Air Power of the Senior Service

Air Power of the Senior Service

The latest edition of Airfix Workbench is unashamedly dominated by Fleet Air Arm matters, as we look to bring readers a comprehensive update from one of the most anticipated new tooling projects in recent years. As our high-profile new model tooling announcement from last year’s IPMS Telford modelling extravaganza, the new 1/72nd scale McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 has proved to be an incredibly popular addition to the Airfix line-up and we are pleased to be bringing you the latest information from the design team at Airfix. We have confirmation of the decal scheme options which will be included in the kit, along with some more detailed information about these schemes and the individual aircraft they were applied to. We also have an exclusive first look at the test frames from the new Phantom, where the tooling block is used to produce the plastic parts for the first time and is always an important indication that any new model project is advancing steadily towards eventual release.

As we have mentioned the IPMS Scale Modelworld show, now is a good opportunity to confirm that the Airfix team will again be in attendance at the 2017 show, which is due to be held over the weekend of 11th/12th November at the Telford International Centre. Although it still seems quite some way off at the moment, it'll be here before we know it so now is the time to consider planning your journey, booking accommodation and securing your tickets if you have not already done so. As attendance figures have been extremely healthy over recent years, many readers will already have their plans in place for the show which is certainly one of the highlights of the annual modelling calendar. We will have plenty of interesting models, information and exclusives available on the Airfix stand and our team will also be running the popular 'Make and Paint' area once more, for all those fledgling modellers and anyone looking for a slight modelling respite from the rigors of the display halls. As usual, we will also be looking to make an announcement regarding a new tooling addition to the Airfix range. We hope to see many of our readers over the weekend of the show and will be pleased to show you all our latest model announcements.


Phantom of the Fleet


Can there be a more impressive sight than a Royal Navy Phantom prior to take off?


As one of the most successful jet aircraft ever designed, the mighty McDonnell Douglas Phantom has earned an enviable reputation within the aviation industry and even though the first aircraft entered service with the US Navy in 1960, Phantoms still remain in front-line service with the air forces of Greece, Turkey and Japan almost sixty years later. Used in a variety of operational roles during its impressive service career, the Phantom has also seen plenty of combat over this time, from the savage fighting in the skies above Vietnam, to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, always proving to be an extremely rugged and capable aircraft. Without doubt, as far as the history of jet aviation is concerned, the Phantom has to be described as a classic aircraft.

As one of the foremost jet aircraft in the history of flight, the Phantom would have been coveted by many of the world’s air arms and Britain was no exception, although it has to be said that the UK’s adoption of the aircraft was not without controversy. Procured at a time of national austerity and political turmoil, the Phantom was not originally the first choice for either the Royal Navy, or the Royal Air Force, who were both looking for indigenous designs, which were being specifically developed to meet their requirements. The cancellation of these projects and a government preference for a cheaper off the shelf solution made the US Phantom an attractive option, however, the British versions of the aircraft would be distinctly different from the standard US Navy machines.

Phantoms destined for UK service would primarily be procured as a fleet defence fighter for the Royal Navy, replacing the distinctive, but outdated De Havilland Sea Vixen in this role. It was decided that the British machines would be powered by the Rolls Royce Spey engine for a number of reasons, not least because they would give a valuable power increase to these aircraft which would be operating from the relatively short decks of Britain’s carrier fleet. Although this sounds quite logical, the installation of these engines required some significant modifications to fuselage of the British Phantoms, including enlarged engine bays, a re-designed rear fuselage and larger air intakes at the front of the aircraft, all of which gave the British Phantoms a unique appearance. When taking into consideration the additional drag caused by these modifications, the extra power provided by the Rolls Royce engines had little beneficial impact on the overall performance of the aircraft, however they did result in the British machines being extremely distinctive from an aesthetics perspective.


