the MODEL F-4J PHANTOM II Go to a page with larger versions of all photos
McDonnell F-4J Phantom II 1:32 by Tamiya.
F-4J PHANTOM II, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, VIETNAM 1972


Model and photos by Albert Moser from Austria in Europe. Yep, it aint real. Albert photographed his exquisite model and digitally added the backgrounds to the photos. The F-4J model is from Hasegawa in 1/48

From it's introduction in 1958 until well into the 1970's, the massive F4 Phantom II was the primary fighter aircraft of the free world.

In May 1958, the McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II prototype was rolled out of their facility at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri. It was a very large aircraft for a fighter and it was not very pretty by aviation standards. It looked like some giant had stepped on its nose and kicked it in the tail; however, it flew on the 27th of that month and is still flying today, 5,195 Phantoms later. From these beginnings until well into the 1970's the F4 Phantom II would be the primary fighter aircraft of the free world.

By 1982 the F4 had fought in 5 major conflicts, nine years in Southeast Asia, twice in the desert of the Middle East and against each other at one time. It was used in every role; Fighter interceptor, Fighterbomber, Reconnaissance, Tanker and Drone. They specialized in attack roles as Wild Weasel defense suppression and laser designator bombers. They also defeated the best aircraft that the opposition could put against it. The only time it lost was when pitted against another F4, during the Greek-Turkey conflict. With the U.S. Navy in the headlines everyday with this new interceptor, the American Defense Department ordered competitive tests be flown against the best aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory. Convair's F-106 Delta Dart was selected to fly against the Navy's Phantom II, and the Phantom easily won top speed, low-level speed, altitude, plus the unrefueled range and radar range. Following this flyoff, much to the disgust and embarrassment of the Air Force, it was decided that the next Air Force fighter would be this U.S. Navy design. It would at first supplement, then totally replace the Air Force F100; F102; F104 and F105 strike and interceptor aircraft. Under the designation F110A, the Air Force Phantom II was basically a Navy-4B airframe with changes made to meet Air Force requirements. Following the F-4C, which was essentially the same aircraft as the designated F110A, the F-4D version was more closely tailored to meet the requirements of the Air Force. With these two versions, the Phantom II established its unparalleled esteem in the U.S. Air Force.

The F-4's in the U.S. Navy had numerous variants through its career to fulfill various requirements from the Navy as well. Following the F-4G, which was developed as a trial, the next variant was designated the F-4J to avoid confusion with the original F4H-1 The F-4J was designed as the follow-on to the original F-4B, correcting some of the deficiencies which had become apparent in service. Its maiden flight was made on 27th May 1966, and mass production started shortly after. As the F-4J was developed for the U.S. Navy in parallel with the F-4D of the Air Force, they had a few differences. The new J79-GE-10 powerplant was further improved from the previous J79-GE-8 to yield more power. Internally, upgraded radar, with an improved fire-control system and a new missile-control system, were fitted to earn even better interception and ground attack abilities. In addition, a fixed inboard leading edge along with a slotted tailplane contributed to better maneuverability at low speeds. Lift at low speeds was further enhanced by furnishing 16.5º dropped ailerons. As a consequence of these alternations, its approach speed was reduced by 20km/h. A further noticeable difference from the previous variants was the bulged inner wingfoot to accommodate the larger wheels employed to cope with its increased weight. Armament was also bolstered. AIM-7 Sparrows and AIM-9 Sidewinders were equipped as the main weapons for air-to-air combat, and a wide variety of bombs, missiles, rockets and explosives could be fitted according to the mission. The maximum load of armament was 5 tons which made the F-4J's attack capability outstanding. Further changes were introduced during the course of production, such as a provision of Sidewinder Expanded Acquisition Mode (SEAM) and addition of various dogfight-capable computers.

