XV490 was the 107th out of a total of 118 F-4M/FGR.2s that were built by McDonnell Douglas at St. Louis, USA between 1967 and 1969. It was delivered to 23 Maintenance Unit at RAF Aldergrove during August 1969 but did not enter Squadron service until December 1971 when it joined 54 Sqn at RAF Coningsby. The aircraft stayed at the Lincolnshire base for the next five years, also serving 41, 6, 29, and 23 Sqns along the way, before moving to RAF Wattisham when the latter squadron relocated there in February 1976.
Following major servicing at St Athan during 1979, XV490 spent a short spell with 92 Sqn at RAF Wildenrath, Germany followed by four years back at Wattisham in the hands of 23 and 54 Sqn once again. It then returned to Wildenrath in February 1983 with 92 Sqn where it wore the classic green/grey camouflage colours that it has been restored to today.
The aircraft returned to the UK in late 1986, underwent another major servicing and a change of colour to standard air defence grey, before joining 228OCU/64(R) at RAF Leuchars, Scotland. It was intended to be part of 1435 Flight on detachment to the Falkland Islands in 1988 (and had indeed been repainted in their colours) but became unserviceable en-route and returned to Leuchars, reverting back to the care of 228OCU. Following the 1990 ‘Options For Change’ defence review, the withdrawal of the F-4 Phantom from UK service began and the OCU was disbanded in 1991, so XV490 returned to Wattisham, being allocated to 74 ‘Tiger’ Sqn. However, it was inevitable that XV490 would find its way to the dump at some point. This occurred in late 1992 and it was subsequently broken up for scrap the following year.
The aircraft was one of many that ended up at the yard of Hanningfield Metals of Stock, Essex and was subsequently also among a number of cockpit sections that were obtained by its first owner, which were kept in storage at Bruntingthorpe Airfield. It was next purchased by the nascent Phantom Restoration Group (along with the XV489 cockpit) who scheduled both for restoration. However, although the work on XV489 was completed successfully and the section was exported to Holland, the effort to preserve XV490 was never started and it was eventually sold on to a new private buyer, Mr Ray Walker. One of the conditions of sale was that an official group should be formed around the aircraft, so the Phantom Preservation Group was founded to support XV490. This new group, comprised of Ray Walker, Mike Davey and Mark Jones, worked on the project from a distance until the early 2000’s, when XV490, still in its 74 Sqn markings, moved to the Hack Green Nuclear Bunker, a tourist attraction in Nantwich, Cheshire. It remained on display there for the next 10 years until Ray Walker’s untimely death made its future uncertain. This situation changed when Mike Davey (who would go on to be a senior member of the BPAG) took full ownership of the aircraft in early 2011 and it subsequently took up residence at Newark Air Museum, Nottinghamshire. The first appearance in public at its new home was during NAM’s annual Cockpit Fest (a gathering of similar cockpit sections and memorabilia and parts from other preserved aircraft), which took place in June 2011, where XV490 was the winner of the ‘Cockpiteers Award’ voted on by the other attendees.
A few years later, after seeing online photographs of the cockpit in less than pristine condition and in response to subsequent comments, the BPAG approached Mike Davey with a proposal to restore it and reverse some of the damage and deterioration. So, over the next 12 months, working on occasional days as time allowed, the structural damage was repaired, corrosion removed or chemically treated, canopies were restored to optical clarity and the paint surface prepared. The choice of final paint scheme soon became obvious, as an association existed between the BPAG and Dave Gledhill, former F-4 navigator and successful author/journalist who had actually operated XV490 in service. Archive photographs and original MOD issue paint & finish technical manuals were used to produce a highly accurate final refurbishment, which represented the aircraft’s time with 92 Sqn at RAF Wildenrath, Germany.
Above- XV490 before and after restoration, at Newark Air Museum.
The newly restored XV490 made its debut at Cockpit Fest 2016, winning the ‘Grand Champion Award’ and acquiring a host of new admirers. Present alongside Mike Davey for the event were both Dave Gledhill and 92 Sqn pilot Tony Wheeler, as well as the BPAG’s David Butterfield and Paul Wright, who carried out most of the restoration work. Both Tony and Dave’s names were faithfully recreated on the side of the cockpit just as they had been back in 1983.
XV490 continues to be a popular exhibit at NAM and the cockpits are regularly opened up for the public to climb up the original access ladders, sit in, and experience the F-4 Phantom first hand. It has also attended numerous events around the UK, including air displays, county fairs, re-enactment festivals and Armed Forces Day celebrations. More unusually, 2017 saw it take part in a green screening session in support of students the National Film & Television School, London. Looking ahead, plans for 2021/22 include overhauling some of the electrics and lighting, and hunting down the final couple of instruments needed to make the cockpit areas complete. We are always happy to hear from anyone who wishes to enquire about XV490 attending or taking part in their event and you can email the owner Mike Davey at firstname.lastname@example.org or the BPAG at email@example.com for further information.