Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson




The Royal Navy ordered F-4 Phantoms in 1964, as a replacement for the DH Sea Vixen, and the F-4K entered service in March 1969. It was powered by the RR Spey engine, which necessitated considerable re-design – this is particularly evident in the exhaust area of the engine nacelles, where the soffit profile flares sharply downwards compared to all other F-4 versions.

As a result of successive economy drives, only one British carrier, HMS Ark Royal, would operate the F-4K, and only one squadron would fly the type from it. This was 892 sq. of the Fleet Air Arm, and it operated the Phantom until December 1978.

It was thought at the time that 892 sq. would be the last fixed-wing naval unit, due to even further cuts forecast in the navy budget. That explains the use of the black letter omega in the squadron badge. The pessimists were proved wrong some years later by the arrival of the Harrier, which used vectored thrust to allow smaller carriers to project significant naval power.

From February to March 1973, a number of Phantoms of VMFA-531 operated from Ark Royal, and at least one of that unit's F-4B's, (151477), had its fin markings painted to match those of 892 squadron. I don't know if aircraft from this Marines squadron ever flew along with any Fleet Air Arm Phantoms, but maybe it's not impossible. I want to make an image of 151477 flying in formation with an RN F-4K.

The Initial Image

This is a photo of a die-cast model of 151477, and it has a huge pixellation, 4506x1882 pixels as downloaded. There is a lot of detail, and the definition is fairly even; it's a professionally-made image, made to illustrate and promote the product. My impression is that these die-cast models are gaining in popularity among model enthusiasts.

Treatment of the Image

Selection of the structural components was easy in the sense that all the parts are clear, with none of the ambiguities that can arise with smaller images. You must be alert to the problems inherent in the die-cast medium. Here, for instance, the sub-casting for the front part of the engine nacelle, including the intake, doesn't meet the main part of the nacelle smoothly – the cusp in the lower edge of the walkway area needs to be sweetened out, and the highlight just below it revised to remove the cusp in it.

Coming to the decals, I found that some of them were a bit too big, and some were not quite in the right place. I revised them on the basis of the profiles in my archive. The “double A” marking on the fin is wrongly handed, and the intake just aft of the nose radome needs to be coloured yellow – the colour can be seen on at least one of the photos of this plane.

For my secondary aircraft I chose an image that looks like a photo of a real F-4K, but I quickly realised that it's actually computer-generated. In my download, the airframe is only about 400 pixels long, so I had different problems than those I had on the F-4B image; instead of sharpening mouldings and suppressing too bold internal details, I was struggling to find a lot of the detail I needed to get a plausible image. Eventually I reckoned I'd done enough; I couldn't find any photos of R-010, serial XV587, so I just finished the markings as a typical scheme for Royal Navy Phantoms.


It's possible, of course, that the omega-marked Phantoms of the Fleet Air Arm never did meet their similarly marked American cousin in the air. My knowledge of the detailed histories of their deployments is not good enough to tell. Maybe this is just another “what if?” image.