It was in March 1967 when the F-4J's delivery to the corps started. U.S. forces were in midst of the hard-fought conflict against North Vietnam. Back in 1961, the U.S. government decided to send their troops to Vietnam to support the South Vietnamese government, and the conflict kept spreading day by day. Under these circumstances, the Phantom II played a main role in the sky. The Navy's Phantom II's were flown from aircraft carriers, and the Phantom II's of the Air Force and the Marines were flown from their bases in South Vietnam and Thailand to engage in North Vietnameses's MiGs. It was the end of May 1968 when the F-4J's carried on the aircraft carrier "America" first appeared over the Vietnamese sky. On 21st July, an F-4J shot down a MiG 21, which was recorded as the first kill by the F-4J. F-4J's streamed to the battle field, and achieved outstanding military results against MiG's especially after resumption of the North Vietnam bombing. The only "Ace" status in the U.S. Navy during this conflict was attained by an F-4J on 10th May 1972. Lt. Randy Cunningham and Lt. William Driscoll, who had already shot down a MiG 1 and MiG 17, gained three MiG 17's on the day, making themselves the first aces. However, their "longest day" was not concluded. Soon after their fifth kill, on their way back, their F-4J was tagged by a missile from the ground and the pair ejected and were rescued at sea.

The mass production of the F-4J ceased in December 1972, recording 522 aircraft as the total number produced. The F-4J proved its superb combat capability mainly in the Vietnam conflict throughout its career, and contributed to establishing the high reputation for the Phantom II series all around the world. Seven F-4J's were slightly modified for use by the U.S. Navy's "Blue Angels" flight demonstration team as well. These aircraft had oil and smoke injectors added, and were beautifully painted in the team's attractive blue and gold colors. Their acrobat demonstrations fully utilized their full potential at the many air shows held for the public. Although being replaced gradually by the F-14 Tomcat in the Navy and the F-15 Eagle in the Air force in recent years, the Phantom II dominated the sky all over the world as a guardian for western alignment till the 80's


You fight like you train, and you live like you train. Otherwise, you'll die like you train.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham was born December 8, 1941, in Los Angeles, California. After earning his bachelors degree in 1964 and his masters in education in 1965 from the University of Missouri, Cunningham began his career as an educator and a coach at Hinsdale (Ill.) High School. As a swimming coach, Duke trained two athletes to Olympic gold and silver medals.

Cunningham became one of the most highly decorated U.S. Navy pilots in the Vietnam War. The first fighter ace of the war, he received the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, fifteen Air Medals, and the Purple Heart.

In 1967, he earned a commission and pilot wings in the Navy, soon flying the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. He flew a combat tour over Vietnam from USS America, and then completed the Navy’s "Top Gun" Fighter Weapons School.

After his return from Vietnam, Cunningham served a tour as a Top Gun instructor, then a tour with VF-154. After a staff tour at the Pentagon, he returned to VF-154 as the Operations Officer. His next assignments were on the staffs of Commander, Seventh Fleet, and of COMFITAEWPAC. His final tours were as XO, then CO, of VF-126, an adversary squadron, that specialized in realistic air-to-air training for Navy fighter and attack crews.

After he retired as a commander in 1987, Cunningham became Dean of The National School of Aviation, and started his own aviation marketing company, Top Gun Enterprises.

First elected in 1990, he represents the 51st District of California and is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, with subcommittee assignments in Defense Appropriations; District of Columbia Appropriations; Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations. Congressman Cunningham and his wife, Nancy, have three children.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham's F-4J Phantom II


Co-pilot Driscoll called, "Hey, Duke, how ya doin' up there? This guy really knows what he’s doin’. Maybe we ought to call it a day."
Cunningham yelled back, "Hang on, Willie. We’re gonna get this guy!"
"Go get him, Duke. I’m right behind you!"

