Read through the recent posts with interest and felt I should post a reply to clarify a few comments made and confirm if the information supplied is indeed 100% correct. Now I`m not going to boast that I`m a major authority on the subject matter, it`s still an ongoing learning process. However I`ve had access to both air and ground crews over the years, asked a lot of questions and carried out research on the F-4J(UK) during its procurement stages and service with 74 Squadron, so I`d like to think that my conclusions so far are reasonably sound and logical.
So let`s start off with the awesome photo by Colin Collis posted at the beginning of these recent post exchange. The photo was taken probably sometime early during 1989 as ZE360 was only repainted in standard AD grey within the last 18 months or so of her service life before being retired at Manston Fire School. The other aircraft is ZE359/J which you will now find in the American Air Museum at Duxford repainted in the scheme she wore while serving with VF-74 in the US Navy. Not only is this picture an excellent colour comparison between the RAF AD grey and the NORIS, (North Island), paint shop job, but it`s also a photo of the last two intact F-4J(UK)`s still in existence. (Depending on how intact you feel ZE360 is?)
Again the information on ZE350/T is correct regarding the lack of ALG-126 DECM fairings on the intakes, it had served with the Naval Air Test Center (NATC) at NAS Patuxent River, so being a test aircraft they were never fitted for operational use. Saying that, all the aircraft that had the fairings were empty anyway as it wasn`t a requirement in the procurement process.
The story of the under-slung Phantom being ditched in the bay off NORIS is correct and may I add that it was witnessed by members of the Royal Family aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia who were sailing near by on a tour of the West Coast. Because of this incident, all further Phantom deliveries for refurbishment were flown in under their own steam. Not all the Phantoms were stored in the desert, some were actually stored at NORIS, BuNo 155574, (ZE360), being one of them.
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 shades so started to mix their supplies of FS 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 it needed to be a shade darker and so the painters would go back and remix the paints again in time for the next three Phantoms. The bright yellow primer undercoat and only one 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.
Touching on the designation of the type, as suggested, F3 was never used. It was discussed/suggested early on in the procurement process, however with the advent of the introduction of the Tornado F.3 coming soon and knowing that personnel have a knack of simplifying and shortening aircraft types designations, having two different `F3` types flying around could lead to confusion for some.
Now regarding whether it was referred to as F-4J(UK) or not? I know from conversations with the squadron aircrew and groundcrew that they referred to the Phantom as either the `F-4J` or just `J`. Manuals and logbooks also state just the F-4J prefix. However my understanding from conversations with the people that were actually part of the procurement process is that the types official designation with the MoD and RAF was F-4J(UK). It maybe and I would suggest that as all the manuals and log books were transferred/copied from the US, the `UK` prefix just wasn`t included/added as it wasn`t a detail that was required for that specific documentation. (I have reached out to contacts to confirm this was the case and I`ll let you know in due course).
While the airframes were American F-4J`s, what 74 received and indeed what the RAF asked for, was actually a hybrid of the J, S and you could argue FGR.2 variants. The basis of the airframe and engines were from the `J` model, however a number of `S` upgrades were incorporated into the refurbishment program. The Phantoms were put through what essentially was the F-4S service life extension program, (SLEP) when being refurbished at NARF, (Naval Air Rework Facility), including upgrading the radars from the standard `J` AWG-10 radar to the `S`s AWG-10B. And then you have to add in the British requirements like the Skyflash missile and SUU-23A gun pod wiring, plus the TESS, (telescopic sighting system), which were all fitted, (or due to be fitted in the case of TESS), to the FGR.2.
As for the wing tank question, I have spoken to aircrew that will swear blind they operated the Phantoms in Bravo fit, (Center Line tank only). You then walk across the bar to another table and another `J` aircrew will swear blind they only flew the J`s in Charlie fit, (Sergeant Fletcher wing tank configuration). The simple answer is that they flew in both fits depending on the sortie being undertaken. If planning to go supersonic or on a DACM mission, Bravo fit was the best choice as the g loading on the wing tanks was limited to 3g, (if I remember correctly), which is not conducive to high speed or tight turns. Obviously long flights or sorties dictated Charlie fit with the wing tanks. One of the `J` myths on aviation forums is that they only flew in Bravo fit because there are hardly find any photo`s of J`s in Charlie fit. This is wrong and I would suggest that the number of photos showing both Bravo and Charlie fits is about even providing you look hard enough.
Whether you want to call it F-4J(UK), F-4J or just the J, one thing is certain, the 15 Phantom`s operated by 74 Squadron were a very special and unique type to serve a nations airforce. Out of all the F-4 Phantom restoration projects that have come and gone, this endeavour is perhaps one of the most important regarding British Phantom operational history.