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Hi all,

I worked on F-4Cs in the Texas ANG at Kelly AFB from 1980 through 1982, F-4Es at George AFB, California 1982 through 1983, and then F-4Es again at Ramstein AB, Germany from 1983 through 1986. I have collected a bunch of reference photos over the years that might be useful to you guys, and have what I think is a pretty good recollection of details on USAF versions. I see lots of minor errors on F-4 models mainly due to peculiarities of the Phantom that aren't well documented in most references. Some of you may have Jake Melampy's book; I helped him quite a bit with that one.

I would like to offer my help with anyone who is building an F-4 model, especially USAF versions. I'm quite happy to help where I can. I don't have many cockpit photos though; I had a pretty good gig taking photos at the various bases I was assigned to and visited but they all told me no cockpit photos. So not wanting to risk losing my photography privileges I didn't sneak any cockpit shots. Here'e a few of my photos you might fine useful:















Scott Wilson

Edited by Scott R Wilson

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McDonnell Douglas RF-4 Phantom

USAF Stratigic Air Command Museum, Omaha Nebraska.






First pic is not mine -






















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Just going by some of the errors I've seen in print and on models I've seen, I thought that I could help clarify some things and help people do more accurate models. I'll write what I think might be helpful, focusing mostly on the F-4E and other USAF versions.


Starting from the front of the airplane, black radomes were from flat to glossy black and every sheen in between. Exceptionally weathered radomes were even a flat medium gray. The reason for this is that radomes back in the day weren't painted, they were coated with black neoprene rubber which started out very black and glossy and weathered ever flatter, ending up very flat gray if it was allowed to go that long. RF-4Cs, F-4Es and F-4G Weasels frequently had an additional "anti-erosion" rubber boot glued over the front part of the radome, which usually had a different sheen than the rest of the radome. When they went to the Hill Gray scheme and painted the radomes, many RF-4Cs, F-4Es and Gs still had the black anti-erosion boot installed.




Moving back a bit, the F-4E and F-4F have a "gun gas purge door" on top of the nose, to the right of the centerline. This door, or scoop, opened when the gun was fired to direct ram air into the gun bay which vented out through the slots in the gun pod bottom. The door also opened when the utility hydraulic system depressurized. So for a parked F-4E or F without engines running or an external hydraulic cart connected to the utility hydraulics system, the door would ALWAYS be open. The door closed all by itself during engine start when the hydraulics began to pressurize. QF-4Es have the gun gas purge door deactivated and permanently closed. I believe they even scab a sheetmetal patch over it. F-4G Weasels likewise had the door deactivated. Here's a shot I took at Zaragoza AB that shows the gun gas purge door.




On the lower sides of the nose are two intakes. Those were for the air conditioning system. At lower engine RPM the air conditioning didn't work very well, so all of the cooled air was diverted to the avionics. That's why F-4s usually taxi with the canopies opened in warm weather. The warm exhaust air from the air conditioning system exited from vents on either side of the nose wheel well. Note the AC intakes on the RF-4s are shaped differently than the fighters, and the intakes on long nosed fighter (F-4E, F and G) are again different from the short-nosed versions.


At the base of the front windscreen there was a slot for hot engine bleed air, used for windscreen deice and rain removal. The center windscreen glass panel is not tinted green, but it was made of very thick laminated glass, while the two panels on either side as well as the canopies and center windows between the crew station were clear plastic, I presume some sort of acrylic. The thick glass of the center panel could take on a bit of a blue-green tint in certain lighting conditions just because of the thickness of the glass, but usually looked perfectly clear to me. I see lots of models with very heavily green tinted center windscreens, and that is incorrect. For some reason photos often show the blue-green darker than it looked in real life, but seldom or never as dark as on some of the models I've seen. If you want to tint the center windscreen of your model, it should be very subtle. FWIW I never tint mine.


The little silver wire coils that attach inside the rear of both of the canopies were connected from the canopies to devices on the ejection seats (top rear) called "canopy interdictor blocks". Those devices kept the seats from ejecting until their respective canopies were jettisoned. You can't blast through the canopy in an F-4.

The rear cockpit in most every F-4 model has a slanting rear bulkhead. In reality it was almost vertical. This is only important if you are going to fully detail your model's rear cockpit. With the slanting bulkhead there isn't room for the black boxes mounted alongside the rear seat.


