The BPAG is a non-profit, volunteer organisation dedicated to preserving F-4 Phantom airframes in the UK and educating the public about their history in service with the UK’s armed forces. It is run by a management committee comprised of a mix of ex-RAF personnel and civilian aircraft enthusiasts. You can find out more about the group and the story so far here.
Monies to support our activities come from three sources- direct donations from supporters and enthusiasts, the proceeds of merchandise sales and cockpit visit fees and the generosity of our members and volunteers, who meet expenses associated with working with us from their own pockets. Many of the latter have freely sunk hundreds of pounds of their own money into our projects, for the love of the aircraft and with a will for our projects to succeed. We are forever grateful for their dedication. The BPAG does not, currently, hold charity status. We recently held a meeting with a noted firm of solicitors, who specialize in charity work, and identified the optimum point in our plans where charity status would be an advantage and when our activities and facilities would be eligible for acceptance by the Charities Commission. The key criteria being that our work would need to show ‘tangible public benefit’. At the moment, that benefit is potential rather than actual, so we have decided to hold off on making a charity application until a suitable time. This has an obvious negative effect on fundraising (through not being eligible for Gift Aid etc) but this is more than offset by not being subject to the extra bureaucracy and associated expense that charity status brings with it.
Yes. Of the two BPAG projects currently in the public domain, the cockpit section of XV490 is the easiest to visit. It is located at Newark Air Museum in Nottinghamshire and can be seen at any time during the museum’s published opening hours. We also attend various events around the country during the summer, opening the cockpit to visitors, so keep an eye on our news pages and social media for details as they are announced. XV582 ‘Black Mike’ is on display at the South Wales Aircraft Museum and can be viewed during their advertised opening hours. We envisage regular opportunities to visit XT597 and ZE360 and see the ongoing restoration work in the near future, however details of these arrangements are still to be finalised. We will publish more information through our news pages and social media when these details are known.
Unfortunately not. There are several factors which prevent the Phantoms from ever flying again but the biggest two are finances and approvals. As an example of the former, the BPAG was recently given an estimated figure of US$3 million to overhaul and certify two Spey engines for flight – and that is the cost for just the engines. Many of the other parts of the aircraft structure and many components would need to be overhauled, refabricated or replaced. Other financial considerations are liability insurance and the sheer cost of actually operating the aircraft. In full afterburner, each engine uses around 5 gallons per second of Jet A1 fuel, the cost of which currently stands at upwards of £2/gallon. Additionally, every single component within the aircraft is now time expired and would need re-certifying as airworthy. This would have to be carried out by a CAA authorised facility, with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) support under BCAR A8-23. Without OEM support, the BPAG itself would have to undergo the phenomenally expensive and extremely complex process of becoming a BCAR A8-23 certified organization. We would have to demonstrate compliance with OEM servicing, testing and life schedules, as well as fatigue monitoring, servicing, personnel training and experience, documentation, manuals etc. This all way beyond the resources of a grassroots restoration group entirely staffed by volunteers.
In order to fly the aircraft, the aircrew would have to have type approval, also granted by the CAA and in the wake of the Shoreham tragedy, the environment and scrutiny for the operation of ex-military jets is one which, to be honest, is approaching impossible. The BPAG Chairman has had personal involvement of returning ex-military aircraft to flight, at a professional level, and it is realistic about the difficulties. Therefore, unless there is a both a radical change to the regulatory environment and the appearance of a wealthy benefactor, we will sadly not be seeing our aircraft return to the skies.
The news section of this website is updated regularly and our social media outlets are always active. Feel free to bookmark the following links. Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/BPAGofficial and Twitter- https://twitter.com/BPAGofficial. Alternatively, you could join our mailing list and get news and updates sent straight to your email inbox. Please send an email to BPAGlist@gmail.com to register.
We are lucky enough to have a pool of dedicated volunteers already but not everyone can be available at any time, obviously. We are therefore always interested to hear from persons with useful skills who are willing to help out during their spare time. Please send an email, detailing any relevant qualifications, to BPAGvolunteers@gmail.com
Following the unfortunate failure of the BPAG’s initial fundraising effort to purchase ‘Black Mike’ in 2015, the aircraft remained in danger of scrapping. However, in 2016, the aircraft was instead purchased by GJD Services with the explicit understanding that it was on behalf of the British Phantom Aviation Group and that once the debt had been repaid, the aircraft would become Group property. This agreement was confirmed by the BPAG in a public statement first published in May 2016 and subsequently appeared in print and online on many occasions and was confirmed by GJD Services in several private communications. Two years of expenditure, engineering work, fundraising and PR in support of ‘Black Mike’ followed, culminating in its appearance at the 2018 Cosford Airshow. The BPAG had the necessary funding in place to repay the debt in February 2018 but settlement was repeatedly put off by GJD Services, until on 7th November 2018 the BPAG was informed- in no uncertain terms- that the aircraft would not be transferred, as previously agreed. With a lengthy and expensive legal battle (that the BPAG could not afford) as the only way forward, the Group was left with no option but to withdraw from the project. To date, we have not been reimbursed or otherwise compensated for any of the work undertaken or the thousands of pounds spent in support of the aircraft.
There are various cockpit sections in museums and private hands, both in the UK and abroad, but only 19 complete airframes (although XV470 has significant parts missing). These are-
FG.1 XT596- Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, UK.
FG.1 XT597- Privately stored, UK.
FG.1 XT864- Ulster Aviation Society, Lisburn, NI.
FG.1 XV582- South Wales Aviation Museum, UK.
FG.1 XV586- RNAS Yeovilton, UK.
FGR.2 XT891- RAF Coningsby, UK
FGR.2 XT899- Kbely Air Museum, Prague, Czech Republic.