A computer rendered 3d image from the impressive new Airfix Phantom FG.1 project


The initial Royal Navy order was for an impressive 140 Phantoms, which were intended to be operated from four aircraft carriers, two refitted existing vessels, plus a further two to be constructed specifically for the task. Continuing Government austerity measures dictated that this mighty force would never be realized and with the cancellation of the two new carriers and a further decision not to upgrade all the existing ships, the Navy’s Phantom order was slashed to just 48 aircraft. The Royal Navy received their first F-4K Phantoms (British designation FG.1) in April 1968 and immediately began flying trials with their new aircraft, to prepare it for embarkation on HMS Ark Royal, the first vessel to be re-fitted to accept the Phantom. That first operational embarkation occurred in 1970, when twelve Phantoms of No.892 NAS landed on Ark Royal as part of her air group and began a short, if glorious period of British Phantom operation at sea.


An Impressive Beast

The Phantom was a brute of an aircraft and seeing these impressive jet fighters operating from the diminutive deck of HMS Ark Royal must have been an awe-inspiring sight. With a deck of approximately 600 ft. in length and only 65 ft. wide, there was certainly no room for error on Ark Royal and it must have taken a very special breed of personnel to both fly and support British Phantom operations at sea. With little available space on the deck and a relatively short area available for take-off and landing, Ark Royal would certainly not have been a place for the faint-hearted and it is difficult to imagine how intense the experience must have been. One thing is certain, Royal Navy Phantom operations off HMS Ark Royal produced some of the most iconic aviation images in the history of naval aviation, as Britain’s Spey-powered Phantoms prepared to be blasted into the air for their latest sortie.


Classic image of an 892 NAS Phantom FG.1 launching from HMS Ark Royal


With an appearance often likened to a huge metal praying mantis, the Navy’s Phantoms needed all the help they could get in getting airborne from Ark Royals diminutive flightdeck. With the aircraft connected to the ships steam catapult and full flap selected, the ground handlers would extend the nose wheel oleo to its maximum 40 inch position, giving the aircraft a distinct nose up attitude and further increasing the angle of engine thrust. With maximum afterburner selected and the power almost melting the deck of the ship, the Phantom was released and blasted into the air – a truly exhilarating experience for those in the aircraft, as well as those lucky enough to witness the spectacle. In truth though, there was little pilot input required for take off, however landing would be a different matter altogether.

Landing this mighty jet fighter on the deck of a relatively small aircraft carrier at sea would have taken a very special breed of airman. To see these huge aircraft thumping down on the deck of Ark Royal would have been impressive and a little disconcerting at the same time and would require all the training and flying ability the pilot possessed, along with the trust and teamwork of a huge number of embarked personnel. By nature, naval aircraft are built tough in order to withstand the punishment of repeated deck landings, but for the Phantom pilot landing on HMS Ark Royal for the first time, this must have been a particularly stressful situation and there was very little room for error or miscalculation – the lives of many people depended on it. Approaching the ship with hundreds of eyes watching his every move, the pilot would attempt an arrested landing, using all his training along with indications from the deck landing controllers to make the perfect approach for landing. Applying full power on hitting the deck, if the arrestor hook had engaged, he would quickly disengage power, fold the outer wing sections and follow the deck handler’s instructions for clearing the landing area, allowing the next aircraft to land. If something went wrong, full power setting would allow him to safely get back into the air and prepare for another landing attempt, known as a ‘Bolter’. This was clearly not ideal, as he would have to go through the routine at least one more time, with other aircraft potentially in the landing pattern and the Phantom rapidly running out of fuel – this was an extremely thirsty beast. There was also the small matter that all deck landings were filmed, so if you did make a mistake, it was there for all to review and could be discussed later at briefing. It is no wonder that Royal Navy Phantoms continue to hold a unique fascination for aircraft and enthusiasts alike.


