A supersonic relic of the Cold War arrived in Lisburn this week, closing a final chapter in a demanding challenge which has obsessed a group of Northern Ireland aviation enthusiasts for the past six months.
Week after week, teams of volunteers travelled to an old Royal Air Force base at Leuchars in Scotland to gradually dismantle a Phantom jet fighter.
“It’s definitely been one of the most demanding tasks we’ve faced in our remit to preserve the aviation history of Northern Ireland,” said Ray Burrows, Chairman of the Ulster Aviation Society (UAS).
And despite the fact that 168 Phantoms served with the RAF and Royal Navy during the 1960s and 1970s, the UAS volunteers had to learn the dismantling process through trial and error.
Mr Burrows said: “We couldn’t find anyone in the U.K. who had actually done this before.” The aircraft’s 75-foot, ten-ton fuselage set off on Sunday, winding through country roads and down the motorways of Scotland.
It arrived by ferry at the port of Larne on Monday morning before travelling to its final destination at the Society’s 30-aircraft hangar collection at the Maze/Long Kesh site at the west edge of Lisburn.
“Time was when the Phantom could cover that distance from Scotland in a few minutes, at over 1,000 miles an hour,” said Mr. Burrows.
He commented that, in a sense, the Phantom has come home to the people who cared for it.
He said: “That’s because every Phantom of the RAF and the Royal Navy came to RAF Aldergrove at one time or another for repairs, re-painting or upgrading by 23 Maintenance Unit in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.”