Reviews - Phantom In Focus.

Flight International October 2015

Phantom In Focus Reviewed on Aviation Book

A new online review by "Tonka Chaser"

A Video Review by Scale Modelling Now

Review in War History Online by Mark Barnes:

A Navigator’s Eye on Britain’s Cold War Warrior
By David Gledhill
Published by Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978 1 78155 048 9

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

It’s funny how things work out. I contacted Fonthill to get a book on railways in World War One and I ended up with a book about Phantom jets. Now that is very nearly a slogan for a pretty dull t-shirt. There is an element of the WTFs in there somewhere. The upside is this book by another first time author, David Gledhill, is really top class and I am so glad I went supersonic instead of letting the train take the strain.

I could paint you a picture of a WHO headquarters with a roaring fire on the go, plenty of tea and biscuits and a warm, book brimmed library where I sit and do this stuff. Nope. I am in my kitchen working on a laptop while the tumble dryer pummels some woollens; listening to George Benson giving it large on BBC Radio 2. I’ve got my tea and bourbons to keep things going. Like my reviewing regime, the Phantom, too, had her foibles. It was an ergonomic nightmare, the Rolls-Royce Spey engines were unhelpful and some of the key wizardry for hunting enemy aircraft often didn’t work. Serviceability and air frame life were key factors in all operations and this didn’t always make for a happy ship. But the Phantom did sterling work in RAF service and there is an immense amount of affection for the old lump.


I can remember seeing a huge line up of F4s attending an airshow at Greenham Common a billion summers ago and only wish my photographic skills had matched the event that day (I had a very off day). I remember buying a t-shirt with the slogan “Mess with the best, die like the rest” off some American Phantom pilots and thinking it was so cool. I think I wore it twice. I was young and deluded. My point is I will always have a massive love for the Phantom – the way it looks, it’s history, however wobbly; and remember the last time I saw some flying over Scottish forest thirty years ago. Two USAF F4s streaked across the woods at very low altitude and the noise and the thrill of it on that cold day was very special. Other true aviation buffs will have seen a lot more than me – but I hope you get the point.

The Phantom had not been first choice, there should have been the British built P1154 and the much lamented TSR2 in the fleet, but cost cutting, then as now, ripped through the defence programme and the Phantom was the cheaper option. We didn’t even get the promised F111s to replace TSR2, things were that tight.

This fantastic book by Mr Gledhill comes from the perspective of an immensely experienced RAF navigator who saw service on operational fighter squadrons and as an instructor. He truly knows his stuff and clearly loves his subject. His own photograph collection fills the book and adds a dimension that makes the whole package immensely personal and for us, the reader, incredibly rewarding. This is how things should be done and in many ways I am so glad the train book was stuck in the sidings. There will be plenty of time for it.

We have a policy at WHO to try and stay within the tracks of the two world wars so we don’t cross any paths of controversy with recent conflicts and have to keep in mind that we have a truly international audience with different perspectives. I write with my very British outlook and this will not change. This book tells the story of the Phantom in the service of my country. But if you are interested in the recent history of military aviation there is so much here in terms of detail, experiences and the life of the F4 it really doesn’t matter whose colours were painted on it because you will be rewarded with a genuinely excellent piece of work. This is one of my books of the year and I look forward to seeing much more from this author.

"The Log" The Magazine of The British Airline Pilot's Association, Summer 2013

Aviation News April 2013


Airfix Model World. May 2013


Author's Thoughts.

There have been many outstanding accounts of the Phantom so when I began my own contribution I wanted to avoid the conventional format.  I focussed on the British F4M version which is the one I flew, in its role as a fighter.  My aim was not to write a technical book but rather to share some stories which showed the aircraft and crews at work and how the Phantom fitted in.  Hopefully, the few areas where I dug a little deeper will interest the enthusiasts but the majority of the book just reflects life for a navigator on the squadron and the operational conversion unit.  Most importantly, the book includes many photographs which I took over the years which show the Phantom in its true environment, many of which are now over 30 years old.

