The F-4F (Model 98NQ) was a version of the USAF F-4E built explicitly for the West German Luftwaffe. After having considered the Dassault Mirage F.1, the Lockheed CL-1200 Lancer, and even a single-seat fighter version of the Phantom under the designation F-4E(F), the Luftwaffe opted for 175 two-seat F-4Fs.
Back in 1960, McDonnell had entered a single-seat version of the Phantom in the IFX fighter contest. The US government promised that the winning design would be exported in substantial numbers to America's overseas allies. This contest was won by the Northrop F-5E, and the concept of a single-seat Phantom was quietly abandoned. It was briefly revived in 1971 when the West German government ordered such an aircraft under the designation F-4E(F). The F-4E(F) was to dispense with Sparrow capability and was to have a simplified electronics suite. However, before the F-4E(F) could enter production, the West German government changed its mind and decided instead to purchase a more straightforward two-seat cost-reduced adaptation of the F-4E. The designation F-4F was assigned to the project.
175 examples of the F-4F were ordered by the West German government. The F-4F emerged as a lighter and simpler F-4E which was significantly cheaper and incorporated major components that were manufactured in Germany. The number 7 fuselage fuel tank was removed and all Sparrow equipment was eliminated. The AN/APQ-120 radar was simplified, with no beacon search or constant wave illuminator being provided for Sparrow or Falcon missile launches. Although no inflight refuelling receptacle was initially fitted, the internal plumbing needed for midair refuelling was installed at the factory. An unslotted tailplane was used as an economy and weight-saving measure. The F-4F as originally designed lacked the capability of carrying nuclear weapons and it could not carry or launch certain air-to-ground missiles such as the Maverick, Shrike, or Walleye. The design that finally emerged was 3300 pounds lighter than the stock F-4E.
The first F-4F took off on its maiden flight on May 18, 1973. The 175 F-4Fs were assigned the Luftwaffe serials 3701/3875 (and for contract management purposes were also given the USAF serials 72-1111/1285). Major components were manufactured in Germany by MBB and by VFW-Fokker. The J79-MTU-17A engines were built under license from General Electric by Motoren-und-Turbinenen-Union Munchen GmBH.
Deliveries of the F-4F to the Luftwaffe began on September 5, 1973, and ended with the delivery of 3875 in April of 1976. They equipped two interceptor wings (JG-71 'Richthofen' and JG-74 'Molders') and two ground attack wings JBG-35 and JBG-36. JBG-35 was a dual-role fighter-bomber wing, which has previoulsy operated Fiat G-91s. The other wings had previously operated the F-104G Starfighter. JBG-35 was renamed JG-73 in 1994 and is now a fighter wing.
Twelve F-4Fs were assigned the unofficial designation of TF-4F while they were being used to train Luftwaffe crews in the United States. These aircraft were later flown to Germany and restored to full F-4F operational configuration.
Between November 1980 and late 1983, Luftwaffe F-4Fs were retrofitted with inflight refuelling receptacles and were upgraded with the capability of firing the Sparrow missile as well as the ability to handle the AGM-65 Maverick and the new AIM-9L Sidewinder. They were provided with a digital weapons computer and improved electronic countermeasures equipment, cockpit displays, and all-weather systems.
A further upgrade resulted in the F-4F ICE (Improved Combat Efficiency), which will be described in the next article.
72-1111/1119 McDonnell F-4F-52-MC Phantom (for Luftwaffe, 3701-3709) 72-1120/1134 McDonnell F-4F-53-MC Phantom (for Luftwaffe, 3710-3724) 72-1135/1158 McDonnell F-4F-54-MC Phantom (for Luftwaffe, 3725-3748) 72-1159/1182 McDonnell F-4F-55-MC Phantom (for Luftwaffe, 3749-3772) 37+56 w/o Sept 13, 1995 in southwest Germany 72-1183/1206 McDonnell F-4F-56-MC Phantom (for Luftwaffe, 3773-3796) 72-1207/1230 McDonnell F-4F-57-MC Phantom (for Luftwaffe, 3797-3820) 72-1231/1254 McDonnell F-4F-58-MC Phantom (for Luftwaffe, 3821-3844) 72-1255/1285 McDonnell F-4F-59-MC Phantom (for Luftwaffe, 3845-3875)