The F-4J was the final version of the Phantom to be placed in production for the US Navy and US Marine Corps. It was designed as the follow-on to the original Navy F-4B, correcting some of the deficiencies which had become apparent in service.
There were three YF-4Js, all of them converted from existing F-4B airframes (BuNos 151473, 151496, and 151497). The first YF-4J flew on June 4, 1965. The first production F-4J flew on May 27, 1966.
A total of 522 F-4Js were built for the Navy and Marine Corps between December of 1966 and January of 1972. The F-4J was powered by a pair of J79-GE-10 engines, rated at an afterburning thrust of 17,900 pounds each. These engines were externally distinguishable by their longer afterburner "turkey feathers". Because of the increased weight and the more demanding sink rate requirements, the F-4J was fitted with a beefed-up landing gear with larger mainwheels. In order to accommodate these larger mainwheels, the upper and lower surfaces of the inner wing had to be bulged outward like those on the USAF F-4C. An additional fuel cell was fitted in the rear fuselage to bring internal fuel capacity to 1998 gallons. However, the number 1 fuel cell was slightly reduced in size to accommodate the computer and other electronics.
Even though the Navy wanted better takeoff and landing performance for the Phantom, it nevertheless felt that speed, climb, and range requirements ruled out the use of the high-drag slatted wing that was used by the Air Force on the F-4E. In the pursuit of better takeoff and landing performance, McDonnell decided instead to add a slot to the stabilator leading edge, effectively turning it into a miniature inverted slatted wing. This slotted stabilator provided a tremendous downward force at low speeds, which allowed a large leading edge down deflection without stalling. The effectiveness of the slotted stabilator was markedly improved by locking the inboard leading flap in the up position.
The F-4J introduced 16.5-degree drooped ailerons, which is a fancy way of saying that with gear and flaps down, a downward deflection of 16.5 degrees became the "neutral" aileron deflection.
As a result of all these aerodynamic innovations, the approach speed was reduced from 157 mph to 144mph.
The F-4J was equipped with the AN/AJB-7 bombing system which provided substantially better ground attack capability over that of the F-4B. It had the capability for all-altitude release of nuclear weapons at various angles on a timed basis from the target or offset. In addition, it had the capability of working with the Bullpup air-to-surface missile. The F-4J was also equipped with the AN/AWG-10 fire control system housed in an enlarged radome. This set used an AN/APG-59 pulse-Doppler radar in place of the earlier APQ-72. This new radar was designed to detect and track low-lying aircraft and to distinguish them from sea/ground returns. The F-4J was fitted with the AN/ASW-25 one-way datalink which made automatic carrier landings possible. The infrared search and tracking pod underneath the nose of the F-4B was finally removed.
Other improvements were added during the course of production. From 1969, Sidewinder Expanded Acquisition Mode (SEAM) was provided. This involved new wiring and the fitting of other items designed to make full use of upgraded Sidewinder missiles. The Visual Target Acquisition System (VTAS) helmet sight was fitted to Blocks 45 and 46 F-4Js, and was later retrofitted to most earlier aircraft. Also retrofitted was the Sanders AN/ALQ-126 electronics countermeasures set with prominent slender fore and aft canoe-shaped fairing antennae mounted on the upper intakes. A hemispheric dielectric antenna was mounted at the leading edge of the canoe. Two more antennae were added below the engine intakes. AN AN/AYK-14 dogfight computer was added, and AN/APX-76 or -89 IFF equipment was also provided. An AN/APR-32 radar warning set was fitted, with antennae mounted in the fin-cap trailing edge and in a box underneath the nose. Reduced smoke J79-GE-10B engines were also retrofitted.
The first F-4J deliveries began on October 1, 1966. VF-101 began re-equipping with the type in December of that year. They rapidly began to replace the earlier F-4B in most operational Navy squadrons.
The F-4J served with the following Navy squadrons:
VF-11, VF-31, VF-32, VF-33, VF-41, VF-74, VF-84, VF-101, VF-102, VF-103.
VF-21, VF-92, VF-96, VF-114, VF-121, VF-142, VF-143, VF-151, VF-154, VF-161, VF-191, VF-194, VF-213.
The first Marine Corps unit to receive the F-4J was VMFA-334, which began to receive the type in June of 1967. VMFA-334 was deployed to Chu Lai, RVN and VMFA-232 quickly followed in the beginning of 1969. in fact VMFA-334 was part of Pres. Nixon's first pullout of 25,000 troops on August 24, 1969. The following Marine Corps units operated the F-4J:
VMFA-112, VMFA-115, VMFA-122, VMFA-212, VMFA-232, VMFA-235, VMFA-312, VMFA-333, VMFA-334, VMFA-451, VMMAT-201, and VMFAT-101.
F-4Js were used extensively in Vietnam during the later stages of Operation Rolling Thunder, which lasted from March 2, 1965 until October 31, 1968. They returned to Vietnam to participate in Operation Linebacker in 1972. On September 11, 1972, Major Thomas Lasseter and Captain John D. Commings flying F-4J BuNo 155526 of VFMA-333 from the USS America (CV-66) shot down a MiG-21 over North Vietnam, scoring the only Marine air-to-air kill in the Southeast Asia conflict. The F-4J was the last US aircraft in operation in Southeast Asia, with Marine F-4Js of VMFA-232 finally leaving the base at Nam Phong in Thailand in August of 1973.
Seven modified F-4Js were assigned to the Blue Angels flight demonstration team in January 1969. This famous team operated the Phantom until the end of the 1973 season, when the energy crisis caused by the Arab oil embargo forced a switch to more fuel-efficient Douglas A-4 Skyhawks.
