A fascinating look at the journey one pilot took from civilian street to being on the squadron flying an RAF Phantom in the early 1970s. Narrated by the distinctive Patrick Allen who is perhaps best known for narrating the notorious Protect and Survive films, the documentary contains some stunning glimpses at the RAF’s training aircraft of the time including;
De Havilland Chipmunks and Jet Provosts introducing the new pilot to flying.
Folland Gnats flying low through the Welsh valleys.
Hawker Hunters carrying out some impressively accurate shooting with SNEB rockets.
Finally, of course we get a look not just at the Phantom FG.1 but of life on the squadron for a newly qualified pilot.
Hall 3 at the Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset is dedicated to displaying the look, feel and sound of an aircraft carrier at sea. The floor is laid out like the carrier HMS Ark Royal (R09) and features a number of post-war combat aircraft. Every few minutes a demonstration of a landing and take off is shown with images projected on to large screens at either end of the hall. At the front of the exhibit is a Phantom FG.1 being catapulted off the deck while at the rear a Blackburn Buccaneer comes in to land. Once you have seen everything on deck you can then undertake the “Island Tour” which allows you to visit exact recreations of sections of Ark Royal and learn more about how the ship functioned and what life was like for sailors.
For anyone who has the chance to visit the museum this is an absolute must-see. The only downside to the exhibit is that the low lighting for the projector isn’t very friendly to the camera lens.
Maximum speed: Mach 1.9 (1,386 mph) at 40,000 ft (12,190 m)
Ferry range: 1,750 mi (2,816 km)
Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,300 m)
4× AIM-7 Sparrow/4 × AIM-9 Sidewinders on wing pylons;
1× 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barrel Gatling cannon in SUU-23 gun pod
The Phantom FG.1 was the last conventional fleet fighter operated by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. It was ordered in 1964 as part of a modernization plan for the Royal Navy’s carrier force after the cancellation of the P.1154 supersonic V/STOL fighter. The initial order was for 140 aircraft to replace the De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 on the Navy’s new carriers that were expected to be operational by 1970. After the order was placed however the plans for the new carriers were scrapped leaving only two operational vessels, HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal, large enough to handle the heavy fighter. Ultimately Eagle suffered a boiler room fire and was withdrawn before it could embark any Phantoms.
The British Phantom FG.1 differed from the US Navy F-4J Phantom II version primarily in its powerplant which consisted of a pair of Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans. This resulted in a deterioration of performance at higher altitudes but actually improved range and had slightly better acceleration at lower altitudes compared to the US version’s J79 engine. The fitting of the Spey required a redesign of engine intakes to accommodate their wider diameter. Another major difference was the fitting of an extendible nose wheel to increase the angle of attack on take off from the smaller carriers of the Fleet Air Arm (previous aircraft such as the Blackburn Buccaneer S.1 and Supermarine Scimitar F.1 actually had to launch with the tail dropped so the nose wheel dangled above the deck). Some aircraft were fitted with the sighting system from a Chieftain tank to help with long range visual identification.
With the cancellation of the new carriers such a large order of Phantoms was no longer needed and only 48 were actually delivered. Of these 48, 20 went directly to the RAF as it was announced that the Royal Navy would be suspending conventional carrier operations by 1980 after which the remaining 28 aircraft would follow suit. The first use of the Royal Navy’s Phantoms was actually aboard the US Navy carrier USS Saratoga in the Mediterranean. The following year Ark Royal embarked her first Phantoms. 767 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) acted as the training unit for the only operational frontline squadron, 892 NAS. In 1978 Ark Royal was finally withdrawn and with no carrier to operate from the remaining Navy Phantom FG.1s were transferred to the RAF.