McDonnell RF-4 Phantom

USMC RF-4B In the initial specifications submitted to the US Navy for the new fleet defence fighter, McDonnell included a photographic reconnaissance version of the basic design. However, the USN expressed little interest in this option, preferring to stick with the F8U-1P, a reconnaissance version of the Crusader. Eventually the US Marine Corps ordered an initial batch of nine – an order that would eventually grow to 46.

The RF-4B was unarmed and in the redesigned nose carried a small Texas Instruments AN/APQ-99 J-band monopulse radar optimised for terrain avoidance and three camera bay stations. Station 1 carried a single forward oblique or vertical KS-87 camera, Station 2 a single KA-87 low-altitude camera and Station 3 a single KA-55A or KA-91 high-altitude camera. The much larger KS-91 or KS-127A camera could also be carried. Unlike the RF-4C, cameras in the RF-4B were fitted on rotating mounts and could be aimed by the pilots at targets alongside the aircraft’s flight path. An AN/APQ-102 SLAR was fitted into the lower fuselage with an AN/AAD-4 infrared reconnaissance system immediately behind. An APR-25/27 warning system, an ASW-25B datalink and an ALQ-126 ECM package were also installed. Film from the cameras could be developed in flight and film cassettes ejected at low altitude to ground commanders. During the conflict in SE Asia 3 RF-4B’s were lost to ground fire and one was destroyed in an accident. In 1975 the USMC RF-4B’s were upgraded with an improved datalink, SLAR and infrared reconnaissance sytems togther with more powerful and efficient engines. In 1990 the surviving USMC RF-4Bs were retired from active service.

RF-4C After the USAF had begun to operate and appreciate the performance and capability of the F-4 Phantom, they realised that this aircraft would make an ideal basis for a reconnaissance aircraft to supplement and eventually replace the RF-101 Voodoo. The RF-4C development programme began in 1962 with the first aircraft flying some 2 years later. Like the RF-4B with RF-4C was equipped with three camera stations in the nose section. The forward station carried a single forward oblique KS-87 camera. The second station normally carried a KS-56 low altitude camera, but this could also house either a trio of vertical, left and right oblique KS-87 cameras or a left / right oblique KS-87 camera or a vertical KA-1 camera instead of the KS-87 or even a KS-72 replacing a KS-87 in the 30-degree oblique. The final ‘High Altitude’ camera station carried a single KA-55A or KA-91 in a stabilised mount. The third station could also house an AN/AVD-2 laser reconnaissance set, but this was later withdrawn from service.

Like the RF-4B the AN/APQ-72 radar was replaced by the Texas Instruments AN/APQ-99 J-band monopulse radar suitable for both terrain avoidance and terrain following as well as having a ground mapping capability. This radar was later replaced by the Texas Instruments AN/APQ-172 radar. Either the AN/AAD-5 or AN/AAS-18 infrared detection system was installed just behind the nose wheel bay. An AN/APQ-102 SLAR was also fitted just behind the reconnaissance bay. In some aircraft this system was replaced by the AN/APD-10 which included a datalink making it possible to send radar images to ground stations in real time. A variety of ECM systems were installed including the ALR-17, 31, 46, 50 or 126, the AN/ALR-46A RWR. The Westinghouse AN/AQL-115(V)-15 or Raytheon AN/AQL-184(V)1 ECM pod was often carried on the inboard pylon.

In 1974-76 under a project called ‘Peace Jack’, a number of RF-4Cs were retrofitted to carry a GD HIAC-1 LOROP 66 inch focal length, long-range, oblique photographic, high-acuity camera, built originally for the RB-57F, in an extended nose. The RF-4C carried this camera system housed inside a large G-139 pod on the centerline station.. Several RF-4C equipped with the LOROP camera flew reconnaissance missions along the North Korean and Eastern European borders. Twenty-four RF-4C’s were also fitted with the CAI KS-127A or KS-127F LOROP camera with a 66inch focal length.

The aircraft carried no offensive armament, although some later aircraft were fitted with AIM-9 Sidewinders for self-defence. As a secondary role some aircraft were equipped with the AJB-7 low altitude bombing system and were capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.

Two RF-4Cs were loaned to Israel between 1970-71. Twelve aircraft were transferred to Korea in 1989.

The RF-4C saw extensive service with the USAF throughout the conflict in South East Asia. Seven aircraft were lost to SAMs, sixty-five to AAA or small arms fire, four were destroyed on the ground and seven were lost in accidents. A total of 503 RF-4Cs were produced, of which 499 were for the USAF, the last being delivered in 1973. RF-4Cs served in Desert Storm where one was lost in an operational accident. The type was eventually withdrawn from service with the Nevada ANG in Sept 1995. Twelve aircraft were later transferred to the Spanish Air Force. Korea and Spain still operate this outstanding reconnaissance aircraft.

RF-4EJ The RF-4E was designed strictly for export and never served with the USAF. The aircraft combined the reconnaissance systems of the RF-4C with the latest J79-GE-17 engines and much of the airframe of the unslatted F-4E. The West Germany Luftwaffe was the biggest customer for this aircraft ordering a total of 88 the first aircraft entered service in Jan 1971. Under the ‘Peace Trout’ programme one Luftwaffe RF-4E was fitted with a special ELINT system based on the APR-39. In 1978 the Luftwaffe RF-5E’s were fitted with hard points and an MBB weapons delivery system allowing them to deliver six cluster bombs or up to 5000lbs of ordnance. The Luftwaffe RF-4E’s were eventually replaced in 1993/4 by the Tornado. Several Luftwaffe aircraft were eventually sold to Greece. RF-4Es were also sold to Israel where a total of 12 were delivered between 1971-6, these aircraft have been repeatedly upgraded and are now equipped with home-built systems and can carry a variety of air-to-air missiles. Iran brought 27 RF-4E aircraft from 1971 onwards, but with the fall of the Shah, the final 11 were cancelled few, if any, aircraft remain serviceable. Greece brought eight new RF-4Es and acquired a number of others from Germany at least 2 have been lost in accidents. Finally, Turkey brought eight RF-4Es, the first being delivered in 1978.
F-4M / FGR Mk2
F4 with recce pod The RAF purchased 118 F-4 Phantoms intend initially as a replacement for the Hawker Hunter and Canberra in the fighter, ground attack and reconnaissance roles. The US designation for these aircraft was F-4M, the RAF used FGR Mk2. Like the versions of the F-4 acquired for the Royal Navy, the F-4M was powered by a pair of re-heated Spey 202/203 turbofan engines. The tactical reconnaissance role was conducted by 2 Sqn based at Laarbruch in West Germany and 41 Sqn at Coningsby, Lincs. In this role the aircraft were fitted with a purpose built reconnaissance pod made by EMI which was housed on the centreline pylon. The pod contained a variety of cameras, infrared linescan and SLAR.