Sunday, 5 November 2017

A Look Over A Phantom!

This is XV424 - "I-India" - a Phantom FGR2 of 56 squadron. I was rather pleased to take a look inside the cockpit recently, for the first time since 1983.

My responsibilities were few, and consisted of taking photographic equipment off the crew as soon as they landed, not a particularly demanding task, but an enjoyable one as I loved being around these aircraft, and in those days the noisier they were the better, which might go some way to explaining why my hearing is not quite what it should be. It was either that or all those Rockabilly gigs.....

The Phantom had a 16mm camera - the G90 - that basically filmed the aircraft's attack radar, allowing the crew to analyse their performance after an exercise, or occasionally, after a QRA intercept on a Russian aircraft over the North Sea.

QRA involved the use of a hand-held camera - a bulky but reliable 35mm Canon F1 - the film from which had to be processed (by hand) and printed (also by hand) very quickly. At weekends there would only be one of us on duty on the photo section, so it was quite an intense hour or so before getting two sets of prints - one for the squadron and one for JARIC (Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre) - out as quickly as possible. The prints had to be of the highest quality.

It was a great joy to see the image appear in the developing tray - often the Russian aircrew could be seen waving at the camera - one of the better parts of the job in a section where, over the years, the avoidance of tiresome duties had been perfected to an art form. The only things that really did any work there were the old B&W TV set and the kettle.

The beauty of RAF Wattisham, however, was that we got heaps of overseas detachments that were never boring.

There were two Phantom squadrons at Wattisham, 23 being the second.

XV424 is now housed in a museum, just another part of the global conspiracy to make me feel old.

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