McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FG.1 (XT596)

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FG.1 (XT596)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

During the early 1960s the Royal Navy were looking for replacements to their de Havilland Sea Vixens while the RAF was looking to replace their Hawker Hunters and English Electric Canberras.  A replacement candidate for both Services was the Hawker P.1154, a supersonic VTOL tactical strike fighter, the so called “supersonic Harrier”.  However the project was cancelled together with the British Aircraft Corporation TSR.2 on the 6th April 1965 in a so called budget cut back.

XT596 was one of the first F.4K prototypes and flew for the first time on the 30th August 1966.  Built at St Louis, Missouri, XT596 was delivered to the MoD(PE) for trials work on the 28th April 1969 which included visits to Rolls Royce at Hucknall for instrumentation installation and Bristol Siddeley Engines at Filton.  In June 1972 XT596 moved to Hawker Siddeley Aviation at Holme on Spalding Moor for equipment trials and later in December 1983 to BAe Scampton for various trials before retirement in 1987.

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FG.1 (XT596)

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FG.1 (XT596)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

To try and soften the crushing blow dealt to the British aircraft industry, the MOD did at least get an agreement to use Rolls Royce Spey engines on the UK versions and to have parts of the aircraft built in the UK.   BAC would build the rear fuselage and Ferranti would build the radars (though the American design would be kept).  Based upon the F.4J two UK versions of the Phantom II were produced.  The Royal Navy was to receive the F.4K and the RAF was to get the F.4M.  Two versions entered service with the RAF, 52 Phantom FG.1s in the fighter and ground attack role and 118 Phantom FGR.2s in the fighter, ground attack and tactical reconnaissance role while the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) received 28 FG.1s.  The Phantom went on to form a major part of the RAF's combat aircraft strength for the next twenty years and provided the RAF with one of the worlds most capable strike fighters.  From 1977 all the Royal Air Force Phantoms were used exclusively as interceptor fighters over UK air-space.  Around 15 RAF squadrons received various marks of Phantom, many of them based in Germany.

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FGR.2 (XV424)

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FGR.2 (XV424 [@ RAF Hendon]

The first 3 FG.1s were delivered to RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset, in April 1968 and were allocated to the 700P Intensive Flying Trials Unit.  When 700P performed carrier trials on the USS Saratoga it became clear that due to the higher thrust of the Spey engines the FAA carriers HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal would need water-cooled blast deflectors and deck plates for protection but in the end due to government cutbacks only HMS Ark Royal received the upgrade and was ready in 1970.  In the same cutbacks the new super-carrier CVA-01was cancelled and so the order for the F.4Ks was cut to 48.  In fact 20 FG1.s of this order were diverted to RAF Leuchars to support 43 Squadron.  43 Squadron regularly intercepted Soviet intruders over the North Sea in cooperation with Avro Shackletons and FAA Fairey Gannets from Lossiemouth.  The longer range of the Phantom made it ideal for this role and so the English Electric Lightning was gradually phased out of this role.  The first FAA training unit, 767 NAS, was setup in January 1969 and first and only front line Phantom FAA squadron, 892 NAS, was formed in March 1969.  767 NAS disbanded in 1972 with Phantom training passing to the RAF and also in this year the FAA Phantoms moved from RNAS Yeovilton to RAF Leuchars.RB.168 Mk 202 (Military Spey)

Built at St Louis, Missouri, XV424 was delivered to 23 MU at RAF Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, on the 12th February 1969 and entered RAF service with 6 Squadron at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on the 24th April 1969.  During the early part of 1972 XV424 was loaned to 54 Squadron and then to 228 OCU in early 1974 who were both based at Coningsby.  6 Squadron disbanded on the 3rd September 1974 and XV424 was transferred to 29 Squadron based at RAF Wattisham.  On the 10th September 1976 XV424 was transferred to 111 Squadron, RAF Leuchars, prior to joining 56 Squadron on the 15th December 1978 at RAF Wattisham.  On the 21st June 1979 flew across the Atlantic from Goose Bay, Newfoundland, to the UK in five hours and 40 minutes (in-flight refuelling being provided by the Victor tankers of 57 Squadron) to celebrate the Trans-Atlantic Flight of Alcock and Brown.  XV424 was then allocated to 228 OCU at RAF Coningsby on the 23rd July 1979 and for a while was used as the RAF’s solo display Phantom.  During June 1985 XV424 was allocated to 92 Squadron at RAF Wildenrath, West Germany, before returning to 228 OCU, RAF Leuchars, on the 22nd April 1987.  After receiving new British Aerospace built outer wing panels XV424 was transferred to 56 Squadron, RAF Wildenrath, during March 1988.  The last operational sortie of XV424 was on the 13th July 1992 and 56 Squadron disbanded the following September at RAF Wattisham.  XV424 arrived at the museum on the 12th November 1992 by road.