Moving to the underside, I should mention that real F-4s have bias-ply tires with very strong sidewalls. Even when the jet was heavily loaded, the sidewalls didn't bulge, at least not that I could see. The flat area contacting the ground got flatter as the weight was increased, but I once looked hard from the front at a real F-4E fully fueled with three bags of fuel (three external tanks) to detect a bulge in the sidewalls after reading a model magazine article that told how to make "realistically" bulged tires, and I could not detect a bulge in the sidewalls. That was as heavy as I ever saw an F-4 loaded in person.


The rear ends of the foward missile wells had a moveable door that streamlined the aft end of the wells when Sparrows weren't loaded. The "flipper doors" opened a bit when the airplane was parked with no hydraulic pressure on the utility system, but not quite to the position that would allow the rear of a Sparrow to fit. Weapons loaders opened the door fully to load a Sparrow. Without the missile installed, the flipper doors closed when the utility hydraulics pressurized. Monogram's 1/48 F-4C/D and J have the flipper doors molded closed with two Sparrows cut down at the rear to fit the well if you want to install them. Hasegawa's 1/48 kits don't have the flipper doors at all. Here's a couple of photos I took of an F-4C years ago:




The intake ramps, properly called "vari-ramps" were smooth and flat on the inboard sides. Some kits need indentations in the ramps to be filled on the inboard sides. FWIW, I never, ever heard a Phantom maintainer call the vari-ramps "splitter plates". I have seen a book written by a former WSO in which he does call the ramps "splitters" so use whichever terminology you prefer. I'll stick to "ramps" or "vari-ramps". We walked across the tops of the left ramp frequently while walking from the ladder to the rear of the jet, so the top of the left ramp in particular sometimes had the paint quite worn, sometimes to bare metal.


The operation of the leading edge slats, flaps and leading edge flaps on the "hard wing" versions seem to cause some modelers confusion. There is one switch on the left slide of the front cockpit normally used to control the trailing edge and leading edge flaps together. As far as I recall, on hard wing versions you can't have trailing edge without leading edge flaps and vice-versa.

On slatted versions, the same flap switch in the front cockpit controlled the flaps and slats. The first down position extended the slats, the second position lowered the flaps. Slatted wing F-4s other than Navy versions had less angle available for the trailing edge flaps. On "hard wing" versions the trailing edge flaps had two lowered positions, takeoff and landing. The landing position put them almost 90 degrees down. Slatted wing trailing edge flaps were limited to the takeoff position, roughly 45 degrees, I don't know the exact angle. With the landing gear and flaps up, the slats are controlled by angle of attack, deploying at a certain AOA and retracting at an AOA less than the deploy angle so the slats don't chatter in and out. There is a slats override switch on the left side of the front cockpit further back than the flaps switch, used to prevent the slats from deploying under any circumstances. The slats override switch is checked during pre-taxi checks. I saw this switch used for real only once, when we were deployed to Decimommannu and one of our F-4Es broke a slat actuator mounting bracket. They ferried the airplane back to Ramstein with the slats override switch selected. Other than for a few moments during the pretaxi checks and rare occasions like this one, the flaps would never been seen down without the slats extended.

There are emergency blowdown handles for the flaps/slats in both cockpit, again one control for both the flaps and slats in each cockpit. The slats inboard of the wingfold deploy by moving up and forward, and rotating leading edge down all in one smooth motion. The slats outboard the wingfold rotate trailing edge up, leading edge down only. All of the slats move together, taking about one second to go from retracted to extended or vice-versa. You can't have inboard slats out with outboards retracted like I've seen on a few models. Most F-4E, F or G models with slats have a red or black stripe painted on the wing along the aft edge of the retracted slats to show where not to have your toes when the slats move.


The speedbrakes under the wing droop open slightly very soon after engine shutdown. Both extended the same, about 10 to 20 degrees as I recall. The speedbrake wells were always the color of the surrounding camouflage on the jets I worked on, with the inside of the speedbrake itself red. I think I recall the red being somewhat glossy but I am not sure about that. Likewise, the ailerons also tend to droop, though there was usually a difference between how much the left versus right aileron drooped. Some ailerons didn't droop at all to speak of. So you might have one side close to neutral with the other side hanging down 10 or 15 degrees or so, or any variation in between, with the longer since engine shutdown, the more they might be drooped. The speedbrakes on the otherhand opened just the slight amount described above, but never more than that. It was very, very rare to see a USAF F-4 with the speedbrakes left fully opened.


