The McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom acquired many nicknames over its storied career: Snoopy, Old Smokey, St. Louis Slugger, the Flying Anvil, and many more. The best, by far, came from the sheer number of Soviet-built MiGs taken down by the plane.
The F-4 was truly an amazing aircraft. Even at the end of its service life, it was winning simulated air battles against the United States’ latest and greatest airframes, including the F-15 Eagle, which is still in service today. Even though it was considered an ugly aircraft by pilots of the time, it’s hard to argue with 280 enemy MiG kills — which is how it acquired its best nickname, “The World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts.”
After being introduced in 1960, it was acquired by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy as an interceptor and fighter-bomber. In Vietnam, the Phantom was used as a close-air support aircraft and also fulfilled roles as aerial reconnaissance and as an air superiority fighter.
All of the last American pilots, weapon systems officers, and radar intercept officers to attain ace status did so in F-4 Phantom II fighters over Vietnam — against MiGs.
And the MiG fighters flown by the North Vietnamese were no joke, either. The Navy’s Top Gun school was founded because of the loss rate attributed to VPAF pilots — and that’s only the opposition in the air. North Vietnam’s air defenses were incredibly tight, using precise, effective doctrine to thwart American air power whenever possible. Air Force Col. Robin Olds used this doctrine against them in Operation Bolo, the first offensive fighter sweep of the war and a brilliant air victory.
Olds found the loss rate to VPAF MiG-21s to be unacceptable when taking command of the 8th TFW in Ubon. With the F-4’s success in Operation Bolo, Olds and the 8th TFW grounded the entire Vietnamese People’s Air Force for months.
The F-4 Phantom II was eventually replaced, but it took a number of different planes to compensate for the absence of this versatile airframe. It was replaced by the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, and F-14 Tomcat. The F-14 was also the most widely produced aircraft, with more than 5,000 built.
Today, the Phantom still out there with the air forces of Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and Iran, and was last seen blowing up ISIS fighters in a close-air support role.