by: Andy Brazier [ ]
Originally published on:
History During the mid-1960s, Britain’s defence capabilities underwent drastic changes that were not directly attributable to the scale or nature of the Soviet threat facing the country. Instead, it was the cost of procurement that became a paramount factor, simply because the UK was facing a growing economic crisis. Britain was almost bankrupt. The realisation that the country could no longer afford the luxury of procuring the most effective defence solutions possible regardless of cost was a proverbially bitter pill that politicians and industrial chiefs were reluctant to swallow, but the infamous TSR2 programme was enough to convince even the most optimistic observers that Britain could no longer indulge in such ambitious programmes when they inevitably ran out of control and consumed almost limitless amounts of money.
Concurrent with the ill-fated TSR2 programme, plans were being made to re-equip the Fleet Air Arm with a new fighter aircraft, intended as a direct replacement for both the Sea Vixen fighter and also the Scimitar strike aircraft. Hawker’s P.1154 was an ambitious design, capable of taking off and landing vertically and achieving speeds in excess of Mach 1. The Navy embraced the project with great enthusiasm and Britain’s politicians also regarded the aircraft as an exciting venture, particularly because the RAF could also adopt it as a replacement for the Hunter in the ground attack role.
The prospect of producing a single aircraft design that met the requirements of both the RAF and RN was too good to resist, and even though the P.1154’s performance seemed almost too good to be true (and in some respects it was), it promised to deliver a very capable warplane.
However, far away across the Atlantic in St Louis, McDonnell had produced its outstanding F-4 Phantom and having secured huge orders for its home market, it was inevitable that the company would turn its attention towards potential export customers. Canada and France were approached (unsuccessfully), but Britain’s Fleet Air Arm was quickly identified as a very important target customer. McDonnell approached the Royal Navy and the British Government, but although the Phantom did look like an attractive project, it generated no serious interest because the P.1154 was already being developed.
McDonnell persisted with its sales efforts, investing a great deal of effort in producing design studies for a derivative of the F-4B that was suited to the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers.
The Navy ostensibly continued to claim that the P.1154 was its preferred choice, but behind the scenes there was a growing interest in the Phantom and over the course of many months the Royal Navy and McDonnell continued to examine ways in which the Phantom might be manufactured for Fleet Air Arm operations.
It might seem odd to note that the Royal Navy was therefore pursuing two projects destined to meet just one requirement, but there was a very clear reason why this situation developed. The advantages of an all-British aircraft were obvious in terms of job creation, but the Admiralty also had the Fleet Air Arm’s long-term future firmly in mind. Adopting the P.1154 would result in an aircraft that demonstrably did not require huge aircraft carriers such as the Ark Royal or Eagle. It seemed quite likely that the country’s growing economic difficulties would eventually encourage Whitehall to conclude that without any need for huge aircraft carriers, the Navy’s surface fleet could be reduced in size and the P.1154 could be operated from more modest ships. Naturally, the Admiralty did not relish the idea of losing its mighty carriers, and the McDonnell Phantom was an obvious means of ensuring that the Navy would have to keep its existing carrier fleet. In public, the Navy slowly began to express a growing lack of confidence in the P.1154, with issues such as combat effectiveness and the practicality of its PCB (Plenum Chamber Burning) engine being raised. (It was feared that the engine exhaust would destroy the carrier’s deck.) However, it was the Navy’s preference for the Phantom, rather than the P.1154’s alleged unsuitability, that was behind its gradual dismissal of the project.
McDonnell had sent its new F-4B to the Paris Air Show in 1961, and as it was technically necessary to refuel en route in the UK, it was no surprise that RNAS Yeovilton was chosen as the stop-over location, and McDonnell seized the opportunity to show the Navy the outstanding machine that it could obtain. This was probably the point at which the Navy’s interest in the Phantom began, but it was not until July 1964 that the Navy finally got its way, and an order for two prototype aircraft was placed. By this stage, the Navy’s hostility towards the P.1154 was clear and the continual attempts to pursue a design that met the needs of both the Fleet Air Arm and the RAF were becoming a pointless, time-consuming and expensive exercise.
The Government finally accepted that there was no longer any prospect of meeting the Navy’s expressed needs with the P.1154 and so the Phantom was adopted, leaving the RAF to pursue the P.1154 in isolation. By the time of the decision to order the Phantom, McDonnell had already done a great deal of work on modifying the aircraft for British requirements.
