First flown in May 1958, the Phantom II originally was developed for U.S. Navy fleet defense and entered service in 1961. The U.S. Air Force evaluated it for close air support, interdiction and counter-air operations and, in 1962, approved an Air Force version. When unveiled, the fighter was considered huge and immensely powerful. Designated F-4C, it made its first flight on May 27, 1963. Production deliveries began in November 1963. In its air-to-ground role the F-4 can carry twice the normal bomb load of a World War II B-17.
In 1965 the first USAF Phantom IIs were sent to Southeast Asia. The first U.S. Air Force pilot to score four combat victories with F-4s in the theater was Col. Robin Olds, a World War II ace. Air Force F-4s also flew reconnaissance and "Wild Weasel" anti-aircraft missile suppression missions. Phantom II production ended in 1979 after more than 5,000 had been built -- more than 2,600 for the Air Force, about 1,200 for the Navy and Marine Corps, and the rest for friendly foreign nations.