The British Phantom Aviation Group (BPAG) owes its origins to social media and the formation of a special interest group on Facebook in 2012. With a membership comprising of both of ex-service personnel and aviation enthusiasts, it was dedicated to the UK specific variants of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and its time in service with the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm.
One of the eventual aims of the group was to step outside the online environment and into the real world of aircraft preservation. However, after an unsuccessful bid to secure the release of one of the many neglected gate guards or decoy airframes in the Ministry Of Defence inventory, the original group officially reformed into The British Phantom Aviation Group in 2013.
One of the many online contacts that the new group made in 2013/14 was with Mike Davey, a person already well known as the owner of a large collection of aviation relics. One of Mike’s recent purchases, the cockpit section of Phantom FGR.2 XV490, was located at Newark Air Museum and in need of extensive refurbishment. So, in May 2015, members of the BPAG offered their services and after more than 800 hours of intensive restoration and repair, XV490 was revealed in its renewed condition at Cockpit Fest 2016, winning the Grand Champion Visitors Award. The cockpit continues to be on public display at NAM and Mike and the BPAG also regularly take it to various events around the country, where it has proved to be a popular attraction, a valuable fundraiser and has welcomed visitors from all over the world.
Also in 2015, the BPAG launched the ‘Save Black Mike’ campaign, a fundraising drive to support a bid to rescue the iconic Phantom FG.1 XV582 (aka ‘Black Mike’) which was in danger of being scrapped after its home base of RAF Leuchars was handed over to the army. Subsequently, throughout 2016 and 2017, a team from the BPAG undertook the extensive task of dismantling the aircraft and preparing it for transportation. This reached its climax on October 26th 2017 when a convoy of vehicles carried ‘Black Mike’ southwards to RAF Cosford, Shropshire, where the aircraft was scheduled to make its first public appearance in years at the RAF100 celebration (part of the Cosford Airshow) during June 2018.
Following this very popular, and widely publicized, appearance as part of the static display at Cosford, ‘Black Mike’ went on display at the South Wales Aviation Museum and the BPAG, with an expanded membership which now included a number of notable ex-RAF personnel (all of whom were either former groundcrew or aircrew) started the search for new challenges. Two airframes that the Group had previously inspected immediately came to mind. Firstly, XT597, an F-4K/FG.1 pre-production model, which was stored at Bentwaters, Suffolk and secondly ZE360, one of only two examples of the F-4J(UK) model to escape scrapping in the 1990s, which was suffering from serious deterioration after spending- at that point- more than 20 years in the open air at Manston, Kent.
Acquiring either- or both- of these aircraft would require extensive planning and careful logistics and early in 2019 the BPAG, supported by the 74(F) Squadron Association, began negotiations for the purchase of ZE360. A bid for the aircraft was accepted by the MOD in summer 2019 and ownership of the aircraft was duly transferred. Preservation work and preparations for moving the aircraft commenced in September 2019 and are currently ongoing.
Also in September 2019, XT597 was purchased privately by Mark Abbott, a senior member of the BPAG management team. Mark naturally appointed the Group to manage the aircraft on his behalf and the BPAG will be providing the workforce and the facilities for the preservation work to be carried out. In return the aircraft will, when ready, be on display as part of the BPAG collection.
In addition to these projects, the BPAG are also the custodians of another privately owned airframe, FGR.2/F-4M XT905 and the Group has also embarked on the restoration of the Redifon Phantom simulator, which was previously used to train aircrews at RAF Leuchars. The intention is to turn the latter into a mobile exhibit for smaller events or venues that are unable to host the full size of XV490.
In autumn 2020, the BPAG accepted an offer to join the growing band of heritage aircraft operators based at Cotswold Airport (formerly RAF Kemble) in Gloucestershire. XT597 and XT905 were transferred to the site in summer 2021 with ZE360 scheduled to join them in 2022. Under the leadership of Chairman/Technical Director Paul Wright- a former Airframe & Engines Technician with both 228OCU and 111 Sqn- the Group are in the process of establishing workshops on site and hope to welcome visitors at the earliest opportunity.
The BPAG are very often advised, aided and abetted by former F-4 navigators and successful author/journalists Dave Gledhill and Caroline Paige and have also had the pleasure of the assistance of former Squadron Leader and 43 Sqn veteran Michael Pugh Davis at various events around the country. Last, but not least, we have a growing volunteer force of engineers and enthusiasts without whom our activities would be considerably more difficult. Many are ex-services and have valuable knowledge and experience of the F-4 and we are indebted to them for taking the time and effort to share this wisdom with us. We are always interested in hearing from anyone else who would like to be involved, however, and would like to invite potential volunteers to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Above- BPAG members with 92 Sqn veterans and XV490 in 2016. Volunteers and members with XV582, RAF Cosford 2017. Braving the cold at Open Cockpits 2018, including former F-4 Navs Dave Gledhill and Caroline Paige. Volunteers with ZE360 at Manston, October 2019.
The British Phantom Aviation Group are dedicated to the F-4 Phantom in UK service and hold forth their intentions in the mission statement-
“The British Phantom Aviation Group is a non-profit, volunteer organisation whose goal is to to promote the history of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II in British military service through the preservation of airframes, parts and memorabilia”.
To this end, the group’s aims are-
*The establishment of a UK Phantom Heritage Centre. The facility will be open to the public and will be a living history environment of the Cold War era, where the story of the British F-4 in active service can be understood by future generations.
*To collect and archive, in all formats, media relating to the history of both the K and M variants as well as J model F-4 Phantoms in service in the U.K.
*Acquisition of an at least one example airframe of each type of British F-4 Phantom.
*Collection and storage of as many UK specific Phantom parts and artifacts as possible.
*To work in co-operation with other restoration groups to share and preserve all existing mechanical skills, provide technical support and advice and offer training to a new generation of engineers interested in STEMS, modern and general aviation and heritage jets.
The British Phantom Aviation Group believes that the minds of the future can benefit greatly from the knowledge of the past.