These photos prove F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat could take off and land with folded wings

You won’t believe it but U.S. Navy legendary planes (F-4, F-8 and F-14) could fly with folded wings, asymmetric configurations.

To save space aboard the deck of U.S. flattops, aircraft built for carrier operations can fold their wings making room for more planes.

Obviously wings must be extended tbefore catapult launch.

But what happens if the wings aren’t unfolded before take off?

Even if the pictures in this post show aircraft that were safely brought back without any trouble, for sure no aircraft can fly in those configurations.

One case in which the wings were forgotten folded occurred in August 1960, when a US Navy F-8 took off from Naples and climbed to 5,000 feet, when its pilot felt an amount of pressure on the stick: immediately, he started to look around to discover why its Crusader was facing the pressure amount and noticed that the wings were still folded.

Instantly he started to dump as much fuel as possible, and after 24 minutes of flight he was able to come back to Naples, landing safely.

He said that his Crusader faced no serious problems during the unusual kind of flight and the landing had been very fast but uneventful.

At least seven more times F-8s took off with wings folded, in several occasions at night, but without any mishap, proving Crusader strength and revealing the great job done by Vought engineers.

F-8 folded wings

Six years later was the turn of an F-4B (BuNo. 152327) aircrew belonging to VF-14 Tophatters to experience a “wings folded” flight: in fact, on May 10, 1966, LT JG Greg Scwalber and his RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) Bill Wood were launched from USS Roosevelt (CVA-42) and once airborne they discovered that their Phantom II was flying with outboard wings folded.


They immediately understood that the locking mechanism was not properly set before launch. They quickly dumped all external stores, dropped the flaps and after declaring an emergency they diverted to the nearest airport that was Navy airfield in Cuba.

After 59 miles of flight Scwalber and Wood were able to made a successful arrested landing at a speed of 170-180 knots. As happened with the Crusader the F-4B BuNo 152327 returned into service few days later.

At least one Air Force crew had the chance to experience this strange kind of flight with their F-4, but the Rhino revealed to be a very robust airframe and it always brought its aircrew back home even without its wings fully opened.

The last impressive picture depicts the third F-14 prototype (BuNo 157982) with its wings swept asymmetrically: with the starboard wing locked fully forward and the port wing swept fully aft.

To reduce deck spotting area its wings could be “overswept” to 75°, eliminating the need for the folding mechanism of the wings. However in this photo the wings position is the result of tests undertaken to explore how the Tomcat could return back to the carrier with this asymmetric configuration.

Six flights were made between Dec. 19 1985 and Feb. 28, 1986 in this unusual configuration and landings were conducted with the aft-swept wing at up to 60°. These trials were conducted after four fleet aircraft found themselves in this difficult situation.


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  1. Wings Folded
    Richard (Dick) Green – VAN Team #3…..I called him to read off the Checklist, but he said “We don’t have the time for that”, and called what passed for a tower there for take-off clearance.

    What I didn’t know, and what he had forgotten, was that while taxi-ing he had had to go between two other aircraft and, lacking enough room, had folded the wings. I hadn’t noticed, because I was too busy getting ready to launch. So there we were pointing down the runway with the wings folded and asking for take-off clearance. I don’t know whether those people who answered us thought we flapped off into the blue like some big seagull, or whether they cleared us and then ran outside to watch the show, but clear us they did, and we roared off down the runway, fat, dumb and happy. About halfway down the runway, I was wondering why we were still rolling, since we had plenty of speed. Then I thought, “He’s holding her down so that he can impress the locals by standing the aircraft on its tail and taking off straight up” It was about that time that, for some reason, I leaned forward and looked out my little window on the port side. The view I got almost stopped my heart, and all I could think of to do was to hit the ICS switch and calmly say (Yeah, right – I screamed my lungs out !) “WINGS !!! WINGS !!! As it happened, LT Metzner was also wondering why we were still on the ground, had located the problem at about the same time that I did and had assessed the situation–definitely un-good. His automatic reaction was to chop the throttle, but then realized that there was no hope at all of stopping the plane on the wheels short of all the rocks, surf and other assorted bad news ahead of us so he decided to belly in. To do that, he had to get the weight off the wheels so that he could raise the gear, and thought that, considering our load of ordnance, with enough power he could get the plane to “mush” into the air long enough to do the job. So he went full bore and pulled the stick back into his lap, but he had miscalculated a bit and we were very quickly at what ground witnesses said was about 200 feet. Our situation had deteriorated somewhat. We could fly, but only straight ahead since we had no working ailerons and straight ahead was not a good direction because of the aforementioned rocks, surf, and a lot of empty, cold (even in May) ocean, with no rescue aircraft around for an hour or more. The only viable alternative was to get back on the ground, and fast, so he kicked a little left rudder and we promptly augered in at about 30 degrees. I remember seeing the port wing stub hit the ground, but after that things got noisy and confused, so I have to rely on what we were told by outside observers. The initial impact tore off the port wing and stub, and the partially raised landing gear, and we went flat on the belly, leaving the prop blades standing like a row of fence posts in the ground. The radar nacelle was next…….

  2. The F-14 photo has to be a photoshop job. The wings cannot be moved like that without the wingbox being totally disassembled (or broken from battle damage in which case the bird would not be flying). Any wingbox damage was an automatic strike of the aircraft…

    • Hey Alan, the photo of the F-14 with the asymmetric wing sweep is quite REAL. It was a test flight performed by Grumman during the Tomcat’s development. The right wing was locked full forward at 20 degrees, disconnected from the wing sweep mechanism, while the left wing remained connected and was incrementally swept aft to prove that the aircraft was controllable in that asymmetric configuration all the way to 60 degrees wing sweep. Flight test is the time to address nearly all possibilities and conditions that the line aviator might face. I’m sure they even did a fully swept landing just to prove it could be done. That same photo appears in several good books covering the history of the Tomcat. The book I have, “TOMCAT!” by Paul T. Gillcrist, states that the pilots who conducted the asymmetric wing sweep series of flight test were Grumman test pilot Chuck Sewell and Grumman engineer Paul Canigliaro. Says they even demonstrated landings asymmetric!

      • That’s a pretty famous pic, I’ve seen it in a few aviation books. I figured it wouldn’t normally be possible but was done as a temporary modification on a test bird.

        They do all kinds of funky stuff with test birds. The F-16 has been in service for 35 years and they still do these crazy tests at Edwards, like moving the CG radically aft and loading asymmetric pods & dummy ordinance to purposely make the jet go out of control. Like this:

  3. “strange kind of flight with their F-4, but the Rhino revealed to be a very robust airframe” Rhino? Since when has an F4 Phantom been called a Rhino? The only Rhino I know of is the super hornet

    • I’ve seen “double-ugly” referred to as Rhino on numerous occasions. It’s my understanding that Super Hornet was given the separate nickname to help flight operations crews distinguish the heavier aircraft from the lighter F/A-18 A/B/C/D. Presumably the origin of the name Rhino is from the also-rather-heavy Phantom.

    • It was named Phantom II (“Phantom” was used by the 1940’s FH-1), but “Rhino” was one of it’s many nicknames along with “Snoopy”, “Double Ugly”, and (my favorite) “World’s Leading Distributor of MiG Parts”.

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