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McDonnell Phantom FGR2 XT914 | by Steve Tron
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McDonnell Phantom FGR2 XT914

The United Kingdom operated the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II as one of its principal combat aircraft from the 1960s to the early 1990s. The UK was the first export customer for the Phantom, which was ordered in the context of political and economic difficulties around indigenous British designs for the roles that it was eventually purchased to undertake. The Phantom was procured to serve in both the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force in several roles including air defence, close air support, low-level strike and tactical reconnaissance.


Although assembled in the United States, the UK's Phantoms were a special batch built separately and containing a significant amount of British technology as a means of easing the pressure on the domestic aerospace industry in the wake of major project cancellations. Two individual variants were eventually built for the UK; the F-4K variant was designed from the outset as an air defence interceptor to be operated by the Fleet Air Arm from the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers, while the F-4M version was procured for the RAF to serve in the tactical strike and reconnaissance roles. In the mid-1980s, a third Phantom variant was obtained when a quantity of second-hand F-4J aircraft were purchased to augment the UK's air defences following the Falklands War.


The Phantom entered service with both the Fleet Air Arm and the RAF in 1969; while in the Royal Navy it had a secondary strike role in addition to its primary use for fleet air defence, in the RAF it was soon replaced in the strike role by other aircraft designed specifically for strike and close air support missions, and by the mid-1970s was transferred to become the UK's principal interceptor, a role in which it continued until the late 1980s.


Phantom XT914 was one of the last RAF fighter jets to be based at Wattisham before the station was handed over to the Army in 1993 and has since become home to the Army’s Apache attack helicopters.


Wattisham’s 74 (Tiger) and 56 (Firebirds) Squadrons had been the last units to operate the Phantom and XT914 flew displays to celebrate the fighter jet’s retirement from the RAF in 1992. After its last flight, the aircraft was saved from the scrap yard to stand as a gate guardian at RAF Leeming, North Yorks, and then at RAF Brampton, Cambs.


With RAF Brampton closing in 2013, it was decided to return the Phantom to its former home at Wattisham for refurbishment before going on display at the Wattisham Heritage Museum.

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Taken on August 21, 2016