Two British Phantoms to Be Restored

Credit : British Phantom Aviation Group
Credit : British Phantom Aviation Group

The British Phantom Aviation Group (BPAG) has announced plans to restore two Phantoms fighter planes in the United Kingdom.

The first is F-4J (UK) ZE360. BPAG will be partnering with the 74 Squadron Association (74SA) to preserve the plane. This is one of fifteen ex-US Navy F-4Js which the UK received from the US in order to shore up a gap in their air defense after the UK decided to base a squadron in the Falkland Islands following the conflict in 1982. The fifteen F-4J (UK) planes were operated by 74 Squadron from 1984 to 1991. At that time, they were replaced by FGR.2 Phantoms that other squadrons released when they moved to the Tornado.

This is the last of the F-4J (UK) planes to remain in the possession of the Ministry of Defense.

ZE360 was retired to RAF Manston in February 1991. There are only two complete examples of the F-4J (UK) left. The other one is on display at Duxford. That one is painted in its original US Marine Corps colors.

British Phantom Aviation Group

When the British Phantom Aviation Group finishes restoring this plane, it will be the only complete F-4J (UK) on display in it’s RAF colors.

But the current condition of the plane is very poor. It was raided for spare parts and left sitting in the salt air near the coast. BPAG and 74SA both realize that this is going to be a rough, lengthy, and expensive project.

The plane will never fly again or even move under its own power. The goal of the project is to restore the plane to as close to operating condition as possible. A fundraising drive is in progress to finance the cost of the work.

The second project is XT597. This is one of three pre-production F-4K warplanes. The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) was tasked with designing and testing the UK’s warplanes. They used the plane for trials and evaluations for the UK’s Phantom fleet. The XT597 is still decorated in the A&AEE’s “Raspberry Ripple” paint scheme.

F-4Ks were Phantoms that had been specially modified for use in the Royal Navy. The nose radome was designed to fold back 180° so that the plane could fit on aircraft carrier deck lifts. The nose leg had to be extended in order to reduce the amount of wind needed to take off on the carrier deck. Also, the flaps, ailerons and tailplanes were modified to help take off on a carrier.

The resulting plane was considered so ugly that one British admiral openly wondered if it had been delivered upside-down. One of the nicknames given to the plane was “Double Ugly.”

The F-4K had a moment of fame when one of the RN’s planes won the Daily Mail’s Transatlantic Air Race in May 1969. The plane set a record with a flight of 4 hours 46 minutes from New York to London.

British Phantom Aviation Group

XT597 first flew in November 1966. Eventually the plane was retired to a museum at the Ministry of Defense’s Boscombe Down. When the museum closed in 2012, the plane was sent to a private airfield while it awaited a buyer.

Please do see the Facebook page of this amazing project British Phantom Aviation Group

A buyer has recently agreed to purchase the plane. That buyer is a senior member of the BPAG management team so he has asked the group to do the restoration work for him. All costs of transporting the plane and restoring it will be paid by the new owner of the plane. BPAG is providing the workers and the facilities for the work. When it is restored, the plane will be displayed as part of the BPAG collection

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Both planes will be moved to an airfield in the East Midlands. The restoration work will be started there in the next few months and you can also contact the group


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE