks destroyed 9 F-4s on the ground. The USAF credited 107.5 of its 137 air victories over Vietnam to F-4s. The US Navy credited its Phantoms with 39 air victories.
The Israeli Air Force acquired F-4s soon after the Six Day War. The Israeli F-4s scored their first 3 air-air victories during the War of Attrition. During the Yom Kippur War the Israeli Air Force lost 33 F-4 Phantoms, almost all to ground fire. Israeli F-4s shot down 94 enemy aircratt during this conflict. The last Israeli F-4 air-air victory occurred in 1982 over Lebanon. Israeli F-4 Phantom IIs shot down 123 aircraft.1
Iranian F-4s saw much combat during the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s. During that conflict Iranian F-4s shot down over 60 Iraqi aircraft. Iraqi aircraft shot down 34 Phantom IIs. Iranian F-4s sank over a dozen vessels during this conflict. In 1984 Saudi Arabian F-15s shot down two Iranian F-4s over the Persian Gulf.
During Operation Desert Storm F-4Gs flew Wild Weasel missions where they destroyed over 200 Iraqi Surface to Air missile sites.2 USAF RF-4s also flew reconnaissance missions. The U.S. lost a single Phantom II, an F-4G, in the conflict.3
1 Fighters Over Israel, by Lon Nordeen © 1990.
2 Defense Media Network, http://www.defensemedianetwork.com
3 Airpower In the Gulf, James P. Coyne, © The Air Force Association Book, Page 104.
An RAF F-4 accidentally shot down an RAF Jaguar on May 25, 1982.1 On September 22, 1987 an F-14, piloted by Lieutenant (j.g.) Timothy W. Dorsey with Radar Intercept Officer Lieutenant Commander Edmund Holland, shot down a USAF RF-4 with a Sidewinder missile. The RF-4 crew, Captain Mike Ross (Pilot) and 1st Lieutenant Randy Sprouse, ejected and were rescued.2 Captain Ross and Lieutenant Sprouse both sustained injuries.3
During an attempted coup in The Philippines in 1989 the USAF sent up F-4s to stop rebel T-28Ds which were attacking loyalist positions.
On June 23, 2012 Syrian forces shot down a Turkish Air Force RF-4E over the Mediterranean. Iranian F-4s have struck Islamic State targets in Iraq in 2014.4
1 Modern Fighter Combat, by Mike Spick, © 1987, page 61. The Aviation Forum, http://forum.keypublishing.com/showthread.php?60022-25-May-82-Phantom-shot-down-Jaguar-with-AIM9
2 Chicago Tribune, Downing of U.S. Jet Exposes War Games’ Dangers, by Mark Thompson, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1988-04-18/news/8803090693_1_uss-saratoga-rf-4c-phantom-pilot
3The Virginia-Pilot, Navy reserve captain's promotion dies in Senate, by Bill Bartel, © The Virginia Pilot, January 11, 2013.
4 BBC, Iran jets bomb Islamic State targets in Iraq – Pentagon, December 3, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30304723
F-4 and its rivals
Max Speed (low)
Max Speed (high)
Range (no weapons)
683 miles (1,100km)
913 miles (1,400 km) with 2 external drop tanks
6xSparrow AAM or 4Sparrow & 4 Sidewinders
2x30mm cannons & 2xK-13 AAM
2x30mm cannons 3xAAM
© 2015 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on August 15, 2018:
Peggy Woods - Yes, in the U.S. conflicts since Vietnam the casualties were much lighter. Part of the reason for that is probably lessons learned from Vietnam.
Mykola - Thank you for the suggestion. I will a capsule giving some stats on the F-4 and its rivals. The chief rival in Vietnam, and in the Middle East for that matter, was the MiG-21 & MiG-17. There are F-105 and F-8 fans.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 15, 2018:
We knew that it was a bloody war but reading statistics like this (after the fact) is astonishing. The costs in terms of lives lost and those who were injured were immense, not to mention the costs in terms of dollars spent on all of that war machinery. Many soldiers from that war bore scars (some physical, some mental) as long as they lived.
Robert Sacchi (author) on August 13, 2018:
Yes, the U.S. lost a lot of aircraft in Vietnam. The U.S. military officially lost about 10,000 aircraft in the Vietnam War. We learned some hard lessons from Vietnam.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 13, 2018:
Those height and speed records are amazing.
"The U.S. lost 528 Phantoms in Vietnam, 454 in combat." That war was certainly a bloody one for both sides. Reading how many of those aircraft were lost puts some of that in perspective. That does not even account for other types of aircraft...helicopters and the like...that would have suffered losses.