McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG1 (Nose section only)
‘Few other aircraft could have met the diverse demands made of the Phantom by the British Forces. For a brief period in the mid ‘seventies the St Louis All-Rounder was serving the RAF as both low-level interdictor and high-level interceptor, and sailing the seas aboard the Navy’s Ark Royal as a shipborne fighter…’ (Jackson, 1980)
One of the most successful and widely-used warplanes of all time, originally designed to meet a US Navy requirement for a supersonic two-seat carrier-borne air defence fighter, the Phantom first flew in May 1958 and entered US Navy service in July 1961. In all, 5,195 were built until May 1981, the last under licence in Japan; 170 were built to British contracts. Many American examples saw combat in Vietnam.
The F-4K Phantom was the Royal Navy''s first truly supersonic fighter, with two prototypes originally ordered for the Fleet Air Arm in July 1964, to replace the Sea Vixen all-weather fighter for fleet defence, although the original requirement for 140 aircraft was later cut to 48. The YF-4K RN prototype flew in June 1966, and 24 RN FG.1s – enough for one squadron - were delivered from April 1968 to November 1969, entering No. 767 Training Squadron service in January 1969. With the decision to reduce the naval requirement due to the 1968 decision to phase out the British carrier force, 20 went direct to the RAF from September 1969 in the air defence interceptor role, spending much time on QRA (quick reaction alert) with No.43 Squadron at Leuchars. Those Navy FG.1s transferred to the RAF in 1977-78 after the withdrawal of HMS Ark Royal served until 1990. Ark Royal was the only RN carrier to operate front–line Phantoms, other than sea trials on HMS Eagle in May 1969 and its withdrawal resulted in disbandment of No.892 Squadron in December 1978 permitting the formation of 43 Squadron as an additional air defence unit.
The RAF needed a Canberra and Hunter replacement following cancellation of the Hawker P.1154, TSR.2 and F-111K orders. After the RAF YF-4M prototype flew in February 1967, the FGR.2, delivered from July 1968 to October 1969, entered full RAF squadron service (No.6 Squadron) in May 1969. It operated mainly in the tactical ground attack and reconnaissance role, serving with four RAF Germany squadrons from June 1970. When the ground-attack Jaguar entered service, UK and German based RAF F4-M Phantoms switched to the interceptor role between 1974 and September 1977, replacing the Lightning. Two squadrons had a primary reconnaissance role. With the introduction of the Tornado F.3 from 1987, RAF Phantoms were phased out from 1990. After the withdrawal of the last RAF Germany Phantoms (No.19 Squadron) on 9th January 1992, the last UK based FGR.2s (No. 74 Squadron) were withdrawn on 30 October 1992; 1435 Flight in the Falklands had converted to Tornados in July 1992. At the end, the FGR.2 fleet was showing its age, being limited to 3G when carrying stores.
From 1984 -1991 the RAF also operated fifteen refurbished ex-US Navy Phantom F.Mk.3/F-4J (UK) aircraft with No.74 Squadron at RAF Wattisham. These were to supplement UK air defences in the southern QRA area, which were slightly depleted due to delays in delivery of the Tornado ADV, the Falklands Detachment, and the dwindling fatigue lives of many airframes due to their use for low-level, ground-attack flying.