The F-4 Phantom II was originally conceived as a heavy, all-weather fleet air defense fighter. Yet with its two powerful General Electric J79 engines and a two-man crew, the large, fast aircraft proved endlessly adaptable. The F-4 expanded into the fighter-bomber, air defense suppression, reconnaissance, and close air support roles. It could even carry tactical nuclear weapons.
The iconic fighter served in a number of wars, including the Vietnam War with the Navy, Air Force and Marines, and the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In foreign service the Phantom II served with the Israeli Air Force in the War of Attrition and the 1973 Yom Kippur Wars, and the Iranian Air Force during the Iran-Iraq War. F-4s claimed 164.5 kills in Vietnam, 19 kills in Israeli Air Force service, and 18 kills in Iranian Air Force service.
The Phantom II earned a plethora of nicknames during its carrier, mostly due to its large, ungainly shape, bulbous nose, and jagged trailing edges. Those names included the "Flying Brick, "Snoopy", and "The World's Leading Distributor of MiG Parts." More than 5,000 jets were built for the United States and its major allies, with production finally ceasing in 1985. The F-4 was retired from combat duty with the U.S. Military in 1996, when the F-4G "Wild Weasel" air defense suppression jets were retired.
Today the fighter lives on-as a drone. The QF-4 is an optionally manned drone designed to train fighter pilots in air-to-air combat. It can fly realistic flight profiles for other fighter pilots to intercept-and shoot down if necessary, so long as the aircraft is unmanned. According to Military Times just 13 QF-4s remain-the Air Force is replacing the drones with QF-16s based on retired, obsolete F-16 Fighting Falcons.