McDonnell F-4 Phantom, Spirit of the Skies (Jon Lake)

Reference books that I usually purchased for modelling purposes rarely came along that had me reading for a given length of time, let alone visiting again and again. This World air Power journal offering did exactly that, again, and again…………..

When I first purchased this book in the early 90’s as an eager 18 year old modelling anything that had an F and a 4 on the box lid, I felt it was probably as close as anything could be to being the ultimate ‘toom’ of information on the F-4 from a ‘PHanatic’s’ perspective. The full colour photos, information, artwork, and diagrams lept out to greet me at every turn of the page, bating me to turn another, and another, eyes wide, and learning about my favorite subject with excited anticipation. I’m 41 now, and I’ve not been swayed by anything to make me think there’s been a greater work since then as I’ve sifted through bookshops and book stalls for F-4 literature.

A ‘Sundowner’ aircraft releasing its payload over ‘Nam’ sets the excitement, arguably one of the best schemes for the Rhino ever to wear. Open the cover to a double spread of a UK FGR2 sliding up behind what was probably a ramp of press phtographers hanging out the back of a UK Herc for those final shots in 1992, and you know you’re in for the ride of your life.

So, the Contents, and as you’d expect by the claims on the cover, this really does ‘tick the box’ in terms of being a ‘definitive work’

Chapter 1 Forging the Phantom
Chapter 2 Baptism of fire
Chapter 3 Phantom supreme
Chapter 4 Phantom twilight

Followed by the information: –

Weapons & Warloads
Phantom variants
Flying the Phantom
Phantom users
Production summary by block numbers
F-4 Avionics

“Forging the Phantom” takes the reader from the initial YF4H-1 and charts the progress of a legend, covering development from mock ups in 1955, through speed and altitude record attempts, sea trials with the US Navy, first fleet deployment, and entry into marine and air force service. These, along with the other significant milestones of the aircraft’s early life are mapped.

“Baptism of fire” covers the aircraft’s record of service in Vietnam, in great detail. Grey and white Navy, Marines, and initially Air Force birds get great photographic coverage, and as the air force birds ‘cammoed up’ for the duration, their images are captured and re-produced in outstanding quality. Individual missions receive coverage pleasing the historical factor in detail, and the experimental scheme the USN trialed aboard Kitty Hawk even gets a mention (and a photograph).

“Phantom supreme” gives ample coverage of the F-4 in world air force service. The opening page of the chapter shows an 892 NAS FG1 just about to ‘take a flight’ from one of HMS Ark Royal’s bow catapults, the UK being probably the second most important operator of the type behind the US, so a place right at the start of the chapter rightly deserved I feel! The Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds come in for some coverage, as do many of the foreign operators including Iran, Germany, Israel, Spain, and Japan. There is then a 7 page section on the UK use of the aircraft, followed by a superb ‘photo album’ of brightly coloured squadron commander and anniversary US airframes.

“Phantom twilight” covers the inevitable phase of that every military aircraft, great or otherwise, has to face in its service life, retirement. More anniversary schemes get aired over the course of these pages, together with ‘clippings’ of draw down milestones, including the last 892 launch from HMS Ark Royal on 27th November 1978, he last carrier trap aboard USS America on 18th October 1986, Desert Storm service in January 1991, and a highlight of (then) ‘new’ customers in the shape of Turkey, South Korea, and Greece.

“Weapons & warloads” covers the ordinance (including training packages) the F-4 was capable of hauling about the skies, and the regular fits that were used to do said hauling.

“Phantom variants” delivers just that, from models never built, right up to the QF-4S drone aircraft used for missile trials and live firing exercises.

“Flying the Phantom” takes the words of those who did just that, with write ups from the pilots fortunate enough to have called themselves Phantom aircrew. It covers many American experiences from aircrew, as well as an ‘interesting’ insight into flying the Spey powered F-4 in RAF service.

“Phantom Users” covers off each country and the units that flew the F-4. With 210 units covered off in this section, with images for each, any modeller wishing to begin at the start of this reference section and work through to the end would have one hell of an F-4 collection……………….

The block production and Avionics section of this book round up what is an exceptional hardback book. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone with an interest in the F-4, it’ll come off the shelf and be viewed many times, I still do now, 23 year after I first bought it.

As with most books in existence, Amazon have new and used copies to purchase: –