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McDonnell Douglas F-4EU 'Universal'

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By early 1968 the senior Admirals of the United States Navy saw the failure of the F-111B programme as an opportunity to get the green light for their VFX 'back-up' plan and the cancellation of the F-111B in May 1968 was an important step in their plans. In July 1968 the Naval Air Systems Command issued a Request for Proposals for the Naval Fighter Experimental (VFX) programme calling for a tandem two-seat, twin-engined air-to-air fighter with a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 with an inbuilt M61 Vulcan cannon and a secondary close air support role but the primary focus remained long-range interception using the AIM-54 missile. Bids were received from General Dynamics, Grumman, Ling-Temco-Vought, McDonnell Douglas and North American Rockwell and such was the urgency of this programme that Grumman and McDonnell Douglas were selected as finalists in December 1968 with Grumman expected to be announced as winners shortly afterwards.


However, the incoming Nixon administration had other ideas. Faced with the highest inflation since the Korean War era, the massive costs of the Vietnam War and the Apollo programme the new administration demanded cost savings in all departments and soon the new Secretary of Defense, Melvin R. Laird, had identified the VFX programme as being ripe for pruning and ordered an urgent cost review. McDonnell Douglas knew that their variable-geometry F-4S was unpopular with the Admirals and was likely to require as much test and development time (and associated costs) as Grumman's exciting 'clean sheet of paper' design and decided to offer a lower-cost solution. With perfect timing, they met senior Defense Department officials in early February 1969 and reminded Laird that the F-4 Phantom II programme was now benefiting from the economies of scale from high production to such an extent that Phantoms were pouring off the production line at barely two-thirds of their 1962 costs. They proposed a new multi-service version of the F-4E called the F-4EU for 'Universal' and suggested that they could meet 80% of the VFX specification at about 40% of the expected cost and Laird found this hard to resist but delayed cancellation of the VFX and associated AIM-54 programmes until July 20th when he knew that the domestic audience would be watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking a giant leap for mankind and Laird calmly considerded that there was no need to announce the 'new' programme as it was just a new version of an existing design.


McDonnell Douglas quickly undertook the detail design to transform the long-nose cannon-armed F-4E for carrier use and smoothly introduced the F-4EU on the production line where it followed on from the F-4J for the Navy with just the first few F-4EU's retaining the 'hard' unslatted wing. Production machines entered service with VMFA-333 and VF-111 in 1972 and service pilots considered that the inbuilt cannon far outweighed any visibility problems caused by the longer nose and VF-111 put their new mount to good use in February 1973 claiming a Mig-17 kill. F-4EU's served until with the United States Navy until 1989 and the United States Marine Corps until 1991.



VF-111 'Sundowners'


Edited by Spinners

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A 'Jolly Rogers' F-4EU shows off the classic curving approach to the carrier necessary due to the longer nose


Third Wire Rocks!

Edited by Spinners

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