1976 to 1992: The Phantom Era

23 Sqn Phantom FGR2

1976 saw big changes with the demise of the Lightning fleet to the scrapyard and the arrival of 23 Squadron, newly equipped with Phantom FGR2 in February and 56 Squadron was soon to follow into Wattisham with the same mounts. Although received in standard colour scheme of green and grey camouflage various squadron markings appeared over the first two years culminating in the appearance of XV474 of 56 Squadron in a trial of a light grey all-over colour known as “Air-Superiority Scheme” which steadily appeared on the entire Phantom fleet including the airframe in the Museum.

56 Sqn Phantom FGR2

1979 saw two Phantoms appearing in a flamboyant scheme designed to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ever non-stop transatlantic flight. One of these aircraft was chosen to repeat the mission, piloted by Squadron Leader Alcock, grandson of the original pilot, with navigator Flight Lieutenant Browne (no relation).

In 1982 Britain found itself at war with Argentina following their attack on the Falkland Islands. After the war it was deemed necessary to position a squadron of Phantoms to defend the islands which resulted in Wattisham based 23 Squadron being disbanded in 1983, as 29 Squadron who were stationed at Port Stanley were renamed 23 Squadron. This left the Phantom force short of one Squadron, so it was decided to purchase fifteen second- hand United States Navy Phantoms from desert storage in Arizona.

74 Sqn Phantom F-4J

On August 30th, 1984, 74 Squadron was reformed and arrived at Wattisham flying the USN F-4J version. Some confusion had occurred as to colour scheme with aircraft varying from duck-egg green colour to air-force grey and in the next six months or so the fins of 74 Squadron’s Phantoms were painted black and carrying a tiger head emblem as on the Squadron badge.

The collapse of the Warsaw Pact brought about a reduction in the need for Phantoms in RAF Germany so in 1991 both Wildenrath FGR2 units were disbanded, their aircraft being brought back to Wattisham and for the sake of uniformity, replaced the F-4Js of 74 Squadron. A formation of nine F-4Js bade farewell by flying over many sites in Suffolk.

Display on the cross runway

1992 saw the entry of the Tornado F3 to the UK based fighter units leading to more surplus Phantoms which were flown into Wattisham for disposal. Before the final demise of the last units which were based at Wattisham it was decided to appoint a single display aircraft and crew to perform at the season’s air shows. After a fly-off between 56 and 74 Squadrons, 74 Squadron was chosen to supply the aircrew and Archie Liggatt (pilot) and Mark Mainwaring (Navigator) were chosen to display one of the aircraft at air shows in the UK and some in Europe. Two Phantoms were chosen as the display aircraft and painted in a special colour scheme which represented both two final Phantom squadrons (56 and 74). It is one of these Phantoms that is preserved at the Museum.

Tiger Phantom

July 1992 saw the demise of 56 Squadron, the standard being transferred to Coningsby where 65 Squadron (the Tornado F3 OCU) changed its standard to 56 Squadron it, being the unit of greater heritage. So Wattisham became the sole Phantom unit filling the rest of the Summer with flypasts, a photo-call for the public, solo aerobatic performances and a mini-Tiger Meet supported by “Tiger Units” from the US, Portugal, France. The opportunity was taken to paint a Phantom in an all-over tiger-scheme which proudly stood on the pan until it led those aircraft chosen to join the parade on the day that 74 Squadron was disbanded as a Phantom Squadron, the standard passing to RAF Valley, in Anglesey, as part of 4 FTS. The 31st October 1992 came the day that Wattisham ceased to be a Phantom base and the next day, accompanied by crowds on the fences and gates the last two flyable Phantoms left Wattisham for Coningsby and Duxford, for BDR use and a position in the Museum.