The spoilers on the F-4 were used only for roll control with the ailerons, the pilot can't select both of the spoilers up at the same time like you see on transport aircraft. At high AOA, the pilot used the rudder for roll control because of severe adverse yaw effects with the ailerons and spoilers. Each wing's spoilers were in two halves which moved simultaneously. The ailerons only move a few degrees up past neutral. So with full left stick, you'll see the right aileron down, right spoilers closed; left aileron slightly trailing edge up and left spoilers (both halves) full up. The spoilers could be pried up for inspections, and it might take a little while for the hydraulic fluid in the actuator to bleed out and let the spoilers settle back down flat, so rarely you might see the halves of a spoiler on a wing left up a few degrees, and usually not at the same angle. Like I said, that was very rare, almost always they were closed with the jet parked.


The only flight control you can move from the cockpit in an F-4 without hydraulic pressure is the rudder. The rudder is not mechanically connected to the nose wheel position, so for a jet parked in a stiff crosswind you'll see the rudder pushed over to one side with the nose wheels straight ahead (or in whatever position it was in when the jet was parked). The stick always was in the vertical neutral position without hydraulics applied and is pretty hard to move. If you do force it, it springs back to neutral as soon as you let go.


The aux air doors on the belly of the aircraft were always open with the landing gear down. However, during engine shutdown when electrical power was lost with the utility hydraulics still pressurized, they'd snap closed. As soon as the engines had spooled down, we'd attach a grounding cable to one of the arcraft's several grounding points, put downlocks on the landing gear, pry open the aux air doors and put locks with long handles over the door actuators, put safety pins in the external tanks, pin the tail hook, and after the crew was out, put red-painted locks over the canopy actuator rods and then pin the seats. The landing gear downlocks were red painted clamshell devices that fastened over the actuator rods (the silver part). So the aux air doors on a parked Phantom or on an F-4 inflight with the gear down should be opened. If you have a model of a Phantom inflight with the wheels up the doors should be closed. We always opened the aux air doors on the ground right after engine shutdown to service the engine oil, inspect inside, and take oil samples for the Spectroscopic Oil Analysis Program.


The exhaust nozzles on J79 powered versions always relaxed to full open when the engines shutdown. Some other aircraft engine types could have a shutdown engine with the nozzle closed, but not the J79. The dragchute door was left open after landing until a new chute was installed. We never closed the dragchute door with no chute inside.


Long nosed Phantoms had a single probe just above the red anticollision light on the leading edge of the tail, and a pitot probe on the front of the radome. The tail probe was for the artificial feel, and was called the "bellows probe". Short-nosed Phantoms had the pitot probe on the leading edge of the fin above the bellows probe.


For anyone into electronics who would like to put operating lights on their F-4 model, the wingtips had lights on the front and rear that burned steady, red on the left wingtip and blue-green on the right. There was a pair of white lights under the intakes, a white light on Door 19 just behind the rear cockpit (it was further back on a backbone panel on Navy versions), the red anti-collision beacon on the leading edge of the tail, and a white light on the trailing edge at the top of the fin cap that all flashed simultaneously, about once per second. The flash pattern was full bright then gradually dimming, suddenly full bright then gradually dimming, like a sawtooth waveform.


