F-4 Phantom

By John Baxter

My introduction to the McDonnell F-4 Phantom was at Melbourne Airport in 1971, when a RAAF squadron (I no longer recall if it was No 1 or No 6) was briefly ‘based’ there, along with two Mirage Squadrons, some Canberras, a Herc or two and a couple of Iroquois, for the flying display at Laverton to celebrate the RAAF’s 50th birthday. They were at Melbourne, which had not yet opened to civil operators, although the Internationals had been there for more than twelve months, due to runway and parking constraints at Laverton and perhaps too strong a crosswind component at Avalon. I was one of four Melbourne Tower controllers on duty that day and I managed to con a ride with one of the airside Safety Officers so was able to get up ‘close and personal’ to this magnificent bird. Unlike Tim McLelland, I didn’t get a ride in one of these, but to be able to walk around, under and touch (as well as photograph) these wonderful aircraft still remains with me today as a very fond and vivid memory.

So who amongst the aviation enthusiasts couldn’t admire, love and not possibly drool over this supposed ‘stopgap’ fighter to supersede the F3H Demon until the Grumman F-14 Tomcat came into service? The Phantom is the stuff of aviation legends and this new book sets out to try and record over fifty years of service in eleven different countries’ air forces (and naval air arms) as well as those of the United States. A difficult task, no doubt.

This book by Tim McLelland is simply brilliant! The colour photographs are stunning and the history of this, dare I say ‘classic’, aircraft is tremendously appealing. With some Phantoms still in service after more than fifty years, who couldn’t love the phabulous Phantom? It was certainly a tough aircraft to cover succinctly in just one comprehensive volume and I’ve been suitably impressed. The book covers every aspect of this multi-role combat aircraft with snippets from various crew members, including USAF Colonel Robin Olds who achieved four kills in the F-4 over Vietnam. All operators are covered as well as the history and development, and all the variants, of what started as a single seat, naval fighter. Special emphasis is placed on US, British and German usage and the book contains many other aspects including politics and play offs between McDonnell and other aircraft manufacturers in achieving orders. Wars and peace time were both exciting, exacting and crucial times and this book covers sooo much of this, so well.

With so many years of service in so many countries, countless superb photos abound and just a handful of what must amount to millions of pictures can only be included - actually 531 - as well as fifty colour profiles and four colour four-views. The cover photo in its full sized glory, and not cropped to go on the cover, is shown again on page 219 and Wow! Colourful Luftwaffe and Greek schemes contrast the Vietnam camou and USN/USMC greys. So, there’s a rich harvest for modellers. It’s a long read and time needs to be set aside to read it cover to cover – you probably won’t do it in one sitting!

This is certainly a great book for any Phantom modeller and military aviation enthusiast at a very good price for what’s contained within. Certainly the devaluing Aussie dollar has pushed the price up, but if it’s value for your dollar that you’re after, then this still hits the target. Published by Classic Publications, it retains the high standard of quality synonymous with the name and with glossy stock, both text and picture reproduction is excellent. It is available from Hyland’s Bookshop in Melbourne www.hylandsbookshop.com.au or 03 9654 7448 for about $110. ISBN 9781906537333.

Many thanks to Ms Orietta Colussi of DLS Australia for the review copy.

Reviewed by John Baxter