As our regular readers will know, WarbirdsNews believes strongly in championing the preservation of vintage aircraft whenever possible. When in 2014 we learned that a historic RAF McDonnell Douglas Phantom II FGR.1 XV582 nicknamed “Black Mike” was in danger of being scrapped, we promptly rolled off a social media campaign to help the the people trying to save and preserve the aircraft.
The good news now is that the Cold War era F-4 Phantom II known as “Black Mike” has arrived at RAF Cosford after years spent stored in a shed at the former air base at Leuchars.The jet, famous for its record-breaking 590-mile run from John O’Groats to Land’s End in just 47 minutes and 44 seconds, will now be prepared for display at the Shropshire base’s air show in June.
The United Kingdom bought versions based on the U.S. Navy’s F-4J for use with both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. The main differences with the US models were the use of the British Rolls-Royce Spey engines and also British-made avionics. The RN and RAF versions were given the designation F-4K and F-4M respectively by the manufacturer, and entered service with the British designations Phantom FG.1 (fighter/ground attack) and Phantom FGR.2 (fighter/ground attack/reconnaissance).
It was during the twilight years of RAF Phantom service that the idea of a black Phantom arose. The proposal was initially mooted prior to 111 Squadron’s 70th anniversary in 1987. They had famously flown as an aerobatics team during the 1950s with all-black Hawker Hunters known as The Black Arrows. It was Wing Commander Terry Hanlon, however, who made the move in the late spring of 1989. The basic plan was to have an all-black aircraft to celebrate both the 30th anniversary of Treble-One’s “Black Arrows” and mark the final years of FG.1 service.
Treble One’s Hunters had worn a simple gloss black scheme with just the national insignia and fin flashes for adornation, but the sheer size of a Phantom’s tail compared to a Hunter had caused a re-think of how to paint the aircraft The design team decided that Treble One’s official “crossed swords” emblem should go on the fin and some form of marking on the nose, which ended up being a golden lightning bolt.
Treble One selected FG.1 XV582 to receive the special paint job. This particular Phantom was quite significant itself. On 24th Feb 1988, XV582 became the first RAF Phantom to pass 5,000 flying hours. This milestone occurred during its record-breaking 46minute 44second run from Britain’s southern most point at Land’s End in Cornwall to it’s northern-most point at John O’Groats in Scotland. 43 Squadron’s CO, Wg Cdr John Brady with navigator Sqn Ldr Mike Pugh made the 590-mile flight which averaged out at over 757mph.
Black Mike’s last flight was in 1992 and with its airborne days long gone it had to be taken to pieces for the 346-mile journey in a convoy of lorries.Members of the British F4 Phantom Aviation Group, which campaigned to save the aircraft when the RAF put it up for sale two years ago, spent 11 months dismantling it for the journey. The engine was removed and the wings taken off to ensure its safe transport and it will now be restored to exhibition standard.
David Butterfield from the British Phantom Aviation Group, said members were extremely honored to play their part in preparing Black Mike for next year’s RAF Cosford air show. “Our hardworking, dedicated team of volunteers have shown outstanding knowledge, skills and aptitude to make the move from RAF Leuchars happen,” he said. “We look forward to working with RAF Cosford over the coming months and we are certain that the aircraft will be a great attraction as part of the RAF100 static displays.”
Air show operations manager Peter Reoch added: “The Royal Air Force’s Phantoms played a critical role in defending the UK’s airspace during the height of the Cold War.“It will be the first of many aircraft which will be transported by road to RAF Cosford over the coming months specifically for display at the air show.”