The F-4J was adopted as the basis for a new version, fitted with Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans, so that the aircraft was better suited to the Fleet Air Arm’s relatively small carrier decks. The Spey promised to deliver a 25 per cent increase in thrust, and this would give the aircraft a much better take-off performance whilst also reducing overall fuel consumption. (It would also provide a healthy supply of bleed air for a boundary layer control system.) However, there is no doubt that the primary reason for adopting the Spey was so that the aircraft would be more politically acceptable. British engines and many other British components would enable the Government to portray the aircraft as a partially British aircraft, even if it was an American design. But fitting Speys to the Phantom was far from simple, and the Spey’s proportions (and increased intake airflow) required the Phantom’s entire centre fuselage to be redesigned. The result was a fuselage that was wider by some 6 inches, intakes that were 20 per cent larger and a deeper, lower fuselage that extended downwards towards the jet exhausts. In effect, it was a new fuselage
attached to the Phantom’s existing wings, tail and nose, and it was probably inevitable (although nobody seemed to have predicted it) that the modified aircraft would therefore create more drag and negate most of the advantages offered by the Spey.
Another important modification was the creation of a new nose wheel gear assembly that had a double-extension facility, raising the aircraft’s nose to an alarmingly high angle so that the Phantom could be launched at an increased angle of attack. McDonnell wisely designed this modification in 1963 and tested it on an F-4J, so that the concept was proved well in advance of the British order. It is believed that the US Navy also had some interest in the possibility of adopting a Spey-powered F-4 for use on its smaller Essex-class carriers, although nothing ever came of this idea.
The first Phantom deliveries were accepted by No. 700P NAS from June 1968, and by September the unit was proudly displaying the Phantom’s agility, its almost brutal proportions and its considerable noise to appreciative crowds at the annual Farnborough SBAC show.
With acceptance trials completed, No. 767 NAS became the Phantom training squadron from January 1969, tasked with the training of crews for both the Navy’s operational squadron (No. 892 NAS) and the RAF’s No. 43 Squadron. In order to complete this task, a handful of aircraft assigned to the RAF were temporarily transferred to Yeovilton, and despite wearing standard RAF grey/green camouflage, they received Fleet Air Arm unit markings on their tails and were used as part of a ‘pooled’ fleet for training, while No. 43 Squadron formed at Leuchars, where the aircraft would be well placed to perform long-range interception duties far out to the eastern and northern extremities of the United Kingdom Air Defence Region (UKADR). However, the costs and logistics of conducting training at Yeovilton made little sense when the Navy required crews for only one operational squadron but the RAF would have a larger and longer-term requirement. In 1972, training was therefore transferred to Leuchars and the RAF assumed control, training crews for the Fleet Air Arm as required. No. 892 NAS formed on 31 March 1969, although the refurbishment of HMS Ark Royal was not completed until February 1970, so initial carrier qualification training was completed on the USS Saratoga. The USN carrier’s deck was duly subjected to repeated scorching from the engines of the four Phantoms deployed from the UK, but the co-operation between USN and Fleet Air Arm crews was undoubtedly a good move which fostered good relations that continued for many years. Indeed, the Fleet Air Arm Phantom crews joined their USN counterparts on a series of air defence missions during the Lebanon crisis, and many exchange visits were made between USN carriers and HMS Ark Royal until the Ark’s sad demise and the disbandment of No. 892 NAS on 15 December 1978.
Info from Britain's Cold War Fighters by Tim McLelland. Fonthill Media. Kindle Edition.
In the box Packed in Airfix's now familiar red top opening box, the artwork has a FG.1 being launched off a carrier.
Inside the box you will find 6 light grey sprues, one clear sprue, a set of instructions, a sheet of decals and two full colour sheets with the marking and painting guides.
The sprues are all packed into one bag, but the clear sprue is at least bagged separately, so damage will be kept to a minimum.
The kit Airfix's FG.1 is beautifully detailed with fine recessed panel lines and details all over the airframe, and is more restrained then previous Airfix kits, which on some occasions has let the kit down. This time Airfix has got it spot on and is among the best I have seen in this scale.
The kit is broken down into 121 light grey parts and 13 clear parts. All are not used as there is three options for this kit.
As for the options you can model the aircraft, "in-flight", "ready for launch", and "stowed" with folded outer wing panels and a folded nose. The canopy can be built open or closed.
