McDonnell QF-4B Phantom II

Last revised December 28, 1999

The designation QF-4B was applied to retired F-4Bs that were converted to remote-controlled drone configuration. The QF-4B was intended as a supersonic maneuvering target aircraft to assist in new missile development.

The first QF-4B conversion took place in mid-1970 when the third F-4B (BuNo 148365) was modified by the Naval Air Development Center (NADC) at Warminster, Pennsylvania. The weapons systems of the F-4B were removed and replaced by radio and telemetry equipment. Ballast was added to the nose in order to preserve the center of gravity in the face of the removed military equipment.

From late 1971, the first conversion was tested in basic remote control mode, using a Vought DF-8L Crusader as the director aircraft. Tests were made that included switching back and forth between piloted and unpiloted mode, combat maneuvering, weapons trials, and penetrations of hostile airspace. A high-visibility Dayglo paint scheme was applied. It was delivered to Point Mugu in California in April of 1972 for further testing.

At least 44 F-4Bs were modified to the QF-4B drone configuration. They had differing command, datalink, and scoring systems. Most QF-4B sorties were flown manned, with hits or misses being scored electronically, since the cost of even a surplus F-4B is considerable. However, several QF-4Bs went out to White Sands and other facilities for tests of the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, and were expended.


  1. McDonnell F-4 Phantom: Spirit in the Skies. Airtime Publishing, 1992.

  2. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  3. The American Fighter, Enzo Angelucci and Peter Bowers, Orion, 1987.