I follow my path as a typical “Phantom Phlyer” from the early days learning to operate the aircraft, through squadron conversion and onto the squadron as an operational navigator.  I then looked at how the Phantom fitted into the air defence system during the Cold War.  In doing this, I discussed how we used the aircraft on operations and training, the places we deployed such as Germany, Cyprus and the Falkland Islands and, inevitably, discussed how many Phantoms and their crews were lost.  I also shared my view on how we compared to our Cold War opponents like the Mig-21 and the Mig-23.  During my days on the squadron, I witnessed some sobering events such as the shooting down of a Jaguar bomber by one of our own Phantoms, the loss of a Phantom while filming for a high profile BBC documentary and how one of our Phantoms managed to fly a circuit wrapped in the airfield arrestor barrier.  If you ever wonder how to intercept another aircraft flying at night using a radar scope it’s in there, along with how you can fly a pair of Phantoms from the Falkland Islands to the UK for a routine service.  The book would not have been complete without looking at the weapons and how we trained to use them.  In conclusion, I tracked down some of the airframes I had flown and captured their final resting places, mostly now in museums or as gate guardians.

The pictures I used, taken both on the ground and in the cockpit, hopefully, capture the journey.  With the demise of the Phantom, none of them can be repeated.

As I said in the book, You could love the Phantom or hate the Phantom but you could never ignore the Phantom.

I hope you enjoy the read.

Dave Gledhill


Phantom In Focus

Well I finally got around to reading The Phantom In Focus
A Navigator's Eye On Britain's Cold War Warrior by Dave Gledhill. I thought I would do a review as it is a well written and illustrated book. If you ever wondered what it's like to be a navigator in the RAF in its loyal Cold War Warrior this is a must read. Dave starts off about the RAF Phantom before taking you through the following 13 chapters. Explaining the progression of being a trainee navigator in the confines of a Handley Page Hastings and learning the techniques of being streamed on to fast jets and learning his craft in the Hawker Siddeley Dominie. Then onto life on the OCU before going to RAF Wattisham to carry out Squadron Combat Ready Training and intense pass or fail time where it all became a reality with intense training covering all aspects and procedures flying various scenarios. This is what would be expected of both the prospective pilot and navigator before joining their frontline Phantom squadron. For Dave it would be the sharp end RAF Germany and being posted to 92 Squadron at Wildenrath. This is well covered and opens your eyes to what it was like in Cold War West Germany constantly on readiness and training against other RAF and NATO aircraft for what the Bear behind the Iron Curtain might unleash. In another chapter Dave is given the job with with a fellow navigator and 2 pilots to return 2 of the 23 Squadron Phantoms back to the UK from Stanley airfeild in the Falklands for their planned major maintenance. This is the section that hit home for me, mainly because of the potential hazards that are only around the corner. The risks of flying an 8 hour flight on their first stage back to Ascension Island above the South Atlantic. A task that due to a tanker going tech and one the Falkland based C-130 tankers fills the slot for the first top up and having to drop out of the trail and descend and rendezvous with the slower and lower C-130. Then after refuel catch up with the higher and fast flying VC-10 tankers without using after burners and back into your slot in the tanker trail and timing is critical due to the fuel burn rate. Then a major problem occurs. Dave has also made it whether it was intentional or not an edge of the seat read. The following chapters are as interesting and it makes you aware of being a navigator is a very demanding job with a high mental work load and no room for error where fools aren't suffered lightly!
Thanks for letting us into your world Dave.

By Paul Theobold on The Aviation Enthusiasts Book Group on Facebook.


5.0 out of 5 starsRecommended!

A brilliant book written by someone who knew the Phantom intimately , having read a few books on the jet to date this one really stood out for me. Some may find the technical aspects hard to grasp but this shouldn't deter you from an outstanding read and will probably lead you to learning more about the aircraft. As a bit of a Cold War buff this books section on the RAF role in Germany is certainly the best I've ever read ! Outstanding.

by Simon Jakubowski on

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant

Illustrations took me straight back to when I worked on them, back in 1968 - 70, fantastic detail, fantastic book.

By JA Jennings "Tony Delarusci" on


5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent

I was a techy on the F4 OCU at the same time that Dave was going through his F4 training although I have to say he would just have been another stude to me (sorry!). This book is a fascinating insight into what went on during those 90 minute sorties. I must admit I had vague notions of them just flinging themselves around the sky, I had no idea just how technical the flying was and how close to the edge it was at times. This is an excellent book and was an eye opener for me. I know Dave, by one of those odd coincidences we were members of the same flying club before he wrote this book and he's a top guy. Highly recommened reading if you want to know what they got up to when they disappeared over Tatty Castle.

Dave Wilson on Amazon.