F-4Ds, Es and Gs as well as a few C models had a rendezvous beacon which was also used for SkySpot bombing missions in Vietnam. The beacon was called the SST-181X. You can see a big toggle switch for it on the outboard middle of the right console in the rear cockpit if you have photos or diagrams. The antenna for it was on Door 19 just behind the rear canopy. Looking at Door 19, immediately behind the rear canopy was the IFF antena, which was a flat circular plate. The dielectric was coated with black neoprene but sometimes wore to bare red-brown fiberglass, which quickly weathered to a silvery appearance. Behind the IFF antenna there was the upper fuselage nav light. On the F-4D the SST-181's antenna was on the centerline behind the light, near the panel hinge at the rear of the panel. On the F-4E and F-4G the beacon antenna was relocated to the right of the IFF antenna, mounted on a teardrop shaped plate, toward the front of the teardrop. The SST-181 was not used on the F-4 after around 1982, and many of the F-4Es I worked on had the antenna removed and a round plug screwed into the antenna base. There were quite a few jets that kept the antenna too, even though it wasn't used any more. I believe Tamiya has the beacon antenna on the centerline behind the light for both the F-4D and F-4E versions, so you'll need to relocate it on your F-4E. Hasegawa's 1/48 F-4E has a blade antenna in the F-4E's beacon antenna location and another blade antenna in the F-4D's. The SST-181 antenna was a little cylinder, not a blade. To model it correctly is easy. For the F-4E or G cut off all but a sliver of the blade antenna on the right of the IFF antenna. That last sliver will be the SST-181 antenna mount. Drill a tiny hole toward the front of the sliver, insert a short piece of stretched sprue, and you're good to go. For the F-4D completely remove the blade antenna to the right of the IFF antenna, and change the centerline blade antenna to a short piece of stretched sprue. Navy birds didn't have a beacon antenna on Door 19. Many F-4Es and Gs had the antenna removed by the mid-80s as the SST-181 was no longer used. Those jets had the antenna base still in place but a plug was screwed in instead of the antenna. Revell's 1/32 F-4E has this configuration.


Speaking of Door 19, several kits (Hasegawa 1/48, Revell 1/32) have the kind of oval, rounded panel behind the rear cockpit as a separate piece. I've seen a lot of models with the seam left as a panel line. That is incorrect, that seam should be filled. Here's a photo of yours-truly sitting on an F-4E with Door 19 opened, you can see there is no panel line around the blistered area that matches the rear canopy, as well as the nav light, IFF antenna and beacon antenna:




I've seen models of USAF Phantoms with the inboard wheel hubs painted white. While the Navy versions used different wheel and did have white wheel hubs, but on USAF versions the inboard wheels hubs were bare steel which was always very rusty (not silver at all) and darkened by dirt and brake dust. The rims around the tires were bare aluminum or sometimes painted white and often dirty. The outboard hubs (which were mostly concealed by the main gear doors with the jet on the ground) were usually painted the color of the strut, usually white, with the wheel rim bare aluminum or white but the area was also usually quite dirty. The outboard hubs were actually part of the gear strut and didn't move. No model or aftermarket wheels I've seen has got them correct except for Eduard's 1/32 wheels, though it doesn't really matter since the door covers most of it anyway:





Here's a shot of the main gear of a crashed USAF F-4 that shows the outboard wheel. Note how it is fixed to the strut by two flanges, photo was sent to me by someone awhile back:





Canopies on the F-4 were opened and closed pneumatically, so when you see movies with the whine of a motor accompanying the canopy movement, that's completely wrong. All you heard in reality was clunking of the canopy locks and air whooshing. Not really pertinent to models I know, but I thought you'd be interested. Same with flight controls, the hydraulics were pressurized by the engine driven pump or an external cart for maintenance, and when the surfaces moved there was no discernable noise, certainly no whining sound like you sometimes see in movies and TV shows.

The canopies should be fully opened or fully closed, there was no intermediate postion. If they were manually unlocked they'd pop up slightly but still rest on the cockpit sills. There are lots of models out there that get the angles of the open canopies wrong, it's something to pay attention to on your models if you want them to look real.



USAF F-4 fighter versions had only a single UHF radio for communications. They also had an auxillary UHF receiver with pre-programmed frequencies, but the crew couldn't transmit with it nor dial in a freq that wasn't pre-programmed. The UHF radio had two antennas available, selected from the front cockpit by the pilot. The upper antenna was orginally inside the fin cap, but around 1984 there was a modification to move the antenna to the right side of the aircraft fuselage top, mounted on a little pedestal. F-4Gs already had the upper UHF antenna mounted there as part of the Weasel mod, and ARN-101 equipped F-4Es had the upper UHF antenna mounted on the fuselage centerline aft of the ARN-101's fuselage antenna, just in front of the vertical fin. F-4Fs got the little pedestal mounted on the fuselage, but for whatever reason the antenna itself was never mounted there.