A New Classic from Airfix


An unusual development image showing the rendered 3d image next to a cleaned up scan data image of the Phantom


When considering the relatively small number of Royal Navy Phantoms that actually entered service, it is little wonder that these spectacular aircraft are of such interest to the modeller. Since our Phantom Telford announcement last year, this new 1/72nd scale tooling has already proved to be an extremely popular addition to the range, with huge advanced orders placed by trade and retail partners, along with individual orders taken on the Airfix website. The model will certainly help to re-kindle interest in this glorious period of British naval aviation and will the see Phantom on the workbench of many a modeller over the coming months. In an exclusive update from this significant project, we are pleased to bring you a first look at the test frames from the new Phantom tooling, which will further serve to increase the anticipation for this spectacular new model's eventual release. This important stage of the development process will allow the Airfix designers to assess the validity of the tooling block and give them the opportunity to see how the components actually go together from the modeller's perspective. They can then compile a review folder, making any necessary alterations or amendments before the model proceeds any further – a really significant stage in the production of any new model tooling and a time of great excitement for the Airfix team. Here are the Phantom FG.1 test frame images for your delectation: 

A selection of exclusive images showing the first test frames from the new 1/72nd scale Phantom kit



The release of these images is another important step towards the eventual release of this beautiful new model and from the interest already shown in our new Phantom, we knew you'd be interested to see them. Once again, Workbench is the first place where modellers can see the latest Airfix model development images and we are proud to bring them to you.


Fly Navy – Phantom Style

If the test frame Phantom images were not enough for one Workbench blog, we also have confirmation of the decal scheme options that will accompany the release of this fantastic kit and we are pleased to confirm these with you now:


Profile artwork illustrating scheme A option with the new Phantom release


McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 / 007/R No.892 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, HMS Ark Royal, November 1978.


No.892 Naval Air Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm holds a significant place in the history of Britain’s naval air power. They were the first unit to introduce British Phantoms to operational service and the last to fly off the deck of HMS Ark Royal, following her withdrawal from service in December 1978. The Squadron reformed on 31st March 1969 in preparation for the arrival of the navy’s first Phantom FG.1 fighter bombers and has the distinction of being the only NAS Squadron to use the mighty Phantom operationally. Receiving their aircraft at a time of great political uncertainly and continuing defence cuts, 892 Squadron members felt that they could quite conceivably be the last of the navy’s fixed winged squadrons and adopted a distinctive Omega symbol on their squadron badge. Giving the already attractive navy Phantoms even more appeal, the omega symbol was positioned inside a white diamond and red fin flash on the tail of the aircraft and remain as some of the most distinctive aircraft ever to serve at sea.

Phantom FG.1 XT864 was one of the last aircraft to leave HMS Ark Royal in the lead up to her withdrawal from service in 1978 and after a short period of storage, went on to serve with the Royal Air Force and No.111 Squadron at Leuchars, where it would be called upon to perform QRA duties in defence of Britain’s airspace. With the RAF Phantoms giving way to the new Tornado F.3. XT864 had the honour of acting as Gate Guardian at Leuchars for many years, the first RAF Phantom to be used in this way. As the Leuchars base closed following further defence cuts, this magnificent aircraft was on the move once more and is now a prized possession in the collection of aircraft belonging to the Ulster Aviation Society.


The second scheme option included with the new Phantom FG.1 kit


McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 XT864 / 151 /VL, No.767 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Somerset, England, 1971.


With so few Phantoms eventually being purchased for the Royal Navy, many of the aircraft would see service with a number of Fleet Air Arm units. As you can see from the description above, this particular scheme was applied to the same aircraft featured in the description above (XT864), but is this time wearing the colours of No.767 Naval Air Squadron. Re-forming at NAS Yeovilton in January 1969, the squadron was tasked with training both Royal Navy and RAF pilots to fly the Phantom FG.1, with RAF pilots mainly going on to fly with No.43 Squadron ‘The Fighting Cocks’ at Leuchars. The majority of this training will have taken place at Yeovilton, although 767 NAS also used HMS Ark Royal for carrier deck landing training.

