Kit No. CT2:900
Decals: Two versions, both U.S. Air Force
Comments: Older kit, basic cockpit, raised panel lines, single piece canopy, includes belly and underwing drop tanks, armed with Sparrow missiles only
***This review is dedicated to Al Supercyzinski***
The McDonnell (and after 1967, McDonnell-Douglas) F-4 Phantom II was perhaps the most famous, certainly the most recognized, jet fighter in the world in the latter half of the 20th Century. It took its maiden flight on May 27, 1958, and from the outset, the F-4 was a thoroughbred. Early flight tests exceeded expectations as it reached Mach 1.01; acceleration and climb-rate figures also surpassed their goals. With its two General Electric J-79 turbojets, the F-4’s amazing performance set world records for altitude (98,537 ft. on December 6, 1958) and speed (1,606.03 mph, or Mach 2.6, on November 22, 1961). Between September 1960 and April 1962, the Phantom broke an additional 13 world records.
This ground-breaking fighter It was the result of a years-long development project begun after McDonnell lost out on a contract for a Navy carrier fighter to Chance Vought in 1953. The sting of losing to what later became the F-8 Crusader drove McDonnell to begin a series of design studies tailored to meet future needs. It began with a survey of the U.S. Navy hierarchy — the Chief of Naval Operations, the Bureau of Aeronautics, an office called Head of the Fighter Branch, the Overhaul and Repair units, and any Navy personnel willing to listen and fill out a questionnaire. The end result was the Navy’s December 17, 1958 announcement that the F4H-1, as the initial prototype was designated, had been selected as its first all-weather fighter. Poetic justice was dispensed in that the Phantom II beat out several contenders, including an advanced version of the Crusader, the F8U-3. The Phantom II was the first aircraft to make extensive use of titanium (in its keel, aft fuselage skin, engine shrouds, and part of the internal fuselage structure). It was also the first aircraft able to independently detect, intercept and destroy any target that came within radar range – other fighters of the day still needed help from surface radar units.
The Navy, in conjunction with McDonnell, embarked on a rigorous flight test program over the next three years. The first operational Phantoms, designated F-4B, entered service with the Navy and Marine Corps on March 25, 1961 – even before the completion of the test program in November. The Air Force followed suit in 1963. Over the next 25 years, a total of 17 different variants among 5,200 aircraft followed, including the gun-equipped F-4E and the Wild Weasel series. Phantoms flew for 11 nations: Australia, Greece, Iran, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Spain, West Germany, Great Britain, Turkey, and the United States.
During its service life the Phantom saw combat in the Middle East and more extensively in Southeast Asia. It was so versatile that it quickly became a multi-role fighter, serving in Vietnam as air defense, air superiority, and escort fighters as well as fighter-bombers in battlefield and deep interdiction missions. They later performed flak suppression in the Wild Weasel role. Phantoms first saw action on August 6, 1964, when five F4-B’s of VF-142 and VF-143 off the U.S.S. Constellation made a retaliatory strike on North Vietnamese patrol boat bases following the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The first air-to-air kills occurred on June 17, 1965 when F-4B’s of VF-21 shot down two North Vietnamese MiG-17’s with Sparrow missiles.
Dependence on Missiles
Like many jet fighters designed during the mid- to late-1950’s, the Phantom fell prey to the Pentagon doctrine that guns were obsolete and that air combat manuever, or “dogfighting” was a dead art, made so by the advent of sophisticated new air-to-air missiles. There was no need for a fighter to have guns if it could make a kill at the long ranges at which missiles were effective. But over time, painful experience in Southeast Asia forced a change in this thinking.
Phantoms contended with MiG-17’s, MiG-19’s, and MiG-21’s in Vietnam, all single-seat, gun-equipped fighters carrying AA-2 Atoll missiles similar to the heat-seeking AIM-9 Sidewinder. All the MiGs were slower than the Phantom except for later models of the MiG-21, all were highly maneuverable, all could out-turn the F-4. This gave the MiGs a decided advantage in dogfights, offset by the Phantom’s ability to outrun and outclimb them. Missiles allowed F-4 pilots to destroy enemy planes from (theoretically) beyond visual range, but they had certain weaknesses. They needed to fly a certain distance before they could arm themselves; electronic countermeasures, violent evasive action, and even weather conditions could hinder their performance. F-4 pilots sometimes found themselves in the uncomfortable situation of being too close to the MiGs to use their missiles, or having fired them without effect, only to find themselves well within the MiG’s effective gun range.
