Phantom with Royal Navy and Royal Air Force

Last revised December 30, 1999




Royal Navy

The F-4K was the export model of the Phantom designed for the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy had originally planned to purchase the Hawker Siddeley P.1154 Mach 2 V/STOL fighter as its primary carrier-based fighter aircraft. However, even before the government cancelled the P.1154 project altogether, the Royal Navy had dropped out of the project, citing its high cost and protracted development schedule. This left the Royal Navy with no replacement for its fleet of ageing DeHavilland (Hawker Siddeley) Sea Vixens. During that time period, the British government happened to be involved in discussions with McDonnell in St Louis on their proposal for a version of the Phantom suitable for British requirements. On July 1, 1964, the Royal Navy gave the official go-ahead for a Phantom to fulfill its needs.

The first three Royal Navy Phantoms were delivered to Yeovilton on April 29, 1968. The initial trials and crew training were handled by No. 700P Squadron, after which No. 892 Squadron was formed for carrier-based operations and No. 767 Squadron was assigned the task of handling crew training.

The only Royal Navy operational unit to fly the Phantom, No. 892 Squadron, was commissioned on March 21, 1969. It became carrier qualified aboard the USS Saratoga (CVA-60) in the autumn of 1969. It embarked for the first time aboard HMS Ark Royal in June of 1970. The primary role of the Phantom FG Mk 1 was air-to-air interception, with a secondary role of ground attack.

As compared to the General Electric J79-powered Phantom, the use of the Spey produced a ten percent increase in the operational radius and a 15 percent increase in ferry range. Better take-off, initial climb, and low-level acceleration figures were obtained. However, the Spey-powered Phantom had a lower maximum speed, a lower ceiling, and a generally poorer altitude performance than did the J79-powered version.

The Royal Navy suffered from an unexpectedly rapid drawdown of its carrier force. The cost of refitting HMS *Eagle* for Phantom operations had turned out to be prohibitively high, and HMS *Victorious* had to be retired early because of an onboard fire. This left only the HMS *Ark Royal* as a Phantom "platform". Since the carriers now didn't need as many Phantoms as before, only 29 Phantom FG.Mk 1s were actually delivered to the Royal Navy. The remainder were immediately diverted to the Royal Air Force, which was already receiving its own version of the Phantom, the FGR. Mk 2. These Phantom FG. Mk 1s were turned over to No. 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars in Scotland. This squadron had been reformed on September 1, 1969 to operate Phantom FG.Mk 1s which were surplus to Royal Navy requirements and was given the responsibility of the air defense role. Most of the other Royal Air Force Phantom FGR.Mk 2s served in the strike/attack role.

The last Phantom FG.Mk 1 (XV592) was delivered on November 21, 1969.

In 1978, the British government decided that it could no longer afford to maintain carriers capable of operating conventional fixed-wing aircraft, and the HMS *Ark Royal* was decommissioned. The last Phantom launch from HMS *Ark Royal* took place on November 27, 1978. This meant the end of the line for No. 892 Squadron, and the unit was disbanded on December 15, 1978. Its Phantom FG.Mk Is were transferred to the Royal Air Force by the end of 1978. After that time, the Royal Navy switched to smaller carriers that were equipped with V/STOL Harriers and helicopters.

After their transfer to the RAF, ex-Royal Navy FG Mk 1 aircraft were assigned to No. 111 Squadron. No. 111 Squadron had been formed at Leuchars, Scotland in 1975 to assume air defense duties and had flown Lightning interceptors. It converted to the ex-Navy Phantoms in 1978-1980. No. 111 Squadron flew its Phantoms in the air defense role, its primary responsibility being the patrolling of the Iceland-UK "gap". It relinquished its Phantoms when it converted to the Tornado F.Mk 3 in 1990.

No. 43 Squadron of the RAF flew its last Phantom mission on July 1, 1989. It converted to the Tornado F.Mk 3 shortly thereafter.

The Royal Navy lost seven Phantoms in accidents during service. A further eight of them crashed after they were transferred to the RAF. Phantom FG.Mk 1s are now in storage and are no longer flying. However, it is possible that they might be sold to another user.

Royal Air Force

The F-4M was the version of the Phantom intended for the Royal Air Force. It was intended as a replacement for the Hawker Hunter in both the ground attack and fighter reconnaissance roles.

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 then 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.Mk 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 based in Germany and by No. 41 Squadron of the Air Support Command.

In the mid-1970s, the SEPECAT Jaguar became available, and Phantom-equipped ground attack squadrons began to relinquish their planes and convert over to the new Anglo-French plane. The Phantoms were now available for the air defense role, supplanting the BAe Lightning which was at that time 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

The first three F-4J(UK) aircraft were delivered to the United Kingdom in August of 1984. They equipped the newly-formed No. 74 Squadron at RAF Wattisham. These aircraft were intended to serve in the air defense role pending the introduction of the Tornado F.Mk 3 into RAF service.

The F-4J(UK) aircraft delivered from US Navy stocks to the RAF were retired from service in early 1991 when some low-time Phantom FGR.Mk 2 fighters became available to No. 74 Squadron. However, The Phantom FGR.Mk 2 was used only briefly by No. 74 Squadron, the squadron standing down on September 20, 1992 and disbanding the next day.

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.

Royal Navy serials for Phantom FG.Mk 1:

XT595-XT596 	McDonnell YF-4K-26-MC Phantom 
XT597-XT598 	McDonnell F-4K-27-MC Phantom 
XT857-XT858 	McDonnell F-4K-30-MC Phantom 
XT859-XT862 	McDonnell F-4K-31-MC Phantom 
XT863-XT870 	McDonnell F-4K-32-MC Phantom 
XT871-XT876 	McDonnell F-4K-33-MC Phantom 
XV565-XV571 	McDonnell F-4K-34-MC Phantom 
XV572-XV578 	McDonnell F-4K-35-MC Phantom 
XV579-XV585 	McDonnell F-4K-36-MC Phantom 
XV586-XV592 	McDonnell F-4K-37-MC Phantom 
XV604-XV610 	order not taken up 

RAF serials of Phantom FGR Mk.2:

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 

RAF Serials for F-4J(UK):

ZE350-ZE364	US Navy BuNos 153768, 152773, 153783, 153785, 153795, 
		153803, 153850, 153809, 155510, 155529, 155574, 
		155734, 155755, 155868, and 155894. 

Sources:


  1. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

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

  3. Modern Air Combat, Bill Gunston and Mike Spick, Crescent, 1983.

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

  5. Post-World War II Fighters: 1945-1973, Marcelle Size Knaac, Office of Air Force History, 1986.

  6. The World Guide to Combat Planes, William Green, Macdonald, 1966.

  7. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft Armament, Bill Gunston, Orion, 1988.

  8. The World's Great Attack Aircraft, Gallery, 1988.