McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II USMC VMFA-333 Fighting Shamrocks, AJ201, USS America, Vietnam, 1972 HA1911
The F-4J was the last version produced for the USN and USMC. The “J” version was basically an upgraded “B” version with new radar and avionics as well as a better engine that required a longer afterburner nozzle. One of the most noticeable changes to the “J” version is what isn’t there; the infrared seeker under the nose was deleted. Also missing was an internal gun but Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles were used for intercepting. Between 1966 and 1972 there were 522 F-4Js built. The F-4J had the distinction of scoring the only USMC air-to-air combat victory in Vietnam and it also was the last US operational aircraft in South East Asia. In mid 1970 the F-4 Phantom II was being replaced by the new and improved F-14 Tomcat.
On September 11, 1972 4 F-4J Phantoms of VMFA-333 (Shamrocks) from USS America (CVA-66) came across a Mig-21U with a Soviet pilot and a Vietnamese student. Because of his experience the Soviet pilot was able to out maneuver 3 of the 4 Phantoms but he wasn’t so fortunate with the 4th. The 4th F-4J 155526 was crewed by pilot Major Lee T. Lasseter and RIO Captain John D. Cummings. The Mig-21U was flying north trying to lead the Phantom into SAM territory but the Phantom managed to shoot the MiG-21 down. The Soviet pilot managed to eject but the student didn’t. This would be the only air-to-air victory of the war by a Corps aircraft. Moments later south of Haiphong Harbor Lasseter and Cummings were downed by an S-75M Dvina (SA-2) missile.