In the early 1960s the USAF's two main tactical reconnaissance types, the RB-66 Destroyer and the RF-84F Thunderstreak, were approaching obsolescence, although the Destroyer was in fact to soldier on for many years. Tactical Air Command had an urgent requirement for a new photo reconnaissance platform, and the F-4 offered huge advances in speed, range, avionics, navigation and sensor capabilities.

RF-4C 65-0890 192 TRS, 152 TRG, Nevada ANG. The aircraft has the original Square nose and the then standard USAF SEA(South East Asia) scheme.
© Unknown - Peter Greengrass Collection


This Profile would not have been possible to do without the photographic assistance of the many photographers who allowed us to use their slides. Therefore we would like to offer our thanks to:

Alec Fushi (Flightline Photography), Doug Slowiak (Vortex Photo Graphics), Craig Baldwin, Steve Hill (EMCS), Takafumi Hiroe(GONAVY), Phil Camp, Keith Snyder, Stuart Freer, Simon Watson and all 'unknown' photographers.

USAF & Navy various years (Mach III plus publication)   World Air Power Journal (various issues)
Tailcode (Schiffer Publishing)   F4 Phantom (World Air Power Journal)
Recon Phantoms C&M Vol.23 (Detail&Scale Publication)   ANG (World Air Power Journal)
McDonnell RF-4 Variant's (Aerofax)   USMIL (Aviation Associates)
US Air Force - New Century (Midland Publishing)   US Military Aviation - The Air Force (Midland Counties)
J.Baugher's Serial website (F-4 Production lists)   MIL-SPOTTERS Forum
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Although based on the initial Air Force fighter variant, the F-4C, the recon machine had a number of significant differences which reflected its unarmed, information gathering role. The main variation was the profile of the aircraft forward of the cockpit. The AN/APQ-72 fire control radar of the F-4C gave way to the smaller AN/APQ-99 mapping and terrain avoidance radar, which itself was replaced late in the aircraft's career by the more advanced AN/APQ-172.

The small size of the radome left significant space in the nose for the sensor installations. A KS-87 forward oblique or vertical camera was housed in station 1, immediately behind the radar. Behind that, in station 2, a variety of camera fits was available for low altitude photography, with KA-56, KS-72 or KS-87 cameras. Station 3, for high altitude photography routinely contained a KA-91 or KA-55A panoramic camera, although other fits, including a laser reconnaissance system, were available.

The distinctive nose profile of the RF-4C was conceived to accommodate these sensor stations and provide optically flat windows for the cameras, although there were in fact two variations - the original angular version, and a later incarnation with a smoother rounded camera bulge.

Further equipment unique to the reconnaissance variant was the AN/APQ102 Sideways Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) fitted below the front seat, and photoflash cartridge ejectors for night operations each side of the fuselage at the root of the tail-fin. The additional internal payload meant a reduced internal fuel capacity, but when equipped with 370-US gal fuel tanks on each wing the RF-4C, powered by two General Electric J79-GE-15 engines could perform recon missions deep into hostile territory, as was the case in Vietnam, and more recently in the Gulf conflict of 1991. The lack of heavy and drag inducing external weapons meant that the RF-4C was exceptionally fast in the low level environment.
In all 503 RF-4Cs were produced, entering service in 1964 with the 33rd TRTS at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, and serving with TAC, PACAF, USAFE and numerous ANG units until finally bowing out in 1995 after 31 distinguished years. A small number of ex-USAF RF-4Cs are still operated by the Spanish Air Force at Torrejon Air Base and the RoKAF at Suwon AB.

The RF-4B variant of the Phantom II for the United States Marine Corps, although preceding its USAF stable mate alphabetically actually emerged later, first flown in March 1965. Basically a Navy F-4B with an RF-4C nose, the RF-4B was the shortest production run of all Phantom variants, with just 46 completed for the Marines, of which the final 12 were actually based on the 'thick-wheel, thick-wing' F-4J. The Marines had good value for money from the RF-4B fleet, with most machines clocking up high hours. Owing to its deployment in so many far flung locations for such long periods in support of the 'Grunts', individual minor modifications become so varied that most machines had unique internal configurations at the ends of their careers in the early 1990s.

The RF-4E variant was produced primarily for Germany's Luftwaffe, with 150 built commencing in 1970. The RF-4C nose (both in angular and streamlined versions) was mated with the unslatted wing airframe of the original F-4E fighter variant. RF-4Es are still current with the air forces of Greece and Turkey, with a small number possibly still active in Iran. It is thought that the 6 aircraft delivered to Israel have now been retired.
The first prototype reconnaissance variant, the YRF-4C, made its maiden flight in August 1963, some five years after the first flight of the YF4H-1, the fighter prototype. The production RF-4C first flew in May 1964 from the McDonnell plant at St Louis, Missouri.
Close up view of Station No.2 on RF-4C 64-1031 from the Birmingham, Alabama based 106 TRS. The 106th operated the only LOROP equipped Rhino's in the USAF (LOng Range Oblique Photography,KS-127A 66 inch focal length cameras) The nose art says it all!
© Steve Hill/EMCS
RF-4C 64-1047 'Iraqi Scud Seeker' flew in every one of the 106 TRS mission's. The Alabama crews were replaced before the start of Desert Storm by Guardsmen from Nevada's 192 TRS. The nose art was added for the units retirement in 1995(Some aircraft carried Sharkmouth's and of course mission marks during Desert Storm though)
© Steve Hill/EMCS

Desert Shield/Storm

In August 1990 the RF-4C (as the only USAF Tactical recon asset) deployed to the Gulf. The first to arrive was six LOROP (LOng Range Oblique Photography) capable 'Rhino's' from the Alabama Air National Guard's 106th TRS. Operating from Sheikh Isa AB, Bahrain, the 106th flew crossborder recon missions during Operation Desert Shield (The Military build up) and Daylight only missions during Desert Storm, including searching for Iraqi mobile 'Scud' Missile launchers. The Alabama crews were replaced by Nevada Guardsmen (192 TRS from Reno) in December 1990. Also flying from Bahrain was TAC's 67th TRW. RF-4C's from the USAFE's 26th TRW operated from Incirlik AB, Turkey covering targets in Western Iraq.

Two aircraft were lost, 64-1044 on October 8th 1990 and 64-1056, 31st March 1991, both belonged to the 106th TRS (neither of these losses were due to enemy action)

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