The Phantom II was first developed for U.S. Navy fleet defense. The U. S. Air Force’s first version, the F-4C, made its first flight in May 1963, and production deliveries began soon after. In 1965, the U. S. Air Force sent its first F-4Cs to Southwest Asia where they flew air-to-air combat missions against North Vietnamese fighters. The aircraft carried out secondary mission of attacking key ground targets.

In its air-to-ground role, the F-4C could carry twice the payload of a World War II B-17. The aircraft carries two external fuel tanks on the outboard pylons and one ALQ-87 electronic countermeasures (ECM) pod on the right inboard pylon.

The first Air Force pilot to score four combat victories with F-4s was Col. Robin Olds, a World War II ace and original Pearl Harbor Aviation Museumboard member.

Phantom II production ended in 1979 with over 5,000 aircraft built: approximately 2,600 for the U. S. Air Force; 1,200 for the U. S. Navy and Marine Corps; and the remaining for friendly foreign nations.