McDonnell Douglas Phantom FGR2.
Although I made this free hand sketch, I have no personal knowledge of this aircraft. But I am sure that many ex-brats will have fond memories of the RAF Phantom. Please let me know.
The following is adapted for the Web from a story in Michael Anderton's (Andy - 74th Entry Armourer) recent book RAF Plumber where he describes the arrival and arming of Phantom jets at RAF Wattisham in 1975.
[Plumber of course is the term traditionally used in the armed services for those who maintain guns - with their tube like barrels - now applied to all aspects of the armament trade.]
(RAF) Wattisham Phantoms (by Michael Anderton).
The first signs of the imminent arrival of Phantoms at RAF Wattisham was the start of the works needed to accommodate the Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles that we would be handling. As these were American weapons, the procedures and equipment would be quite different, and an intense period of training and preparation commenced.
Sparrow/Sidewinder Course at RAF Coningsby.
Together with two other plumbers, I was sent on a Sparrow/Sidewinder course at RAF Coningsby. We travelled up by car and spent a very pleasant two weeks on the course learning all there was to know about our new missiles and the associated equipment. All work on the Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles is undertaken by plumbers and we needed to learn all the test and assembly procedures that we would be required to undertake.
I was given a room in the Sergeants' Mess and soon bumped into old friends, and acquaintances in the bar and dining room. We had Wednesday afternoons off for sport and as the National Water Sports Centre wasn't too far away I had brought my water ski and a wetsuit with me just in case. I enjoyed two very pleasant afternoons there skiing on the purpose built ski lake and also on the bigger rowing lake, once the rowers had finished for the day. I got myself a meal on the way back to Coningsby and went to bed early after a drink in the bar, usually very tired by then.
Back at Wattisham.
Back at Wattisham we started to set up the assembly and test equipment, I was given the Missile Servicing Flight (MSF) armament inventory to manage and had complete control over all the equipment on the site. The test equipment was set up, two Sparrow test sets with the associated stands and drip trays and a dedicated bench for two Sidewinder test sets that needed no stands. The 'Iron Maiden' (a thick steel cabinet used for protection) was checked out and the first Nitrogen bottles filled with pure air. Then assembly and testing of the missiles commenced, building up the stocks for operational readiness.
Two Phantom Squadrons Were Resident at RAF Wattisham.
Two Phantom Squadrons were resident at RAF Wattisham in 1976, Nos 23 Squadron and 56 Squadron as they worked up in readiness for Missile Practice Camp (MPC) at RAF Valley. The squadrons took live Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles from Wattisham with them for the firing, making it a test of the complete system from getting the parts out of the boxes to striking the targets. A 23 Squadron aircraft flying against a pilotless drone on the Aberporth Range successfully fired the first Wattisham Sparrow in April of 1976. There were many other practice firings made without incident. Except for one particular occasion.
One of Our Sidewinders Had Broken in Half.
One afternoon whilst one of the Squadrons were away at MPC a call came in to advise us that one of our Sidewinders had broken in half. The missile is made up of four tubular sections, guidance, target detector, warhead, and motor, joined together with torque loaded clamping rings.
We were advised by Strike Command HQ of a crack detection procedure that
needed to be carried out on all the clamping rings before any further firings
could take place. Being an enthusiast for interesting Jobs I volunteered to hot
foot it to RAF Valley, accompanied by another plumber, Corporal Paddy Patterson,
travelling in a Mini Van with the necessary equipment.
I called Pauline to let her know that I would not be home for tea (pity really because it was something quite tasty no doubt) and we headed off through the evening traffic to Valley. There was a reception party waiting for us there on arrival and they showed us where the missiles were stored.
The Long Trip Back to Wattisham.
Working through the night we stripped tested and reassembled about twelve
missiles, finishing around 0300 hours. Paddy and I found some transit
accommodation and flopped down exhausted, with no washing kit or bedding. But
no matter, next morning we got away from Valley once we were sure that we were
no longer needed, making the long trip back and a decent night's sleep.
I think the powers-that-be at Strike Command made a note of my availability because on a number of occasions they asked me to undertake a few unusual tasks.
By Michael Anderton (74th Entry) from his recent book RAF Plumber
[This extract was especially adapted for the Web.]
Let's Hear Your Stories.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any stories about this aircraft; humorous, technical, or historical. Please use the Feedback Form to contact me briefly, in the first instance.
Joe Bosher (74th).