The FAA's operations very gradually ran down but at the same time the number of RAF increased, for example, between 1973 and 1976 19, 23, 29, 56, 92 and 111 Squadrons were formed.  With the retirement of HMS Ark Royal in 1978 saw the final withdrawal of the Royal Navy’s Phantoms.  892's FG.1s remained at RAF Leuchars but passed to RAF charge with 111 Squadron who intern passed their FGR.2s onto other squadrons.

August 1968 saw the forming of 228 OCU in August 1968 from 5 School of Technical Training at RAF Coningsby.  228 OCU was the Operational Conversion Unit for the Phantom FGR.2.  Following on in 1969 were 6 (the RAFs’ first FGR.2 Squardron) and 54 Squadrons, also at RAF Coningsby, with FGR.2s and 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars with FG.1s.  1970 saw 14 and 17 Squadrons operating FGR.2s in Germany at RAF Bruggen.  RAF Lightnings continued to guard the frontier while the RAFG Phantoms were tasked with ground attack and interdiction as well as reconnaissance.  During 1970/71 the Hawker Hunter FR.10s of 2 Squadron were gradually replaced by the Phantom FGR.2.  The FR.10 was a Hunter F.6 conversion which had been optimised for the fighter-reconnaissance role and was used as a replacement for the Supermarine Swift FR.5 which in turn had replaced the Gloster Meteor FR.9 in this role.

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FGR.2 (XV408)

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom FGR.2 (XV408 [@ RAF Tangmere]

The joining of the RB.168 Mk 202 military Spey engines to the Phantom fuselage meant that not only were British Phantoms the most expensive of all but their performance was nowhere near as good as the F.4J counterparts.  Although the Spey engine were more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the J.79 the higher drag caused by the adapted fuselage wiped out any savings.  The enlarging of the engine bays to accommodate the Spey engines, modifying the rear fuselage to cope with the slight exhaust down-angle needed to further improve take-off performance and larger air intakes to cope the Spey’s greater flow of air requirement all conspired to the escalate costs and delivery time.   Overall, the performance at low altitude was improved over the F.4J but the F.4J performed better at high altitude.

XV408 was delivered to the RAF on the 12th December 1968 and so became one of the first Phantoms to be delivered to the RAF.  Briefly allocated to 228 OCU, RAF Coningsby, and then in June 1969 transferred 6 Squadron for fighter/ground attack duties.  XV408 was allocated to 23 Squadron after further service with 228 OCU between 1974 and 1976 and then moved between several squadrons in both the UK and Germany until final retirement in 1993 when XV408 became a gate guardian at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire.  Moved first to to Halton, Buckinghamshire, for static display in October1997 and then for static display in the 2003 RIAT at RAF Fairford.  Facing being scrapped in 2004 XV408 was gifted to the RAF Museum and then loaned to the museum at RAF Tangmere.

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom F.4C (63-7699)McDonnell-Douglas Phantom F.4C (63-7699)

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom F.4C (63-7699[@ Midland Air Museum]

During the Falklands War in 1982 3 Phantoms FGR.2s of 29 Squadron were on active Quick Reaction Alert duty on Ascenion Island to protect the base from air attack.  With the deployment of Phantoms to the South Atlantic in 1982 an additional order for 15 Phantoms was placed.  These were second hand United States Navy F.4Js fitted with General Electric F.79 engines.  After an extensive refurbishment and the fitting of some British equipment they were designated F.4J(UK).

63-7699 served with the 123rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron and with 142nd FIG (Oregon ANG).  During the Vietnam War 63-7699 shot down a MiG-17 belonging to the NVNAF on the 14th May 1967 using an AIM 7 Sparrow missile.  After ANG service 63-7699 was used for battle damage repair training duties in the UK and retired to the Midland Air Museum in 1993.

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom F.4J/F-4SMcDonnell-Douglas Phantom F.4J/F-4S

McDonnell-Douglas Phantom F.4J/F-4S (63-7699[@ RAF East Fortune]

The collapse of the threat from the Eastern Europe saw the Phantom fleet quite quickly being replaced by the Panavia Tornado F.3.  By 1991 the UK Phantom force had been reduced to just four squadrons, 92, 19, 56 and 74, which were all based at RAF Wattisham.  The last unit, 74 Squadron, disbanded at the end of September 1992. 

Built as a F.4J variant 15-5848 first flew in 1968 and served with the US Navy before being converted to F-4S standard and transferring to the US Marine Corps in 1978.  After retirement in 1983 15-5848 was involved in a deal which saw a Supermarine Scimitar F.1 (XD220) move to USS Intrepid museum, New York, and 15-5848 to the Fleet Air Arm Museum.  Initially painted in RN colours and displayed at the museum 15-5848 became surplus to requirements with the acquisition of XT596.  Saved from being scrapped 15-5848 was handed over to the National Museum of Flight at RAF East Fortune in May 1999.