More than 500 invited guests packed the twin hangars of the Ulster Aviation Society Saturday to witness the unveiling of the Phantom aircraft in its official debut following two years of intensive restoration efforts by Society volunteers.
It was a triple-barrelled occasion at the Maze/Long Kesh site, said Society Chairman Ray Burrows, marking the organisation’s 50th anniversary year.
As well, it was 50 years since the group’s Phantom, designated “007”, first flew with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, and 100 years since the for-mation of the Royal Air Force.
The Society’s aircraft flew with both ser-vices during its career.
Special guests for the event included about 45 former members of RAF Aldergrove’s 23 Maintenance Unit, who serviced and upgraded Phantoms here between 1968 and 1979.
“It was a special honour to have these fellows here, most of whom haven’t seen one another for 35 years,” said Mr. Burrows. “Chatting and joking with one another—such a pleasure! They’d contributed a tremendous amount through their hard work and talents at RAF Aldergrove during a time when positive news from Northern Ireland was rare.”
Also among the visitors Saturday were numerous dignitaries, including two lord lieutenants, two mayors, several senior officers of the RAF and Royal Navy and representatives of Northern Ireland’s aviation industry.
Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth (a fighter pilot himself from Banbridge), paid tribute to the UAS volunteers who ran the event and restored the Society’s aircraft.
“You will never meet a bunch of people who are more passionate and dedicated to furthering the history of aviation in Northern Ireland,” he said.
It was, he added, a “complete honour” to be the UAS patron.
As for Society volunteers:
Many of them were looking ahead to Sunday and their assembly of the Society’s replica Spitfire for its appearance in Belfast City Centre. It became a showpiece outside St. Anne’s Cathedral for a Royal Air Force Centenary Service inside the building.