Other than ARN-101 equipped F-4Es which never have it, F-4Es may or may not have the little pod-shaped RHAW antenna on the back of the fincap. That antenna was orginally for the APS-107 RHAW system, but that system was quickly replaced with a different system that used the little half-ping-pong ball shaped antennas on the drag chute door instead. When I worked on F-4Es in the 1980s, the fincaps of those F-4Es that had the pods had nothing inside. The fin caps were interchangeable, and one F-4E may have the pod for awhile, then get a new fincap installed without the pod, and later still get a cap with it again. ARN-101 equipped F-4Es had a fincap that was internally different I believe, and never had the APS-107 pod. So when it comes to model F-4Es, other than ARN-101 jets I don't concern myself with whether or not the fincap has the pod on it. Likewise, on F-4Es and Gs the dielectric panels on the wing leading edge above the inboard pylons had nothing inside by the early 1980s. I believe they too were remnants of the old APS-107. Many of the F-4Es and Gs had those panels painted over, though many others were left with the black neoprene coating.


The wedge-shaped stabilator reinforcements were usually on top of the stabs, rarely just on the bottom, and sometimes on both the top and bottom. I don't know when exactly they started applying those, by the time I worked on Phantoms pretty much every USAF Phantom had them in one place or the other if not both. Whichever it was on a particular aircraft, I do recall that the left and right sides always matched. Stabilator changes weren't too rare, so I personally don't go to any effort to match my model to a photo, because who's to say that the week after the photo was taken the jet didn't have a stab change and get a different configuration? From what I've seen of QF-4s, the wedges are on both the top and bottom of pretty much all of the stabs now.


One detail you might try putting on your models are scuffmarks from ground crew's boots on the sides of the fuselage. To get onto the wing, we walked on the walkway on top of the intake trunks, then slid down onto the wing, our boots scuffing the fuselage sides in the process. The older the paint job, the more scuffmarks you'd see in the paint. The light gray paint used on F-4Fs currently shows these marks most clearly, but those marks are on all F-4s to some degree except maybe Thunderbird or Blue Angel aircraft. Here's a photo l took of an ACMI pod at Decimommannu showing the scuff marks on the right fuselage side, bear in mind the left would have even more scuffs as we used that side to get items like tools and parts up on the jet by putting them on the wing, climbing up on the jet via the ladder, crossing on top of the left vari-ramp to the left intake trunk then sliding down on the left wing.



Another detail to try is scratched and scraped paint in front of the air refuel receptacle. Refueling in turbulence meant the boom often scraped the top of the fuselage, and scratches in the paint were common.


Inside the intake duct the external color went in exactly 36 inches from the intake lip on the jets I've worked on. I've seen some photos from the Vietnam days and a few from the late 1970s that show the external camouflage color going into the intakes only a few inches. Hopefully you can find references for the particular jet you are modeling, but if you can't it seems the 36 inches was by far the most common for post-Vietnam. The rest of the duct was white semi-gloss.


Lots of books call the chin pod on F-4B, C, D and N models an "IR seeker". That was the original purpose way back in the beginning, but the Navy early on decided the system was ineffective, and the chin pods were quicky adapted for RHAW antennas. I don't think the USAF ever flew an IR seeker in the pod. USAF maintainers usually called the chin pod a "donkey dick", fwiw. The cap on the front of the pod was painted with the same neoprene as the rest of the radome. "IR seeker" implies a lens of some sort, and for USAF and almost all Navy Phantoms that is incorrect.


The 370 gallon wing tanks were made in three sections, and the people that did maintenance on them never gave any thought to keeping the three sections together when they disassembled and reassembled the tanks. So it was very common for the paint on the front, middle and rear sections not to match each other. Tanks were swapped out fairly often so don't be too concerned about matching a reference photo exactly.


USAF F-4s originally used a 600 gallon centerline tank that we referred to as the Royal Jet tank, after one of the vendors that supplied them. What most modelers don't know was that at the rear of the Royal Jet tank there were two little fins. On the engine bay doors above the fins there were two little spring loaded doors that were pulled opened, and inside the doors were brackets that fit around the ends of the tank's fins. This assembly acted like sway braces. Photo from the web:





Around 1981 the Royal Jet tanks were replaced on F-4Gs Weasels with a modified F-15 centerline. It was called the McDonnell High Performance Centerline. It was not interchangeable with the F-15's tank, there were several differences in the suspension lugs, and the fuel and pressurization hookups weren't compatible. The new HPC tank had much better performance limits and better jettison limits, so was soon adopted throughout the USAF and Luftwaffe. We had them at Ramstein starting from around 1985. Once we got them, we never used Royal Jet tanks again, though we had them on base for war stocks. The Navy had a centerline tank that looked just like the Royal Jet, but was welded construction and stronger, so the Navy never felt the need to buy the High Performance Centerline. The HPC and Royal Jet tanks are shaped very differently, and sit differently on the airplane, so be sure you use the appropriate tank for your model and its time frame. The Royal Jet has a nose-down appearance relative to the bottom of the jet, and the HPC sits slightly nose up.