A few F-4Js were modified for use by VAQ-33 in the "electronic aggressor" role with electronic countermeasures pods and jammers carried underneath their wings. When so modified, they were redesignated EF-4J.
In order to bring British home-based defense back to strength after the transfer of the Phantom FGR Mk.2s (F-4Ms) of No. 23 Squadron to RAF Stanley to provide air defense for the Falklands, the RAF obtained 15 low-time Navy F-4Js. The serials of these planes were BuNos 153768, 152773, 153783, 153785, 153795, 153803, 153850, 153809, 155510, 155529, 155574, 155734, 155755, 155868, and 155894. Most of the jets came from the boneyards at Davis Monthan or from Navy storage. These planes were overhauled and modified at NARF North Island before delivery to the RAF. A number of US Navy systems, such as the AN/ASN-54 Approach Power Compensator System, the AN/ASW-25 datalink system, and the AN/ALQ-126 countermeasures set, were removed and replaced by British systems. The re-work was essentially to F-4S specifications, less slats but with some British equipment. When delivered to the RAF, these ex-USN F-4Js were designated F-4J(UK) and were assigned the RAF serials ZE350/ZE364. An F-9xx number (where xx ranged from 00 to 14) which represented the re-work production number used at NARF North Island was painted onto the forward nose gear door. The jets arrived in small groups of three and four aircraft at Wattisham starting in August 1984. All served with No. 74(F) Squadron at Wattisham in Suffolk. One jet ZE358/155510 was lost in RAF service when it flew into a hillside in Wales during a low level training flight on 26 August 1986. Both the crewmembers were killed in the wreck. All remaining aircraft were withdrawn from use during 1990. Only 155529 is preserved in a museum at this time. Several airframes do still exist but are mostly derelict.
The F-4Js began to leave Navy service in the mid-1970s, when the Grumman F-14 Tomcat became available. Many F-4Js were replaced by F-4Ns, which were upgraded F-4Bs. Most surviving F-4Js were placed in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB as they were retired from service. However, approximately 250 surviving F-4Js were upgraded into F-4S configuration and then returned to service. The F-4S will be described in a later post. By the early 1980s, most Navy F-4Js had either been upgraded to F-4S status or else had been placed in storage. The last unit to operate the un-upgraded F-4J, VF-74, finally exchanged its F-4Js for F-4Ss in 1982.
The F-4J began to leave Marine Corps service in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of the surviving Marine Corps F-4Js were upgraded to F-4S status and were returned to service, where they soldiered on into the late 1980s and even the early 1990s.
153071/153075 McDonnell F-4J-26-MC Phantom 153076/153088 McDonnell F-4J-27-MC Phantom 153768/153779 McDonnell F-4J-28-MC Phantom 153780/153799 McDonnell F-4J-29-MC Phantom 153800/153839 McDonnell F-4J-30-MC Phantom 153840/153876 McDonnell F-4J-31-MC Phantom 153877/153911 McDonnell F-4J-32-MC Phantom 154781/154785 McDonnell F-4J-32-MC Phantom 154786/154788 McDonnell F-4J-33-MC Phantom 155504/155569 McDonnell F-4J-33-MC Phantom 155570/155580 McDonnell F-4J-34-MC Phantom 155731/155784 McDonnell F-4J-34-MC Phantom 155785/155843 McDonnell F-4J-35-MC Phantom 155844/155866 McDonnell F-4J-36-MC Phantom 155867/155874 McDonnell F-4J-37-MC Phantom 155875/155889 McDonnell F-4J-38-MC Phantom 155890/155902 McDonnell F-4J-39-MC Phantom 155903 McDonnell F-4J-42-MC Phantom 157242/157260 McDonnell F-4J-40-MC Phantom 157261/157273 McDonnell F-4J-41-MC Phantom 157274/157285 McDonnell F-4J-42-MC Phantom 157286/157297 McDonnell F-4J-43-MC Phantom 157298/157309 McDonnell F-4J-44-MC Phantom 158346/158354 McDonnell F-4J-45-MC Phantom 158355/158365 McDonnell F-4J-46-MC Phantom 158366/158379 McDonnell F-4J-47-MC Phantom
Engines: Two General Electric J79-GE-8B/8C/10 turbojets, 11,870 lb.s.t dry, 17,900 lb.s.t. with afterburner. Performance: Maximum speed 1584 mph at 48,000 feet (Mach 2.4), 875 mph at sea level (Mach 1.15). Inital climb rate 41,250 feet per minute. Service ceiling 70,000 feet. Combat ceiling 54,700 feet. Combat range 596 miles, maximum range 1956 miles with maximum external fuel. Weights: 30,770 pounds empty, 46,833 pounds gross, 41,399 pounds combat weight, pounds maximum takeoff weight. Dimensions: Wingspan 38 feet 5 inches, wing area 530 square feet, length 58 feet 3 3/4 inches, height 16 feet 3 inches. Fuel: Maximum internal fuel in the fuselage tanks was 1347 US gallons. An additional 630 gallons of fuel could be carried in internal tanks inside the wings. Maximum external fuel load was 600 US gallons in a centerline tank that could be carried underneath the fuselage plus 370 US gallons in each of two tanks that could be carried underneath the outer underwing pylons, bringing total fuel load to 3317 US gallons. Armament: Armament consisted of four AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing air-to-air missiles in semi-recessed slots in the fuselage belly and two to four AIM-9 Sidewinder infra-red homing air-to-air missiles carried under the wings on the inboard pylons. A total offensive load of up to 16,000 pounds could be carried on the centerline and four underwing hardpoints.