F-4K (FG.1) / F-4M (FGR.2) PHANTOM II gallery

Two F-4K (YF-4K) prototypes, 2 F-4M (YF-4M) prototypes and 2 F-4K pre-production aircrafts were built. The YF-4K made its maiden flight at the end of June 1966 and the YF-4M flew for the first time in mid-February 1967. In the image we see the XT-597 aircraft, a pre-production F-4K delivered to the Airplane and Armament Experimental Establishment for evaluation.
In 1964, the Royal Navy ordered 143 Phantom II to replace the Sea Vixen fighters and become the main aircraft aboard HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal carriers. They would also be deployed with the two new aircraft carriers that were to be built. However, in 1966, the Government canceled the two new carriers and the order was reduced first to 110 and finally to 50 aircrafts with options for another seven. Finally, 52 Phantom FG.1 entered service, but only 28 would become part of the Fleet Air Arm, because the refit on the HMS Eagle carrier was suspended. Therefore, only the HMS Ark Royal embarked the FG.1s, framed within the 892 Naval Air Squadron (NAS).
The FG.1s not assigned to the HMS Ark Royal were assigned to the RAF’s 43 Squadron. In addition, the 892 NAS’s aircrafts operated on Quick Reaction Alert missions along with the RAF’S 43 Squadron when they were not embarked. The Spey engines’s afterburning was so powerful, that water-cooled defelectors had to be installed on the HMS Ark Royal‘s deck to prevent damage during take-off. The FG.1 were finally transferred to the RAF’s 111 Squadron in November 1978, when HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier was decommissioned and the 892 Squadron was disbanded. All Phantom FG.1 were phased out in 1989 when they were replaced by the Tornado F.3 fighter.
The RAF’s variant was designated as Phantom FGR.2 and although it was similar to Royal Navy’s FG.1, the FGR.2 had a greater number of missions under its charge. In addition, it had other differences like the Rolls-Royce Spey type 203 turbofans instead of type 202, and the Ferranti AN/AWG-12 radar instead of the AN/AWG-11 of the naval version.
The British Government’s initial plans were to purchase about 400 Phantom II for Royal Navy and RAF. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of integrating the Rolls-Royce Spey engines to the airframe of the F-4J, made the initial expectations impossible. Finally 52 FG.1 and 118 FGR.2 would come into service. It was estimated that an F-4K/M tripled the price of a US Navy’s F-4J!!
Phantom FGR.2 replaced the Electric Canberra and Hawker Hunter aircrafts for ground attack missions and the English Electric Lightning in air defense missions within the RAF. This allowed a substantial improvement in maintenance costs and logistics, by homogenizing the fleet and reducing the number of different aircraft models.
The Phantom FGR.2 equipped 15 RAF Squadrons during their career. Of these 15 squadrons, 5 were dedicated to close air support and tactical strike missions, 2 were dedicated to tactical reconnaissance missions and 8 were assigned to air defense missions. In addition, the 14, 17 and 31 Squadrons were in charge of tactical nuclear strike missions under command of NATO. These units would use nuclear weapons provided by the United States at one point.
Both the F-4M and F-4K required significant structural changes to accommodate the British R&R Spey engines. They had different dimensions than  American J79-GE turbofans and needed 20% more airflow. A new engine bay, wider fuselage, larger nozzles and a lower rear fuselage were necessary, and the engine had to be redesigned for the supersonic flight. In addition, an afterburner had to be installed with which the necessary modifications were completed.
The main reason that British Phantom II carried indigenous components was due to the Siddeley P.1154 project cancellation. The Government feared that this would suppose serious economic and labor problems for British Aeronautics Industry, and chose to compensate them in some way. However, this political decision did not have a positive effect on the technical characteristics of the aircraft. For example, although Spey engines were more powerful than Americans, the speed of British aircraft was much lower.
From October 1974, the new SEPECAT Jaguar began to enter service. This aircraft had been designed to perform tactical strike and reconnaissance missions, so FGR.2 begin to replace the Lightning in the Air Defense Squadrons within the RAF. From this date until 1987, Phantom FGR.2 became RAF’s primary interceptor until the arrival of Tornado F.3.
The FGR.2 gradually replaced Lightning in air defense role. Although Lightning had good speed and excellent climbing ability, its range and armament was amply surpassed by that of the Phantom II. During Cold War, the fear of Soviet incursions into the North Sea and North Atlantic was a key factor for the new FGR.2 to quickly take over the defense of the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, accidents occur throughout the active life of any aircraft model, and this case was no exception. During RAF’s Phantom FGR.2 career, 37 aircraft were lost, and during 20 years of service of RAF’s Phantom FG.1, another 8 losses were added. On the other hand, of 28 FG.1 that served with the Royal Navy, 10 were lost in accidents. In summary, of a total of 170 British Phantoms built, 55 were lost, indicating an accident rate of 32.4%.
In May 1982, three FGR.2 from the 29 Squadron were sent to the Ascension Island to provide aerial coverage during the Falklands War. At the end of the war, four 29 Squadron’s FGR.2 were permanently deployed in Stanley until the end of 1983. Then, they were replaced by four FGR.2 from the 23 Squadron that were there until October 1988. After that, the 23 Squadron was replaced by the 1435 Flight unit, which kept there four Phantom FGR.2 until July 1992 when the unit was re-equipped with Tornado F.3.
The last operational deployment of Phantom FGR.2 occurred in 1991, during Operation Grandby, when six aircraft were deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus. These aircrafts belonged to the 19 and 92 Squadrons based in Germany. They were sent there to provide aerial coverage and replace 6 Tornado fighters that were sent to the Persian Gulf within the Operation Desert Shield. Soon after, in october 1992 all Phantom FGR.2 were removed from service, being replaced by Tornado fighters. In the image we see an FGR.2 of the 74 “Tiger” Squadron especially decorated before its retirement in 1992.

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