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Where are the men who kept RAF's Phantom fighters flying during Cold War?

By Eddie McIlwaine

Whatever happened to the hundreds of men at the old 23 Maintenance Unit at Aldergrove who kept the RAF's Phantom fighters flying during the Cold War?

The Ulster Aviation Society, on a mission to track down the mechanics, has found one of those massive, snarling aircraft to add to its unique heritage collection. It was recovered from the former RAF camp Leuchars in Scotland.

"Now we desperately need members of 23 MU to come forward with help in chronicling the years between 1968 and 1978 when they kept these magnificent fighting machines in the air," says society secretary Stephen Riley.

"During that period, dozens of RAF and Fleet Air Arm Phantoms went through the unit at RAF Aldergrove for maintenance and updating and painting," recalls Stephen.

"Those mechanics at 23MU can be very proud of the job that they did."

The vintage Phantom was shipped here from Scotland and is undergoing restoration at the Aviation Society's Maze/Long Kesh hangar. The wings are presently detached from the fuselage, but are soon to be mated up again.

The Phantom first entered service in 1960 with the US Navy. Proving highly adaptable, it was also adopted by the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force, and by the mid-Sixties had become a major part of their respective air wings.

The Phantom is a large fighter with a top speed of over Mach 2.2. It can carry more than 18,000 pounds (8,400kg) of weapons on nine external hardpoints, including air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and various bombs.

Retired members of 23 MU can reach Stephen Riley at s1.riley@btinternet.com or at 028 9443 2392.

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