Navy Commander Randy "Duke" Cunningham was America’s first pilot ace of the Vietnam War. Born on 8 December 1941, he was commissioned in the US Navy in 1967. Receiving his coveted gold wings the following year, he joined the VF-96 "Fighting Falcons" flying F-4J Phantoms. After a tour of combat aboard the USS America in 1969 and completing the Navy’s "Top Gun" Fighter Weapons School, Cunningham returned to Vietnam in 1971 assigned to the USS Constellation.

He was crewed with Lieutenant (j.g.) "Willy" Driscoll as his Radar Intercept Officer, and they soon began flying combat sorties against the North Vietnamese. On 19 January 1972, he engaged two MiG-21s at treetop level and claimed his first victory by downing one of the "blue bandits" with a heat-seeking Sidewinder missile--the first MiG kill following a 2-year lull in the air war. While over North Vietnam on 8 May 1972, he engaged three MiG-17s and, as he was being fired on by two of the MiGs, destroyed the remaining foe which was "on the tail" of his wingman.

Two days later, Cunningham’s section was on a flak suppression mission between Hanoi and Haiphong, when 22 enemy fighters attacked them. During the intense aerial combat that followed, he quickly destroyed a MiG-17 with a Sidewinder missile, then turned to assist a section of F-4s, which had come boxed-in by eight enemy fighters. During the ensuing engagement, he saved his executive officer while downing his second MiG-17 with another Sidewinder. With the arrival of more MiGs in the area, the Navy fighters were making a dash for the last when Cunningham encountered yet another MiG head-on. He soon realized his adversary was no ordinary pilot. After initially passing Colonel Toon head-on, Cunningham was involved in a a 4-minute "see-saw" duel. In a series of three rolling scissor maneuvers, the MiG-17 twice fired its cannons at Cunningham’s Phantom. Following their third pass, Cunningham tried to outclimb his adversary, but Colonel Toon stayed with him. By suddenly pulling hard toward the MiG, yanking his throttles to idle, extending his speed brakes, Cunningham forced the MiG out in front. He then fired a Sidewinder after they "pitched over the top." The heat-seeking missile guided to a direct hit, forcing the MiG to the ground before the pilot could eject. This third kill of the day made Cunningham the first US "all missile" ace, the only pilot to shoot down three MiGs in one day during the Vietnam War, and the first American F-4 Phantom ace. After a 4-minute "see-saw" duel, he claimed his third aircraft of the day. His victim was later identified as Colonel Toon--North Vietnam’s leading ace credited with 13 American kills. Following their third victory of the mission, Cunningham and Driscoll were forced to eject over the Gulf of Tonkin when a SAM hit their Phantom as they headed home. Rescued by a Marine Corps helicopter, he received the Navy Cross for his heroism and superior airmanship on this mission.

For Cunningham's own account of his 5 'kills' and of his rescue after being shot down, CLICK HERE

Colonel Toon - mistaken identity?
Exactly whom "Duke" shot down on his final kill of the day, the one that made him an ace, has been the subject of conjecture. Early on, media sources claimed the pilot was the top Vietnamese ace known as "Col. Toon," allegedly with 13 aerial victories.

Later research has shed more light on the subject. He was most likely a flight leader or squadron commander of the 923rd Regiment. In fact, "Col. Tomb" did not exist.

Whoever the Vietnamese pilot was, the historic dogfight made "Duke" Cunningham the first US ace of the Vietnam conflict.

Back on the carrier USS Constellation, after shooting down three MiG-17s on a single mission, Lietenant Randall 'Duke" Cunningham (centre) treats his colleagues to a graphic account of the day's action

McDonnell F-4J Phantom II 1:32 by Tamiya.
Tamiya's 1/32 McDonnell F-4J Phantom II Item #60306, comes with the Randy Cunningham decal option above. The only thing missing on the decal sheet are the pilot and co-pilots names under the cockpit. The modeler can make these using a inkjet printer and a sheet of WHITE decal film. Prepare the art work, white text on a black background panel, using a programme like Adobe Illustrator. Print onto the white film and then trim close to the white letters and apply the decal.


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Jon Crooke

1 February 2005