5.0 out of 5 stars A must buy for any Phantom aficionado

If you are a Phantom aficionado, or someone interested in fighter aircraft and their operational use, this is a book that you cannot afford not to have on your library. The author gives a hands-on account of the use of the Phantom by the RAF over Germany, the UK and the Falklands. Details about how the Phantom was used in the Cold War environment, including weapons systems and the strict rules of engagement over Germany are most interesting, as well as the assesment of Warsaw Pact aircraft and tactics (both then and after the fall of the Communist bloc). All in all, this is a great book about the Phantom in RAF service - I totally enjoyed reading it.

RD Cunha.

Thumbs up from the WSOs union

Loved it ! Flew USAF F-4s at Spang in the early 80-s and this brings it all back (our landmark was Daun tower)
Airfield attacks, Clutch Radar, TACEVAL etc etc etc. 


Excellent Book with Exceptionally High Quality Photographs

Very detailed and accurate with outstanding photos. Might be a little too detailed for the casual reader, but for military aviation enthusiasts and anyone who flew or maintained the Phantom in all its variants, and especially the British versions, it is well written, interesting and well worth the money. The information about RAF operations in the Falklands after the war with Argentina was particularly interesting. 


The Phantom In Focus

A great read; excellent detail but still easy to understand for the non-expert. Thoroughly recommended for anyone interested in flying or the Cold War. 

NR Henley

Great accurate account of what it was like to fly on the front line of the Cold War

I was flying on a sister Squadron alongside Dave Gledhill in Germany in the early 1980s. No one has written a better account of the day-to-day challenges of operating the F4 Phantom.

SJ Cooper

Review by David Lewis on

I must admit here to some prior knowledge of both the subject and the author. I served with Dave Gledhill for some years on the mighty Phantom and went on to work with him in the Ministry of Defence and on the Tornado F3. Like Dave I flew the F4 Phantom in RAF service; in fact we trained as navigators together, went through the same Phantom conversion course, albeit a month or so apart, and ended up on the same squadron.

Dave's book brought back many a memory and many a smile at the events and characters he describes. In spite of the cold war background, and in the face of doing what was a difficult job, we managed to have a lot of fun as we learned our trade together. His book describes accurately the many phases of training and the deployments to places far flung and near to home.

Like Dave I respected and loved the Phantom. To get the best out of the beast meant hard work from both the pilot and the navigator. They had, by today's standards, a tricky aircraft to fly and to operate. The mysteries of the Pulsed Doppler radar (years ahead of its time) and the handling vices such as roll reversal meant that only the best coordinated of crews got the best out of the jet. But when it clicked, and until much newer designs came along, we were the masters of the skies. Dave brings all this to life, peppers his script with anecdotes and uses some excellent photographs to make his points. It might be said by some that the photos are not up to professional standards; I would argue that they are captured under often difficult conditions and add authenticity.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in this classic aircraft, or in the history of how we avoided fighting and kept the cold war cold.

David Lewis (former Phantom navigator, test navigator and weapons instructor)

By Forum Member "Anon" on The Aviation Forum.

Arguably the most comprehensive account ever written of operating the mighty Phantom with the RAF. This is the book UK Phantom Phans have been awaiting for a long time.

With fantastic in-depth coverage of how the UK Phantom was operated and the stories that have unfolded along the way, it takes you through Mr Gledhill's long and successful career with the aircraft from training through to OCU, Combat Training, QRA, RAF Germany and the Falklands. It also details squadron deployments, A/A refuelling, weapons (including missiles and gunnery) opponents (in the Cold War) and other events. Concluding with the Phantom's demise, it is very obvious that Dave Gledhill was more than sorry to see the Phantom go though acknowledging the fact that its days as a front-line fighter were over as it became outclassed by the new Sukhoi's and MiG's appearing on the scene.

Much has been written elsewhere about the Phantom and some of that which pertained to the Spey-powered machines was not unduly flattering. However, notwithstanding the jet's shortcomings the Spey Phantom was still very much a potent front-line type and no other machine had the capability at that time to do what the UK Phantom did - to operate far out over the North Sea toting eight missiles and holding station ready to intercept the Russians if and when they decided to pay UK airspace a visit.

