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Sunset on an Era- the Phantom F4

Years ago I read the fascinating biography of test pilot Lt Commander Brian Davies titled 'Fly No More'. In it he recounts his experiences as Royal Navy test pilot in the McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom when the American fighter was heavily modified for export orders to the British Royal Navy. Among other modifications, the Phantom had its JP79 turbojets replaced with Rolls Royce Spey turbofans and a longer extanding nose leg to give the aircraft a steeper angle of attack for take-off on the smaller decks of the British Navy carriers.

Lt Commander Davies wrote about the cancellation of the aircraft carriers renewal program in the 1960s that would lead to his final flights in Phantoms in the Fleet Air Arm in 1978. With the carrier Ark Royal finally withdrawn from service, it left no ship in the Royal Navy capable of operating the type. Fittingly, the 892 squadron's Phantom tails bore the final letter of the Greek alphabet - Omega. This would be last conventional jet fighter to work off of a Royal Navy carrier.

The final catapult launch from Ark Royal was a Phantom of 892 NAS on 27 November 1978. The squadron's aircraft were delivered to RAF St Athan in Wales, where they were handed over to the RAF for a new career.

On a personal note, the Phantom was the fighter jet in the western world when I was a child - I still have my well-played with Dinky toy of the Royal Navy F4K FG1. Later I would spend time at two RAF bases as a cadet in the Air Training Corps that wer equipped with Phantoms, Wattisham in the UK and Wildenrath in Germany. I recall being awed by the noise, power and sheer size of these fighters and was happy to see that in recent times one of the retired RAF examples, XV586, made its way full circle back to the Royal Navy and has been restored once more to the bright colours of 892 squadron.

I decided then to use this aircraft as the basis for a painting as I had several photos of it along with access to an example of the superb Corgi diecast model of an 892 squadron FG1 Phantom. The would scene show a Royal Navy Phantom flying away from the deck of Ark Royal for the last time - the sun setting on this part of aviation history.


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