By Norm Goyer
I first met the McDonnell F-4 Phantom in the skies of the High Desert. They were all over the area as they and the Republic F-105 Thud were the two aircraft used by the Air Force in Vietnam. George AFB was the training installation before the pilots headed to Vietnam for combat duty. At the time, we operated Apple Valley Aviation only 6 miles from George AFB. George’s pilots and the German pilots also based there became our customers and close friends. We were invited to social events at the base and even had use of their F-4 Phantom simulators. Great base and even greater guys and gals staffing it. The controllers at George would crank up their GCA (Ground Control Approach) for our students who were working on their instrument tickets. It was a sad day when the feds closed George, they were a large part of our aviation heritage in the High Desert. I have never stopped loving the F-4 and its huge collection of records, many still unbroken.
The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is a tandem two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor fighter/fighter-bomber originally developed for the United States Navy by McDonnell Aircraft. It first entered service in 1960 with the U.S. Navy. Proving highly adaptable, it was also adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force. During the Vietnam War the F-4 was used extensively; it served as the principal air superiority fighter for both the Navy and Air Force, and became important in the ground-attack and reconnaissance roles late in the war. The Phantom has the distinction of being the last U.S. fighter flown to attain ace status in the 20th century. During the Vietnam War the USAF had one pilot and one weapon systems officer (WSO), (better known as GIB, The Guy in Back) and the US Navy one pilot and one radar intercept officer (RIO), The pilot had to achieve five aerial kills against other enemy fighter aircraft to become an ace in air-to-air combat. The F-4 continued to form a major part of U.S. military air power throughout the 1970s and 1980s, being gradually replaced by more modern aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle and F-16 in the U.S. Air Force; the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet in the U.S. Navy; and the F/A-18 in the U.S. Marine Corps.
You have to admit that the F-4 Phantom was quite an airplane. I bet you didn’t know who was the grandpa of the Phantom? I know, and soon you will also, the McDonnell Doodlebug was built in response to a 1927 safety contest sponsored by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics with a prize of $100,000. The aircraft was built at the Hamilton Aero Manufacturing factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Doodlebug is a tandem-seat low wing taildragger with a fabric covered steel tube fuselage. The landing gear featured widely spaced main wheels. The wings featured full length leading edge slats. It looks very similar to other coupes of the era, especially the Kinner Sportster.
The Doodlebug was produced too late to compete, but was granted an exemption. The aircraft’s tail folded upward in initial demonstrations at Mitchell Field in New York, and allowed more extensions to repair damages. After a forced landing due to engine failure, the Doodlebug missed the opportunity to be judged in the competition. The winner of the competition was a Curtiss Tanager. The forced landing caused McDonnell a back injury, but the aircraft was demonstrated throughout the start of the Great Depression. In 1931 the Doodlebug was sold to NACA as a demonstrator for leading edge slats. There it is, the grandpa of the famous F-4 Phantom.
General characteristics McDonnell Doodlebug
Length: 21 ft 4 in (6.50 m)
Wingspan: 35 ft (11 m)
Wing area: 196.5 sq ft (18.26 m2)
Empty weight: 1,250 lb (567 kg)
Gross weight: 1,800 lb (816 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × Warner Scarab radial engine, 110 hp (82 kW)
Maximum speed: 96 kn; 177 km/h (110 mph)