The F-4M was the version of the Phantom intended for the Royal Air Force. In February 1965, the RAF followed the lead of the Royal Navy and selected the Spey-powered F-4M, which was designated Phantom FGR Mk. 2 in RAF service. The "FGR" meant Fighter, Ground attack and Reconnaissance, which were to be the roles to be fulfilled by the aircraft. It was intended as a replacement for the Hawker Hunter in both the ground attack and fighter reconnaissance roles.
Originally, the replacement for the Hunter was to have been the Hawker Siddeley P.1154 Mach 2 V/STOL fighter, which was to have been built in both shipboard and land-based versions. The Royal Navy backed out of the P.1154 project in February of 1964, leaving the RAF to go it alone. When a Labour government was elected in October of 1964, one of the first acts of the new Prime Minister Harold Wilson was to question whether Britain really needed or could afford such an expensive military aircraft as the P.1154. On February 2, 1965, the government cancelled the P.1154 project altogether, leaving the RAF with no Hunter replacement. The RAF had expressed an interest in the McDonnell Phantom as far back as January of 1964, at the same time that the Royal Navy was considering its own version of the Phantom which eventually emerged as the F-4K. Anticipating that the RAF would eventually be able to follow up its interest in the Phantom with some hard cash, the McDonnell design team began to develop a version specifically for the RAF under the US designation F-4M. On February 9, 1965, the RAF followed the Royal Navy's lead and announced that they had selected the Phantom as the successor to the Hunter. On July 1, 1965 it was announced that agreement had been reached on the initial production batch for the RAF--two YF-4Ms and 38 F-4Ms. At that time, it was stipulated that the RAF would ultimately want to acquire 200 F-4Ms. The order was soon reduced to 150, but the final 32 planes on the order were cancelled before they could be delivered.
The RAF Phantom, like the Royal Navy version, was powered by a pair of Spey 202/203 turbofans. The RAF preferred the cheaper and proven J79 turbojet for its Phantom, but political considerations dictated the choice of a British-designed engine. The US designation for the RAF Phantom was F-4M, with the RAF designation being Phantom FGR.Mk 2.
The F-4M differed from the Royal Navy version in having a Ferranti-built AN/AWG-12 fire control system (a license-built version of the Westinghouse AN/AWG-10 fitted to the US Navy F-4J) interfaced with a Ferranti inertial navigational and attack system (originally developed for the abortive TSR.2). The RAF version lacked the slotted stabilators, the double-extensible nose leg, and the aileron droop of the naval variant. The F-4M was fitted with anti-skid brakes for safer operations on wet or short runways. Like the F-4K, the F-4M was not equipped with an internal cannon. However, unlike the F-4K, the F-4M was compatible with the SUU-16/A and SUU-23/A gun pods. The basic armament consisted of four Sparrow air-to-air missiles carried in underfuselage slots, plus two to four Sidewinder air-to-air missiles carried underneath the inboard underwing pylons.. Since the F-4M was not intended to be launched from carriers, it lacked the prominent stabilator incidence indicator that was fitted to the rear fuselage of the F-4K. The F-4M was otherwise externally almost identical to the Royal Navy F-4K.
Numerous subsystems for the RAF Phantom were manufactured in Britain. BAC built aft fuselages, fins, rudders, tailcones, stabilators, and inboard wing leading edges. Delaney Gallay built heat exchangers and titanium insulation blankets. The UK branch of Goodyear built the brakes, subcontracting the anti-skid system to Dunlop. Ferranti manufactured the fire control system and the inertial navigation system. Marconi built the fuel flow meters, the fuel gauge, the autopilot, and the ASN-46 navigational computer (under license from Bendix)
The first of two YF-4Ms (XT852 and XT853) flew at St Louis on February 17, 1967. XT852 was then transferred to Holloman AFB in New Mexico for trials. XT853 was transferred to NAS Patuxent River in Maryland.
The production F-4M differed only in detail from the YF-4M. A total of 116 production Phantom FGR.Mk 2s were delivered to the RAF. The first F-4M to reach Britain was XT891, which arrived at Yeovilton on July 18, 1968. Two days later, it was transferred to No. 23 Maintenance Unit at Aldergrove in Northern Ireland. 115 more F-4Ms were delivered to the same unit. The last example (XV501) was delivered on October 29, 1969. However, repairs to XV434 (which had been damaged during an earlier accident) delayed its delivery until June 16, 1970.
The initial plans were for the Phantom FGR.Mk 2 to serve in the strike/attack role pending the availability of the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar. When the Jaguar eventually did become available, the Phantom would switch over to the air defense role and would replace the BAC Lightning in service.
The first Phantom FGR Mk.2s were handed over to No 228 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Coningsby in August of 1968. The first operational squadron was No. 6, which was formed at RAF Coningsby in May of 1969. The Phantom FGR.Mk 2 replaced that unit's ageing Canberra B.Mk. 16s. Subsequently, Phantom FGR 2s were operated by Nos. 6 and 54 Squadrons of Air Support Command, Nos 23, 29, 56, and 111 Squadrons of Strike Command, and Nos. 14, 17, 19, 31, and 92 Squadrons based in Germany. They served in the ground attack and air defense roles. In the tactical reconnaissance role, FGR Mk 2s were operated by No 2 Squadron in Germany and by No 41 Squadron of the Air Support Command.
