Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Aviation Society buys Phantom jet to put on display

By Amanda Ferguson

The Ulster Aviation Society has added an F-4 Phantom jet fighter to its impressive 30-strong aircraft collection.

Aviation enthusiasts from Northern Ireland and further afield are sure to flock to its headquarters at the old Maze-Long Kesh site near Maghaberry when the "magnificent beast" arrives later this year.

Ray Burrows, chairman of the Ulster Aviation Society, said the two-seat dogfighter, which cost £31,000 to purchase, reached 1,500mph.

"The Phantom jet fighter is a great acquisition for us," he said.

"Okay, it doesn't fly any more, but the sky was unlimited as far as its reputation was concerned."

UAS took possession of the aircraft at its home base of RAF Leuchars in Scotland, where it had stood on display as a 'gate guardian' in recent years following its military service.

A team of volunteers from the UAS will dismantle the twin-jet aircraft during the coming weeks into its major components for shipment to its hangar.

That means a gradual trip on two low-loader trailers, each around 50 feet long, and a ferry crossing to Larne before arrival at the edge of Lisburn, hopefully by the end of March.

Mr Burrows added: "In a way, it's coming home to the people who cared for it.

"That's because every Phantom of the RAF and the Royal Navy came to RAF Aldergrove at one time or another for repairs, repainting or upgrading by 23 Maintenance Unit in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

"It kept a lot of people gainfully employed."

The UAS Phantom (XT864) flew for 21 years on operations with both the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force, but it was retired in 1989 to serve gate guard duty.

UAS member Roy Kerr, a former airframe fitter, described the Phantom as "a big, heavy, compact machine with a mean look and sense of purpose".

"The sight of these magnificent beasts perched high up on their floor jacks was breathtaking," he added.

Last year the UAS team and its members were caught up in a row between Sinn Fein and the DUP over the future of the Maze-Long Kesh site.

Its annual open days did not receive permission from Office of First and Deputy First Minister to proceed, but it is hoped the request for this year's event will be approved.

The society has made an application for open days it hopes will run this August 22 and 23.

For more about UAS visit the website at www.ulsteraviationsociety.org or call 028 9048 0747.

Factfile

More than 5,000 Phantoms were produced by the McDonnell Douglas company in America from 1960 to 1979; it became a symbol of western air power in services throughout the world.

The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm received its first Phantom in 1968 to serve aboard aircraft carriers.

A total of 168 served in the RAF and the FAA.

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