Copiously illustrated, many of the pictures were taken by Dave Gledhill himself and make a refreshing change to the usual library shots other, less involved, authors resort to. Use was also made of Phantom cockpit of XV490, the Phantom simulator and other airframes at the Newark Air Museum to take you into the cockpits and explain the operation of the radar and weapons systems. Whilst there is a large element of technical information, it does not confuse the reader yet has sufficient detail and content to satisfy the serious enthusiast, keen to know how the UK Phantom was operated.

Dave Gledhill himself is a self-confessed Phantom Phan. He has, successfully, greatly enhanced and enlarged the previously scant offerings about what it was like to actually be in the cockpit of a UK Phantom and use the highly complex and (sometimes) temperamental radar (often head down working the radar, combat manoeuvreing at night) which gave the Phantom the enormous edge over everything else at the time. That Dave Gledhill achieved what he did, in and with, the Phantom shows that he was at the very top of his profession and one of that select group of men who were, and are, Britain's fast-jet aircrew.

I rate this book as the best ever written on the UK Phantom from an operational point of view and cannot recommend it highly enough to Phantom Phans the world over though to those of you that may be of a slightly cynical nature I can deny any financial attachment to this fine book. As a huge Phantom Phan myself it has really opened my eyes to the difficulties experienced and the superb role it played to keep our skies safe for over two decades.


Review by Nigel C: "The Mighty Phantom" on


I just want to say I regret never joining the RAF. I regret it each day and with the turn of each page of David Gledhill's wonderful book casting his eye over the day-to-day operations of a very special aeroplane.

The Phantom was indeed THE Cold War Warrior, serving with the RAF for near on 25 years and is held in great affection still by those who flew and maintained the mighty beast some 20 years after it's retirement and this comes across clearly in this great account of the service life of the aircraft and crews.

If you want the nuts and bolts technical details, there are plenty of other publications for that, this is the biography, the diary, the everyday life, the heart and soul of the British Phantom. This well written account, by someone who was lucky enough have his office turned upside down regularly in the back seat of the Mighty Phantom, will grace the book shelves of anyone with an interest in aviation or this "interesting" period of history.

No more superlatives, just buy it and enjoy it, you will find it very worthwhile!

Review on the "Home of the RAF Phantomeers" Website:

"Excellent anecdotal narrative on operating the Phantom in the UK, Germany, Falklands, QRA, its weapons, and much more, with plenty of interesting B&W photos populated throughout, supported by some great colour plates - a must for all Phantomeers; 9 out of 10."

Amazon Review by "Gravey" on

"Incredibly accurate"

I don't know Dave and have never met him, however I had the pleasure and honour of flying the beast in the late 80s.

The attention to detail is second to none, and I am astounded at Dave's recall and memory. A very enjoyable and accurate read. I also now have an idea about what the guy in the back seat was doing over the 4 years I flew the mighty F4 :-).... !

Amazon Review by Latinbear on

"An excellent addition to the Phantom library"

I have been a fan of the Phantom ever since one flew over me at low level on a family holiday on the Norfolk Broads in 1975. Since then I have collected a lot of books on the aircraft and those who flew it and to my mind this is one of the best. It is all the more interesting because David Gledhill was a navigator rather than a pilot. He takes the reader on a journey of his experiences of flying in the Phantom across a range of missions and types of operation all the while offering a revealing insight into the way the plane and it systems worked or often didn't work. The aircraft suffered from serious flaws but Gledhill clearly has a huge affection for the beast and learns to make the best of what was was a tremendously powerful and effective machine. Much of what I read here was completely new to me. For example operations at the F4's training unit, the Falklands, RAF Germany and how poor the Warsaw Pact's aircraft were found to be once the Cold Ward had ended. Although the Phantom is, as the title suggests here, the focus it is important to remember that it didn't exist in a vacuum. It was part of an air defence system and Gledhill provides what I think is the best description I have read of how the UK's air defence system worked and the part that each of the different components played. There is a wealth of information here. In addition to a large degree more than any other fast jet aircrew book that I have read, this volume enables the reader to understand just how highly trained and talented fast jet crews have to be. This is not Gledhill boasting - far from it - but instead a matter of fact illustration of how demanding the standards are and why so few people succeed in becoming pilots or navigators.
Many of the illustrations are from the author's and others' private collections and all the more welcome for it as opposed to some writer's use of standard RAF or MoD publicity images.

Other reviwers have commented that some of the narration is rather dry; I would agree with that. Similarly the lack of diagrams illustrating certain types of combat manouvres make it difficult to mentally picture what is going on when Gledhill is discussing air combat tactics. The adage of a picture being worth a thousand words comes to mind.