FGR.2 XT905- Privately stored, UK
FGR.2 XT914- Wattisham Station Heritage Museum, Suffolk, UK
FGR.2 XV401- Bentwaters Cold War Museum, Suffolk, UK
FGR.2 XV406- Solway Aviation Museum, Carlisle, UK
FGR.2 XV408- Tangmere Aviation Museum, West Sussex, UK
FGR.2 XV415- RAF Boulmer, Northumberland, UK
FGR.2 XV424- RAF Museum, Hendon, London, UK.
FGR.2 XV470- RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.
FGR.2 XV474- IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK
FGR.2 XV497- Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum, Flixton, UK
F4J(UK) ZE359- IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire, UK (in US Navy colours)
F4J(UK) ZE360- Manston, Kent, UK
See our feature ‘Survivors’ for more details.
Apart from general internet searches, you can keep an eye on this website as we will be adding more content, much of it exclusive, as we progress. There are also quite a few excellent books available related to the UK Phantom, most of which come highly recommended. It is a daunting task to pick out a few examples but a great place to start is ‘The Phantom In Focus’ & ‘Phantom in the Cold War’ by former F-4 navigator and UK author David Gledhill. Both have a wealth of information about the aircraft and details of operations in both Germany and the UK. A great account from the front seat is ‘F-4 Phantom: A Pilot’s Story’ by Robert Prest. ‘Phantom Boys’ by Richard Pike also contains numerous firsthand memories and anecdotes by UK aircrew members. Slightly more technical is ‘Phantom From The Cockpit’ by Peter Caygill and also, on the more technical side of things, ‘McDonnell Douglas F-4K and F-4M Phantom’ (part of the Warpaint Series) is useful and Ian Black’s ‘F-4 Phantom Haynes Manual’ is an excellent resource with much of the focus on the UK F-4 variants. If aircraft photography is more your thing, Ian Black has you covered again as his comprehensive ‘F4UK Phantom’ is hard to beat but any of Ian’s books will contain excellent images.
ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulation) is a piece of legislation that originated in the USA but has applications worldwide. Its rules are intricate and complex and are primarily designed to stop the unauthorised sale of American military technology outside of the US and the transfer of licenced US weapons technology to third parties or potentially hostile countries or organisations. Not only does ITAR dictate whom US defense system manufacturers can sell their products to, but it also controls the distribution of parts and spares that relate to various systems and weapons platforms. It is therefore illegal to sell, own or operate items restricted by ITAR without being a licenced seller or approved foreign end user. Doing so risks enormous fines or imprisonment (or both). The F4 Phantom and many of its systems fall under ITAR and all the UK Phantom airframes were originally supposed to have been scrapped after decommission under the original terms of sale. Obviously some managed to avoid this fate and have been placed in the hands of restorers. However, the restrictions of ITAR mean that replacement parts and components for these airframes can be very difficult to obtain.
Firstly there is the issue of ITAR (see above) which forbids the transfer of some components and parts without specific approval from the US authorities. Secondly, UK Phantoms are significantly different from the other variants of the type in use around the world. As part of the approval process to procure the Phantom in the mid 1960’s, the UK Government had to ensure that British industry would reap some benefits from the country going shopping for its aircraft abroad. Therefore, UK Phantoms had a majority of its parts and systems- most notably the engines- manufactured in the UK and this situation involved making changes to many aspects of the aircraft’s basic design. Because of this, many parts fitted as standard to non-UK Phantoms are unfortunately not compatible with the British versions.
A surefire way of provoking UK Phantom enthusiasts is to mention something called the Phantom F.3 or to refer to the F-4J(UK) as the Phantom F.3 as, in reality, it never existed. The F.3 designation was discussed/suggested early on in the procurement process of the F-4J(UK) even appearing in print in some early official RAF publications. However, with the introduction of the Panavia Tornado F.3 scheduled for the mid-1980s, having two different F.3 types in service could lead to confusion so the idea was dropped. Despite what you may read on the internet and in various ‘reliable’ reference books, the actual truth is- THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PHANTOM F.3!
Another frequent topic of discussion in regard to the F-4J(UK) is the somewhat unusual shade of blue that the aircraft were delivered in (and that some were still wearing late into their career). All the F-4J(UK) aircraft were refurbished ex- US Navy F-4J airframes that went through a process of modification to UK specifications at North Island Naval Air Station (NORIS), San Diego, USA before delivery to the RAF. The 74 Squadron Association (the official veterans organization for the only squadron to operate the F-4J(UK) in service) provided the following explanation for the colour.
“Once refurbished the Phantoms, in batches of three, were sent to the NORIS paint shop. The RAF had supplied the colour specifications they wanted but the Americans didn`t have the correct shade so started to mix their supplies of Federal Standard paints to try and get the best match. What you will find is that no three Phantoms emerged from the paint shop in the same shade, as each time three aircraft were released, someone on the RAF team would point out that the colour was still incorrect and so the painters would go back and remix the paints once again, in time for the next three Phantoms. The bright yellow primer undercoat and the single layer of ‘grey’ overcoat applied, (which was the wrong shade of grey anyway) are the recognised reasons among the Squadron for the blue/green tinge”.
Most, but not all, of the F-4J(UK)s that came through St Athan for major servicing in the late 1980s were repainted in the correct colour (UK Barley Grey) that was the officially approved shade for aircraft performing air defence duties.
After the withdrawal of the Phantom fleet from service in the early 1990’s most of the airframes ended up in the hands of approved, MOD contracted scrap metal dealers. In the case of XV490, this was Hanningfield Metals in Essex. Most of the fuselage and structure will have been recycled but the cockpit section obviously survived and the fin, after suddenly and unexpectedly appearing for sale in Spring 2021, was purchased by BPAG secretary Tony Clay and is now part of the BPAG collection.