UK Phantom Heritage Centre – a Heritage crowdfunding project in Kemble by British Phantom Aviation Group
Since embarking on active aircraft preservation work in 2015, the British Phantom Aviation Group (BPAG) have achieved some remarkable successes. Most notably the restoration of the cockpit section of XV490 at Newark Air Museum and the rescue of XV582 ‘Black Mike’ from the former RAF Leuchars in Scotland, the latter of which subsequently went on static display to great acclaim at the RAF 100 celebrations in 2018.
Both these projects were lucky enough to benefit from being hosted by other organisations (NAM and RAF Cosford respectively) but the time has now come for the BPAG to consolidate its current and future projects into one place. We are therefore proud to announce our plans for a UK Phantom Heritage Centre, to be located at Cotswold Airport (formerly RAF Kemble) in Gloucestershire. This will be a facility that is open to the public as a living history environment of the Cold War era, where the story of the British F-4 in active service can be understood by visitors, as well as being a tribute to the brave men and women who stood in defence of the country through some very dark times.
The BPAG are a non-profit, volunteer organisation, working within the aviation heritage sector, that are dedicated to restoring and preserving UK specific examples of the F-4 Phantom aircraft that served with either the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. It is managed and administrated by a mixture of ex-forces personnel and civilian aircraft enthusiasts and has been involved in active projects since 2015. The story of the Group’s work can be read in more detail on the BPAG’s website here- https://bpag.co.uk/about/
When the ‘Black Mike’ project ended in November 2018, the BPAG already had plans for new challenges. The first was F-4J(UK) ZE360, which at the time was resident at a location in Kent, and F-4K XT597, in private storage in Suffolk but available for sale. Both these aircraft were obtained during 2019 and preservation work began on ZE360 in September. F-4M XT905 was added to the roster in 2020. Arrangements were also in place for the BPAG to establish workshops and visitor facilities at an airfield in the Midlands and initial groundwork was scheduled to commence in early 2020. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic forced these plans to change. However, in August 2020, the Group were offered a lifeline by Cotswold Airport in Gloucestershire.
Cotswold Airport is already home to a number of historic aircraft, including Buccaneer, Hunter, Canberra, Gnat, Spitfire and other military types as well as a large collection of classic airliners. The plans and ambitions of the airport management and the facilities and support that the airport can provide will ensure an active and secure future for both the BPAG and our aircraft and this is an opportunity that we have gratefully accepted. However, although the airport will be hosting the Group, we will remain a separate entity and as such all costs related to establishing ourselves on site will be our own responsibility. It is in this regard that we are asking for your help. It is vital that we get our aircraft undercover. This is so the preservation work can go ahead more quickly, safely and efficiently. It will also protect them from the ravages of the British weather and will provide a suitable environment for us to open up to the public so visitors can experience for themselves the history and legacy of these iconic aircraft.
The UK Phantom Heritage Centre will not just be a place for us to work. It will also be a museum, a meeting place, a venue, a school and a repository of knowledge. It will be the only place in the world where examples of all three marques of the UK version of the F-4 Phantom can be seen together. It will also be the only place in the world where a F-4J(UK) is on display in its original RAF colours.
In addition, it will be home to two other British Phantom cockpit sections and will also form a display space for our growing collection of Phantom parts, components, related equipment and supplies, uniforms, memorabilia, rarities and much more. We intend to support enthusiasts, fans, researchers, students and just the plain curious in their quest for knowledge of the UK F-4 and classic jets. We particularly look forward to welcoming veterans of the forces and respecting and celebrating the past and their traditions, honouring those who have served and remembering those lost. The BPAG will also work in co-operation with other restoration groups to share and preserve all existing mechanical skills, provide technical support and advice and offer training to a new generation of engineers interested in STEMS, modern and general aviation and heritage jets.
All this is feasible and within our grasp but there is much to do to make it happen.
We have been offered an area of land adjacent to the north taxiway (opposite Britannia XM496) at Cotswold Airport. Although this is no longer an active aircraft taxiway, it is used for frequent vehicle movements and as such has been maintained in good condition. It connects to the threshold of runway 80 to the SW and the main airport facilities to the NE and is a spacious area with significant room for expansion in the future.
The Group is also in the fortunate position of recently receiving a generous pledge of a whole building. This is a steel frame structure (formerly an industrial warehouse) of 40 meters x 20 metres, which is currently located in Merseyside and is scheduled to be replaced later in 2021. The current owners have donated this building to the BPAG and our intention is for it to be dismantled and transferred to Cotswold Airport for use as the first part of our workshops and visitor centre. So, at this point, we have arrangements in place for ground underneath our feet and a roof over our heads. However, in order to bring these elements together and get the aircraft restoration projects underway, we need to start with some basic building work.
Simply put, we will need to excavate foundations for the main building (including laying a reinforced concrete floor), erect smaller outbuildings for storage and maintenance and connect the area to utilities and drainage. Unfortunately, these fundamental needs are going to involve a large amount of upfront expenditure. We do have an advantage, in that one of the BPAG management team (and owner of XT597) Mark Abbott, is the owner of a large construction firm and so will be leading and supervising the project and the BPAG volunteers will also be providing some of the workforce. Despite these benefits, we will still need to raise a substantial lump sum to fund materials, machinery and specialist labour.
We estimate that preparing the ground for erecting a permanent building will cost around £25,000. This will also allow us to get the aircraft under temporary cover by utilising aluminium truss framed battlefield shelters, the first of which belongs to XT597’s owner Mark Abbott (two further examples of which were kindly donated to us by David Walton after the closure of the aircraft facility at Bruntingthorpe and were dismantled by a team from Abbott Building as a campaign contribution). These structures will keep the aircraft safe until the permanent building arrives on site and will allow preservation work to start almost immediately.
Although the UK is blessed with a number of excellent aircraft museums, the understandable need for these establishments to appeal to a large cross section of the public has left opportunities for smaller specialist collections, that organisations like the BPAG are filling on a grassroots level. However, the very nature of aircraft restoration and the space and facilities it requires to be done successfully means that it is an expensive undertaking. The BPAG realises that what we are proposing is ambitious but we hope you will agree with us that it is worthwhile. We are in position to make a significant contribution to the preservation of the UK’s aviation history. With the success of our previous projects, the BPAG have proven that we have the skills, knowledge and motivation to make it happen, but this time around we need the finances. We therefore respectfully ask you to consider donating to this campaign and therefore help to secure a future for our projects and keep the history and memories alive, not just for all the current generations but also for those yet to come.
This content was originally published here.