On the real Phantoms I saw, the side edges of the flaps and ailerons were sometimes painted red, sometimes the camouflage color. Do whichever way you like on your models, unless you've got a good photo showing how the particular airplane you're modeling was.


I never bought a Tamiya F-4 as they are outside my budget (I'm co-owner of a Cessna 172, so you know where my money goes!) But I've seen a few and seen reviews where people complain about "Battle Damage Repair" panels. Those raised panels are actually maintenance access panels, they have nothing to do with Battle Damage Repair. They shouldn't be altogether removed, but they should not be raised either! Up to you how to deal with that. Sand them flush and scribe around them, ideally.


Slatted winged F-4s had completely different panel lines on the tops of the wings outside the wingfold. No model company has ever gotten them correct on a model that I've seen, though the Testors/Italeri 1/48th kits are closest. Hasegawa's 1/48 slatted wing outboard panel lines are completely wrong. The Revell 1/32 F-4E is about half right, and Cutting Edge copied Revell's errors. The inboard edge of the outboard slats had a slot cut in it that fit around the wing fence, I've yet to see that correctly done on any model. Here's a drawing from a Japanese book that shows the slatted and non-slatted panel lines outboard the wing fold especially well:





I hope this was useful and not too long-winded.

Scott Wilson

Edited by Scott R Wilson

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57 FIS, Keflavik Iceland, this bird came through Ramstein on August 2 and left August 3, 1984.







I thought so but wanted to check with you.


I think this is the Phantom at her finest!



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I could not have explained the Phantom any better. EXCELLENT!

You've surely been around her and now the areas that the model makers have missed.

I enjoyed reading you short dissertation on her.


Though I've taken to talking about "splitters" (it seems to be the "common" term) you're 100% correct about the Vari Ramps short for Variable Duct Ramps. As an old Instrument Shop Troop I know the ramp system well; possible too well!


Love the pics and can’t think of another airplane I would rather talk about.

My goal is to build a Phantom or two, maybe a dozen if that what it takes to get one as accurate as I can possible make her.


Phantoms Phorever; may her bent wing profile Phorever remain in the eyes and minds of her Foes! :fight:



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I could not have explained the Phantom any better. EXCELLENT!

You've surely been around her and now the areas that the model makers have missed.

I enjoyed reading you short dissertation on her.


Though I've taken to talking about "splitters" (it seems to be the "common" term) you're 100% correct about the Vari Ramps short for Variable Duct Ramps. As an old Instrument Shop Troop I know the ramp system well; possible too well!


Love the pics and can’t think of another airplane I would rather talk about.

My goal is to build a Phantom or two, maybe a dozen if that what it takes to get one as accurate as I can possible make her.


Phantoms Phorever; may her bent wing profile Phorever remain in the eyes and minds of her Foes! :fight:




Thanks, Barry. I was comm-nav avionics. The F-4 was a real pig to work on, but I still miss it. Well, maybe not everything. To change the VOR/ILS receiver we had to get the rear seat bucket removed, and being 6 feet tall I had to lay down on the right intake and slide into the rear cockpit head first and work with my head on the floor supporting my weight with my feet hanging out of the cockpit. I couldn't reach it otherwise.

Here's some more photos. No slatted Phantom model I've ever seen out of the box got the panels under the inboard leading edge correct; they're quite different from a non-slatted bird:







This photo is courtesy of Ben Brown; it shows the scratches that could be seen in front of the air refuel receptacle quite well:



The centerline bomb rack on most Phantom model kits is smooth; the real thing bulged out. This is a derelict F-4C that I photographed some years ago, looking from the rear to the front:


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Here's some photos I took of the nose gun in an F-4F at Oshkosh a few years ago.












This one is two photos spliced together:



Edited by Scott R Wilson

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