The nose can be modelled as already mentioned, with the nose folded. There is two choices with the nose folded, one is just the radar dish in the folded nose section or you can model the whole radar unit in the fuselage, and slid out for maintenance, and on show. The nose cone has some nice ribbed detail inside, which will be seen on the open configuration.
The cockpit is fairly detailed with two three part ejection seats which have moulded on harness's. Although you can model this aircraft in flight, no pilots are supplied.
The instrument panels are blank but have decals for the dials and switches, along with the side consoles. The main instrument panels are a multi decal affair.
Before installing the cockpit into the fuselage you will need to choose which option you are building, as the nose section will need removing if you are modelling the aircraft in the stowed configuration.
The instructions do not tell you too add any weight in the forward fuselage, so if the nose is staying put, there is a lot of space too add some. Other then that area the forward area is a tight squeeze for finding space to add any weight, although you might be able to cram some around the cockpit area.
The air intakes are a three part affair, and a quick test fit shows there is very little seam work required due to the way the parts have been engineered. Two parts make up the intake tubes with the third part being the covers.
The rear of the tubes have turbine blades attached.
A one piece double exhaust tubes are fitted to the inside of the rear fuselage. These are nicely detailed with ring detail inside. Exhaust nozzles then fit onto the tubes, which have some very nice detailed moulded onto them.
The fuselage is in two halves and a separate part slots into the spine. A quick test fit of the major parts doesn't show any real problems other then a little seam work here and there, although a little patience will probably be needed as many parts come together at about the same stage, so dry fitting before gluing and waiting for parts to cure before adding other parts will no doubt be needed.
Wings are a multi part assembly with the belly middle section having the undercarriage bays attached (if modelling with wheels down), then a large middle section to attach to the outside of the belly part, which you will need to drill out holes for the pylons. Once the lower part has been fitted to the fuselage the two upper wing sections are fitted.
Now depending on if you have the FG.1 in flight, about too take off or stowed depends on which wing tips you use, as one set of tips are pre-folded if in the stowed config.
A choice leading slats and trailing aileron and flap edges are supplied, which are either dropped or in the neutral position.
Underwing spoilers can be modelled deployed or closed.
The tail plane which is one part has a separate rudder, and the horizontal stabilisers can be moved off center for stowage and take off. The stabilisers are positioned straight for the in flight model.
The undercarriage as already mentioned can be modelled up or down.
If modelled in flight, separate gear doors are supplied.
The main legs are in two parts, with three gear doors, and a one piece wheel. Detail is pretty nice with the wheel hubs having some lovely detail moulded into them. The wheels are weighted.
The nose gear is supplied extended for the "ready to launch" position, and will need to be cut down for the retracted position.
The tail hook can be either deployed or stowed as well as the refuelling probe.
A wealth of stores are supplied for the Phantom by Airfix, with underwing and centerline tanks, rocket pods, Sidewinder missiles, Sparrow missiles, and bombs.
A handy placement guide for all the external stores is supplied, so you know what stores go on which hard point.
The clear parts are crystal clear, so the cockpit detail should be easy to view.
Two types are supplied, a one piece canopy for a closed up look, and a three part canopy for the open style.
Instructions, decals and markings The instruction booklet, well more book really, is 20 pages long and each page is filled with the build sequence. This takes place over 111 steps, but each step is for only one or two parts to be built and fitted.
Each optional part is clearly marked with some text at the top of the page or in the build box, advising which steps to ignore or jump too.
The build sequence is easy to follow, and is in the new style of computer drawings that Airfix have adopted with the new parts shown to be fitted to highlighted red areas. Green areas are parts that need to be removed.
Internal colours for the Humbrol range of paints are given along the way.
A fairly large decal sheet has the unit and insignia markings and an extensive array of stencils. The decals are fairly matt in appearance, have good colour registration. Carrier film is kept to a minimum on most of the parts even with the Squadron and airframe numbers which are one piece each so have the carrier film in-between the numbers and letters, but any numbers with a hole in it (such as 8, 4 and 6) are devoid of any carrier film in the hole. I don't think I have seen this anywhere else before on a decal where more then one number is used, or just not noticed lol.
Three marking options are available, all which are White undersides with Extra Dark Sea Grey uppers.
Markings available are -
A McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 No. 892, Naval Air Squadron, HMS Ark Royal, 1974-1975.
B McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 No. 767 Naval Air Squadron, Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Somerset, England, 1971.
C McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 No. 892, Naval Air Support Unit, Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Somerset, England, 1969.
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