The F-4M could carry the SNEB rocket pod, the 1000-pound bomb, the BL755 cluster bomb unit, and it could also carry nuclear weapons. When used in the reconnaissance role, the F-4M could carry the EMI special pod which housed cameras, infrared linescan, and side-looking radar. This unit had mapping and moving target indication capabilities and could carry a variety of optical cameras.
In the mid-1970s, the SEPECAT Jaguar began to become available, and Phantom-equipped ground attack squadrons began to relinquish their planes and convert to the new Anglo-French plane. The Phantoms were now available for the air defense role, supplanting the BAe Lightning which was in the process of being retired from service. Beginning in 1975, the changeover to air defense roles was accompanied by the addition of Marconi ARI.18228 radar warning receiver antennae in a fintop pod. In the air-defense role, the armament typically consisted of four AIM-7E2 Sparrow radar homing missiles, two AIM-9G Sidewinder infrared homing missiles, and an optional SUU-23/A gun pod. The Sparrow gave way to the BAe Sky Flash in 1979 and the AIM-9G yielded to the AIM-9L in the early 1980s. The BAe Sky Flash is a semiactive radar-homing missile with a launch weight of 425 pounds and an effective range of about 30 miles. The 66-pound high-explosive warhead is triggered by an EMI active-radar fuse.
The RAF Phantom did not participate in the Falkland/Malvinas conflict of 1981. However, RAF Phantoms began operating out of Port Stanley Airport in the Falkland Islands in 1982 following their recapture from Argentina. In order to compensate NATO for the diversion of these aircraft to the Falklands, Britain purchased 15 ex-US Navy F-4Js for use in Europe. They retained their J79 engines and their American avionics. They were assigned the designation F-4J(UK) rather than the more logical "Phantom F.Mk 3" so that they would not be confused with the Tornado F.Mk 3. RAF serials were ZE350-ZE364.
From 1987 onward, 75 Phantom FGR.Mk 2s received new BAe-built outer wing panels in order to extend their fatigue lives.
During the late 1980s, Phantom-equipped interceptor squadrons began to be re-equipped with Tornado F.Mk 3s. The last two Phantom-equipped interceptor squadrons were disbanded in the second half of 1991. The Falkland-based No. 1435 flight exchanged its Phantoms for Tornadoes in mid 1992. Nos 56 and 74 Squadrons based at Wattisham disbanded in the fall of 1992, bringing the era of Phantom service with the RAF to an end.
A total of 32 Phantom FGR.Mk 2s were lost in accidents.
XT899, the last Phantom at Wildenrath, is now on display at the Czech Air Force Museum.
XT852-XT853 McDonnell YF-4M-29-MC Phantom XT891-XT895 McDonnell F-4M-31-MC Phantom XT896-XT906 McDonnell F-4M-32-MC Phantom XT907-XT914 McDonnell F-4M-33-MC Phantom XT915-XT928 transferred to following batch XV393-XV398 McDonnell F-4M-33-MC Phantom XV399-XV417 McDonnell F-4M-34-MC Phantom XV418-XV436 McDonnell F-4M-35-MC Phantom XV437-XV442 McDonnell F-4M-36-MC Phantom XV460-XV475 McDonnell F-4M-36-MC Phantom XV476-XV495 McDonnell F-4M-37-MC Phantom XV496-XV501 McDonnell F-4M-38-MC Phantom XV520-XV551 McDonnell F-4M Phantom - order cancelled
Engines: Two Rolls-Royce RB-168-25R Mk.202/203 Spey turbofans, 12,250 lb.s.t dry, 20,515 lb.s.t. with afterburner. Performance: Maximum speed 1386 mph at 40,000 feet (Mach 2.07), Inital climb rate 32,000 feet per minute. Service ceiling 60,000 feet. Combat range 1000 miles, maximum range 1750 miles with maximum external fuel. Dimensions: 31,000 pounds empty, 52,400 pounds loaded, 56,000 pounds maximum takeoff weight. Dimensions: Wingspan 38 feet 5 inches, wing area 530 square feet, length 57 feet 7 inches, height 16 feet 1 inches. Fuel: Maximum internal fuel in the fuselage tanks was 1347 US gallons. An additional 630 gallons of fuel could be carried in internal tanks inside the wings. Maximum external fuel load was 600 US gallons in a centerline tank that could be carried underneath the fuselage plus 370 US gallons in each of two tanks that could be carried underneath the outer underwing pylons, bringing total fuel load to 3317 US gallons. Armament: Armament consisted of four AIM-7 Sparrow semi-active radar homing air-to-air missiles in semi-recessed slots in the fuselage belly and two to four AIM-9 Sidewinder infra-red homing air-to-air missiles carried under the wings on the inboard pylons. A total offensive load of up to 16,000 pounds could be carried on the centerline and four underwing hardpoints.