THE ROYAL AIR FORCE'S original purchase of the F-4 Phantom was circuitous to say the least. Having been denied the P1154 and TSR2 and abandoned the F-111, the service belatedly cottoned on to the fact that the Royal Navy's Buccaneer S2 was excellent at its low-level strike role, and long after the Fleet Air Arm embraced the 'Brick' the RAF did likewise with mixed feelings. Meanwhile, to complement its Buccaneers the FAA needed a new fighter to replace its ageing Sea Vixens and Scimitars. Having tried to 'Anglicise' the F-111, bumping up the cost to dizzy heights for little gain, it might be assumed that lessons had been learned. Not so. With the Phantom, the Ministry of Defence excelled itself. Part of the dilemma lay in the Royal Navy only having small carriers, for which it needed modified Phantoms — the standard F-4J was deemed unsuitable due to performance issues when operating from smaller vessels. Maybe, in fairness, the then British government was duped by sales propaganda from McDonnell Douglas. Recent information has revealed that the UK was led from an early stage to believe that the US was also interested in a proposal by Rolls-Royce to use afterburning Spey engines in an attempt to allow heavyweight Phantoms to operate from smaller carriers such as the Essex Class.
Following a stunning restoration by Avspecs Ltd, Jerry Yagen's Mosquito FB26 KAI 14/ZK-MOS made its maiden post-restoration flight at Ardmore, New Zealand, on 27 September. David Phillips and Avspecs' Warren Denholm were in the cockpit. Built in 1945 by de Havilland Canada at Downsview, Toronto, for the Royal Canadian Air Force, KAI 14 had not flown since that year. It then spent the vast majority of its life in storage, including 30 years on a farm in Alberta following disposal by the RCAF in 1948. Jerry Yagen purchased the Mosquito in about 2004, and contracted Avspecs to return it to flying condition. Work done by Glyn Powell of Auckland on re-creating the wooden moulds necessary to form the fuselage has been instrumental in this project, as it is proving in other Mosquito restoration efforts. First engine runs took place on 19 September, and with all performing well the way was clear for the successful maiden flight eight days later. The FB26 thus became the first 'Mossie' to take to the air since British Aerospace's Till RR299 crashed during a display at Barton, Greater Manchester, in July 1996.
The business of getting Catalina G-PBYA to Russia proved an assault course for Plane Sailing's doughty 'men in black'. Its pilot Rod Brooking had innumerable problems getting flight plans approved across Belarus and Russia, after an overnight stop en route in Bydgoszcz, Poland. It took time for ATC in Belarus even to confirm entry into their airspace, but no interceptors appeared on their wing before they were finally acknowledged. Then, on finals at Zhukovsky, they were suddenly made to do a 360° turn, but landed without incident, other than the controller's increasingly urgent exhortations to clear to the end of the 5km-plus runway speedily. Russian bureaucracy changed the rules for their minimum display height from 100m to 50m, but they were then criticised for flying their practice too low by another set of bureaucrats. Sometimes you cannot win! The public, when they saw who they were, treated the PBY crew like rock stars, and top generals and Sukhoi's chief test pilot visited the aircraft.
THE CONCEPT of operating a mixture of different fighter types was not new to the Cold War. After all, at the end of World War Two, Allied and Axis forces had engaged in operations along those very lines, using the qualities of various aircraft to maximum effect. Although similar lines, the Mixed Fighter Force concept differs in that the aim is to capitalise on each fighter's unique strengths as well as acting as force multipliers. As an example, the Hunter is a highly manoeuvrable dogfighter but lacks the arsenal of air-to-air weapons that, say, an F-4 Phantom II can carry. The origins of what became known in the RAF as MFFO, Mixed Fighter Force Operations, can be traced back to the late 1970s when the service was undergoing a major re-equipment programme, especially within RAF Germany. The Cold War was reaching its zenith and the ageing Canberra bombers and Hunter fighters had been rendered obsolete. In a matter of years the RAF had transformed the 'clutch' bases with the introduction of Phantoms (then in the ground attack and recce roles), Buccaneers and Harriers. Soldiering on in the low-level air defence role were two squadrons of Lightning F2As, now very long in the tooth.