Also, there were problems with the dependability of the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) radar with which they were used, and with their reliability (more of an issue with the radar-guided Sparrow than the heat-seeking Sidewinder), which sometimes led to firing them in pairs to increase chances of a hit. Adopting hit-and-run tactics to emphasize the Phantom’s strengths, rather than “fighting the MiG’s fight,” Phantom pilots accounted for 42 MiGs destroyed in Vietnam, contributing their fair share of the impressive kill ratio of 10-to-1 in favor of the Americans. Phantom pilots remained dependent on missiles until their planes were field-modified with external 20mm gun pods carried under the belly in place of the 600-gallon drop tank. The gun pods provided urgently needed firepower, but they increased drag, hampering the Phantom’s ability to manuever, and were not accurate, having a tendency to spray ammo all over the sky. A more permanent solution in the form of an internal gun was needed.
F-4E: Overdue Gunfighter
McDonnell engineers had proposed various internal gun configurations for the Phantom as early as 1961, but all were rejected by the Department of Defense. With new information coming in from pilots in Southeast Asia, they went to work again, and the prototype YF-4E took its maiden flight on August 7, 1965. The first production F-4E did not go aloft until June 30, 1967, in part due to teething problems the new Phantom had with its 20mm gun. Initially the F-4E was developed not to facilitate close-in dogfighting with the addition of a gun, but rather to incorporate a new radar, the Westinghouse APQ-120, into the airframe. The APQ-120 radar offered improved detection of low flying aircraft and moving ground targets, the latter providing enhanced accuracy on bombing runs, and was generally more versatile, facilitating interceptions with either missiles or a gun as the primary offensive weapon. The APQ-120 also featured a new heads up display (HUD), which projected tactical information (speed, altitude, range to target, etc.) directly onto the gunsight glass. With this breakthrough in air combat effectiveness and the addition of the General Electric M61A1 six-barrel 20mm cannon in a longer nose, the F-4E as we know it was born. The F-4E also differed from its predecessors in having dual flight controls, so that either pilot could fly the aircraft if necessary.
However, it was not until the fall of 1967 that the F-4E was first delivered to Air Force Tactical Air Command units, and it took another year for it to appear in Southeast Asia, entering service with U.S. Air Force units in Thailand in November 1968. The first F-4E unit to see combat in the Vietnam War was the 40th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base; its first mission was interdiction, bombing targets in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The F-4E accounted for 23 MiGs destroyed by war’s end, seven of them falling to the 20mm gun.
Ultimately the biggest hindrance to Phantom drivers in Vietnam may have been the political constraints of the war, complicating their lives in the form of “Rules of Engagement.” Air-to-air kills were OK, for example, but enemy planes could not be hit if parked on the ground. One Phantom pilot, Air Force Captain Bill Jenkins, commented, “The Rules of Engagement were such that I sometimes felt I needed a lawyer in the back seat instead of a WSO!”.
The last Phantom manufactured was an F-4E that rolled off the McDonnell-Douglas assembly line in October 1979. The F-4 was retired from front-line U.S. military units between 1992-1995, but contined to be flown by Air National Guard units until the last one decommissioned the final F-4E unit in 1997. Various service branches thereafter used modified F-4 as target drones until about 2004. As of late 2009, Phantoms remained in service with foreign nations including Germany, Greece, Iran, Japan and South Korea.
Wingspan: 38 ft., 4 7/8 in.
Height: 16 ft., 5 ½ in.
Length: 62 ft., 11 ¾ in.
Powerplant: 2 General Electric J-79 Turbojets of 17,900 lbs. thrust, with afterburners
Service Ceiling: 70,000 feet
Rate of Climb: 28,000 ft. per minute
Range: 900 miles with combat load; 2,300 miles with external fuel tanks
Maximum Speed: Mach 2.4 (1,584 mph at 48,000 feet)
Armament: 20mm Vulcan cannon, variety of underwing stores
This version of Hasegawa’s F-4E is notable in that it does not carry the tradtional weapons load for a Phantom in its interceptor role, as it includes AIM-7 Sparrow missiles only, lacking the usual AIM-9 Sidewinders. In their place are two LAU-3 rocket pods. Each LAU-3 carried 19 2.75 inch folding fin aerial rockets (FFAR) for use against ground targets. The kit also includes an option for a Northrop ASX-1 TISEO unit on the port wing. The TISEO (Target Identification System, Electro-Optical) was a telescopic television camera that aided in target acquisition and identification up to a distance of 12 miles. The TISEO could be linked to the APQ-120 radar. While it may lack some detail, the kit accurately captures the lines of an F-4E. For a full preview of the kit, click here.