Again resulting in some of the most distinctive aircraft to ever see British service, No.767 NAS adopted an angular sea eagle design as their squadron symbol, which was colloquially known as the ‘Ten Ton Budgie’ and anyone lucky enough to see these handsome aircraft in operation will surely have fond memories of the experience. In a development indicative of the uncertain nature of the navy’s Phantom procurement programme, some of the 767 NAS aircraft were actually delivered to Yeovilton in RAF camouflage.


This Naval Air Support Unit scheme will make a tempting scheme in which to finish your Phantom



The primary task of the Naval Air Support unit was to receive aircraft from either the manufacturers or from repair and maintenance units and prepare them for squadron service. These engineering duties were a significant feature at any naval air station and accounted for almost half the personnel on the airfield. The NASU at Yeovilton will have received the Phantom aircraft from McDonnell Douglas and undertook the important task of preparing them for flying duties and whilst not actually owning the aircraft in the same way a squadron would, they would often have an aircraft long enough to adorn them with their own markings. Phantom FG.1 XT867 wears this unusual dayglow heron motif on the tail, with the letters NASU underneath and is a delightfully unusual option for modellers to consider when deciding on a scheme for their Phantom build.


The stencil placement instructions show just how much attention to detail has been lavished on this magnificent new kit


This particular aircraft was to see service with all of the Navy’s Phantom units, before going on to have a lengthy career with RAF No.111 Squadron at Leuchars, again protecting the nation against encroaching Soviet aircraft.

It is already clear that the new Airfix Phantom is going to be a favourite with the modeller and will renew interest in these magnificent machines that flew with the Royal Navy for just a few short years. Wearing some of the most attractive schemes applied to any post war British aircraft, it will be difficult to choose which one to base our build on and may tempt many of us to perhaps consider building more than one example. We sincerely hope you have found this update of interest and look forward to bringing you more information on the new Phantom FG.1 as it heads towards its scheduled release date of November 2017.


Workbench needs your help!


Please send us your pictures featuring captured enemy aircraft from WWII


We are appealing to Workbench readers for help in producing a special article in a future edition of our blog, where we will be looking at a fascinating aviation subject from the Second World War. The RAF operated an Enemy Aircraft Flight from November 1941, demonstrating captured enemy aircraft to pilots and personnel, giving them the opportunity to view the aircraft at close quarters. With such famous aircraft as the Bf109, Fw190, Bf110, Heinkel He-111 and Junkers Ju-88 at their disposal, these machines were obviously repainted with RAF camouflage and markings, but certainly make for an unusual and interesting story for enthusiasts and modellers alike. In order to illustrate this feature, we are requesting that Workbench readers that may have finished one of their build projects as a ‘Rafwaffe’ aircraft to please send us pictures of their completed model, so it can feature in this article – it would be great to think that we could have pictures of each of the enemy aircraft types operated by the flight and allow for a more visual perspective on this unusual story. If you can help with this request, please send your images to us using our address, where we very much look forward to seeing how many modellers have been captivated by this fascinating story. Hopefully, we will be in a position to run the feature in the very near future.


That’s all we have for you in this latest edition of Workbench. As usual, we are always interested to hear what our readers have to say and are grateful for any modelling features or build pictures you may care to send us. There are several ways you can contact us, including our dedicated e-mail address and of course the Workbench thread over on the Airfix Forum.

If social media is more your style, you could access either the Airfix Facebook page or our Twitter channel, using #airfixworkbench where you will find plenty of modelling news, views and discussion. Whichever medium you decide to use, please do get in touch, as it is always interesting to hear from fellow modelling enthusiasts.

Finally, the Airfix website is the place where you can find all the latest model release information, with our New Arrivals and Coming Soon sections all accessed by clicking on the above links. As updating the website is a constant process, a quick search through each section of the Airfix web pages will reveal new information and updated images in many of the product sections and this is always an enjoyable and rewarding way to spend a few minutes.

We look forward to bringing you the next edition of Workbench on 4th August. Until then, please don’t forget about our Rafwaffe model image request.

The Airfix Workbench Team


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