Those who want a story of his life in the RAF as a navigator will be disappointed. The plane is the story here. Some of the anecdotes he provides are fascinating and personally I would have liked more of them. The tagging of a USAF RF4C as an "E" variant is a surprise as I didn't think the USAF ever used RF4E's but can be overlooked in a book that is a heavyweight in every sense and makes for a thoroughly worthy addition to Phantom literature alongside Robert Prest's and John Trotti's books. Please can David Gledhill now write a book on the Tornado that he flew after he left the Phantom force.

Amazon Review by Mikey Mike

"Exactly as it was in the 80s"

I've read quite a few Phantom books over the years; some I found dreary, others were quite good, but none ever captured what it was really like to do the job, day-in-day-out. The author has captured what it was really like being part of an air defense Phantom squadron at the height of the Cold War, and really shows why this ageing aircraft remained such a capable fighter in the European theatre for so long. It was a fantastic aircraft to fly, with bucketloads of capability in it's radar & weaponary.

A book can never replace the physical experiences of course, but if you are interested to know what is was like as a Phantom Phlyer, I can vouch that this is a definitive record of life as RAF Phantom aircrew in the 80's. Good job.

Amazon Review by S Clark on Amazon.

David Gledhill had a long and successful RAF career including many many hours in the Phantom and thus is in best position to produce this excellent account of the Phantom in RAF service during the most important period of its life. Plenty of great photos, both black and white and colour. Thoughtful examination of the aircrafts good and bad points, operational procedures and the world of a 1970s and 80's navigator. The detail is fantastic! Comparisons with contemporary aircraft both Western and Warsaw Pact. Any criticisms are relatively minor, an index would be helpful and descriptions of combat tactics can be difficult to visualise so diagrams would be very helpful for those of use who have not had the privilege of flying in this wonderful aeroplane, also the book seems to lack the usual gallows humour of RAF aircrew, which can make this a bit dry to read. (hence the four stars) That aside I would recommend this book to anyone with any more than a passing interest in this aeroplane, the RAF and the Cold War and is one I will revisit on on many occasions. Thank you David Gledhill this is a very fitting account on what was the best jet fighter the RAF ever had, with the possible exception of the Typhoon. It is also the only, as far as I am aware, RAF post war fighter to achieve an air to air kill, unfortunately the victim was an RAF Jaguar, an incident the author examines in some detail to explain how and why.

Amazon Review by JG.

"Does mostly what it says on the tin"

This is indeed a navigator's eye on Britain's Cold War Warrior. It makes a good read; it's interesting and informative, providing an insight into some of what went on in the Phantom's cockpits once the canopies were closed. The role of the Phantom in many theaters of operation is described: QRA; Gunnery in Cyprus; RAF Germany; The Falkland Islands; Missile Firing; Tactical Leadership; In-flight Refueling; OCU and more. On the down-side, however, and some technical details of the aircraft's systems are left wanting; and did I miss a word of acknowledgement for the groundcrews' efforts keeping this beast in the air.

Amazon Review by Phantomstreaker.

"Excellent Read"

I have read many books on the F4 Phantom in service both from the pilots point of view and external experts. However they are always lacking in the mention of the role carried out by the guys in the back seat.

Davids easy but informative style of writing backed up with excellent hands on technical detail makes this book very user friendly.

I can't recommend highly enough and look forward to his future works. Well done and great to have a book written about the RAF in Germany and UK on QRA during the height of the Cold War

Amazon Review by Alan R Badgery


In giving a 5 star rating my judgement may be biased, as engineer on two Phantom Squadrons. However the book is excellent reading for anyone interested in military aviation

Amazon Review by GCWS Wheeler.

"Different from the usual fighter pilot perspective"

This is written by a navigator, and gives a good perspective of how the plane would be used as a weapons system - guided approach, use of radar, planning an interception, use of different missile types. Much more considered than the usual books which say more about how the plane flies. Includes interesting stuff about the difficulties of operating on the front line in West Germany, and the hostile actions of the guys over the border.

5 Star Very good read from a different view

I have not seen many books written by RAF navigators. As a retired international level rally co-driver I have some experience, albeit at a much lower speed, of team work in vehicle being used at the limit of its capability. Even so I don't think I would have had the nerve to do what the author did. This is a fascinating read.

By Peter Crossland on