You start with the cockpit which is very basic, offering rudimentary seats, no control sticks, raised detail on both the side instrument panels (there is no internal sidewall detail) and the main instrument panels. There is one glaring omission: the instruction sheet does not reference the main instrument panels at all — it’s as if they don’t exist. The instruction sheet should be read through carefully from beginning to end, since for some reason it also references AIM-4 Falcon missiles that are not included in the kit. Hasegawa offers multiple F-4E kits, but this one deviates from many Phantom kits on the market in that it provides only four AIM-7 Sparrow missiles, rather than a full complement of Sparrows and Sidewinders.
I decided to revamp the cockpit using Verlinden’s 1/72 Martin-Baker Mk.7 ejection seats, and Eduard’s photo-etch zoom set for Hasegawa’s F-4E. Verlinden’s resin seats are excellent, lacking only the overhead ejection pull handles, but these were included in the Eduard set, fitting perfectly right off the sprue and requiring only a little touch-up paint. However, the seats are a bit bulky and most importantly, sit too high in the cockpit to fit comfortably beneath the one-piece canopy without considerable sanding of the lower portion of both seats, about 0.2mm. As for Eduard’s PE set, it is simply too large to fit into the F-4E’s cockpit. Even with extensive cutting and sanding, the panels are just too big, so the revamping ended with the seats. Eduard either manufactured the PE set with another Hasegawa F-4E in mind, or made it with no thought to the actual internal dimensions of the kit. Modelers should save their $20.00 for this set, unless they are thinking of another Hasegawa F-4E. The copyright date on this kit is 1992, but it appears to be an older mold harking back to the Hasegawa black box series of the late 1970’s. There are two pilot figures, but I did not include them in my work as I did not want to obscure the seat detail — what little would be visible through the canopy.
After painting the seats and cockpit tub, the fuselage and wings are assembled and the kit begins to take shape rapidly. Next come the large intakes, and the starboard intake did not align well to the fuselage, having a noticeable step at the join seam even after an initial application of putty. The fuselage of the actual Phantom was area-ruled, meaning that it was slightly pinched just aft of the intakes. This wasp-waist effect retarded shock wave build-up along the fuselage, particularly as the F-4 approached the speed of sound. While the wasp-waist effect is accurately captured by the kit, the fact that the starboard intake did not align properly meant even more putty and sanding were required on that side, and upon close examination the fuselage is slightly more pinched on that side.
The biggest challenge was the Southeast Asian camouflage scheme of Dark Tan, Dark Green and Green, and the fact that the white undersides of the U.S. Air Force F-4E’s is identified as Federal Standard 36622, a supposed light grey color that in reality is far too dark. The camouflage scheme is relatively elaborate and I managed to duplicate it with patience and consistently low pressure (10-15 p.s.i.) on my airbrush. After a lot of research, I chose a flat off-white color for the under surfaces. The F-4E is painted entirely in acrylics, Model Master Flat Dark Tan and Tamiya Dark Green and Green, respectively. The off-white underside is a Polly Scale acrylic. The engine exhausts and the metallic area nearby are painted Model Master Titanium, one of their Buffing Metallizer colors — in an effort to recreate the actual titanium reserved for these components of the aircraft.
Decals are provided for two U.S. Air Force aircraft: One is the commander’s aircraft for the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing at Spandahlem, West Germany (no date); the second is for the commander’s aircraft for the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina (also no date).
With the exception of the formation lights, I did not use the kit decals, opting instead for Eagle Strike’s decals for the F-4E (set #EP72084), depicting “Spunky VI” and “Easy Rockin’ Mama” based out of Korat AFB in Thailand, the first base to deploy the F-4E in Southeast Asia. I did not depict either aircraft, using only the general unit and national insignia markings.
This is an above average but not a great kit of the F-4E. Its shape is generally accurate, it offers an interesting variation on armament, and there are no major construction difficulties if you build the kit right out of the box. However, it is significantly lacking in cockpit detail, and would be helped by an option for open or closed cockpits and a little more variety of underwing stores.
- The Aviation History Online Museum, www.aviation-history.com
- McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Gun Nosed Phantoms, by Kris Hughes and Walter Dranem, Warbird Tech Series Volume 8; Specialty Press, North Branch, Minnesota, 1997.
- Modern Fighting Aircraft Volume 4: F-4 Phantom II, by Doug Richardson and Mike Spick; Arco Publishing, New York, 1984.