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PHANTOM PHOREVER – THE LEGEND LIVES ON
This legendary twin engine beast of Mc Donnell Douglas might not be the most versatile and agile fighter of the Hellenic Air Force, but it still remains an essential component of its Tactical Air Force planning. Today, HAF still maintains in front line service two F-4 Squadrons, while the aircraft is counting more than 40 years of service. The legend still lives on.
The history of the Greek Phantoms dates back to 1972, when Greece signed a contract with United States and Mc Donnell Douglas for the purchase of 36 F-4E. During that period of time, Greece made also a purchase of two other types of military aircraft, both of them highly capable and successful. These two aircraft were the French Mirage F-1CG and the American LTV A-7 Corsair II. During the late 70s and for more than a decade, Greece was one of the few countries in Europe with so many advanced and modern aircraft in its inventory, while it was the dominant force in the region of Balkans.
The new house of the Greek Phantoms was decided to be the 117 Combat Wing based in Andravida, close to Patra city. This airport had been built in 1955 and was used only as an Air Detachment unit. After this decision, the aerodrome of Andravida was completely renovated. The older infrastructure was reconstructed and new hangars were built for the aircraft maintenance along with modern shelters.
The pilots who were chosen to visit the United States to receive their training for the new aircraft were mostly ex F-84F pilots. The reason why these pilots were chosen was simply because this aircraft was the most numerous but at the same time the oldest aircraft in the inventory of HAF and was already being phased out. The first Squadrons which were destined to receive this modern aircraft were 338 and 339 Squadrons, both strike squadrons, equipped with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak.
The first 36 pilots were sent initially to the United States in December of 1973 while the rest followed in January of 1974. All were transferred to Homestead AFB, close to Miami in Florida where 31st TFW was based, equipped with F-4C and F-4D aircraft.
The program was named Peace Icarus Ι. The first aircraft destined for the HAF, with serial number 72-1500 took off for the first time from Lambert airport in St Louis on the 29th of January 1974, with the test pilot of McDonnell Douglas, E.D. Francis at the controls. The F-4E variant was the most capable variant of the Phantom series, which performed its initial flight on 30 June 1967. It featured:
- The upgraded J79-GE-17A engines, with 17,900 lb afterburning thrust.
- A General Electric M61A1 six-barreled 20-millimeter Gatling-type cannon on the underside of the nose, with 640 rounds of ammunition.
- An AN/APQ-120 radar. This new radar was much more compact than its predecessors, allowing it to fit into the nose along with the cannon.
- A Martin-Baker Mark 7 “zero-zero (zero altitude, zero speed) ejection seats.
- A tailplane with a fixed slat attached under the leading edge. The slat provided improved control authority at high angles of attack (AOA).
- A seventh fuel cell in the tail above the engine nozzles.
- Manual wing fold, instead of hydraulic fold.
Another main design feature of this improved version was the implementation of the leading edge slats. Those leading-edge slats, were being extended automatically when the aircraft’s AoA was exceeding six degrees, and retracted when the AoA was going back to four degrees. This feature was firstly introduced to the F-4Es in mid-1972 and was retrofitted to the older E models.
A historical moment for the Greek Phantoms was on the 5th of April 1974. During that afternoon, the first six aircraft touched down on runway 34 of Andravida airport. 15 days later, on Saturday, the 20th of April, the ceremony of the establishment of the first Phantom Squadron, 339 Sq, took place.
Due to the increased tensions with Turkey, a decision for a second purchase was taken after the completion of the deliveries from the first order. On the 22nd of October 1976, the Greek government announced the need for the purchase of an extra number of Phantoms. Finally on the 16th of July 1977 a second contract was signed under the name Peace Icarus II for the purchase of 18 F-4E along with 8 RF-4E photoreconnaissance Phantoms. These later Phantoms were delivered between 1978 until 1979 completing the original Phantom orders for the HAF.
The RF-4Es were delivered to 348 Squadron “Eyes” at 110 Combat Wing in Larissa. The second batch of the F-4E from Peace Icarus II enabled the establishment of a third F-4 unit, 337 Squadron ‘Ghost’, based also in Larissa. This unit assumed primary responsibility for the defense of the central and northern Aegean.
At the early 80s HAF had already three Squadrons of F-4E and one Squadron of RF-4E, making it one of the few Air Forces within NATO which had so many advanced Phantom aircraft. The serial numbers of the first batch of the F-4E aircraft from Peace Icarus I were starting from 72-1500 to 72-1535. The second batch of F-4E from Peace Icarus II had serial numbers 77-1743 to 77-1760 plus two other aircraft 74-1618 to 74-1619 which were originally ordered to cover two losses which had already taken place. The RF-4E had serial numbers 70357 and 70358 and from 71761 to 71766.
All the F-4E Phantoms arrived in Greece with SEA camouflage (Vietnam) and had large light blue roundels. Later on many of them received an all dark blue camouflage, which was named “Aegean Blue”. In the late 1990s, the new camo of the so called “Aegean Ghost” was started to be applied to the Greek Phantoms. The process was not completed for all of them, because their retirement had already begun.
In July 1990, the US government decided to offer 28 F-4E from the Indiana Air National Guard under the Southeastern Regional Agreement (SRA). As a return, USA continued to operate its American Air Bases in Greece for another 8 years. The first 9 aircraft which belonged to the 131st Squadron of Missouri ANG, arrived in Andravida on the 3rd f August 1991. With their introduction, all the existing F-4s from the original Greek orders were allocated between 337 and 339 Squadrons, while 338 Sq received all the ex-US jets.
Despite the fact that the SRA F-4s were coming from older production blocks (these aircraft were from Blocks No. 36 up to 41), they featured advanced Navigation and Weapon-Delivery System (NWDS), Airborne Video Tape Recorder (AVTR), Have Quick radios, and improvements to the AN/APQ-120 radar to make it more capable in the air-to-ground role. All the SRA Phantoms were wearing the standard USAF livery (American Hill Grey) while they were equipped with the smokeless J79. Their serial numbers of these aircraft were:
– 67-0345, 0350, 0377,0381,
– 68-0318, 0361,0363, 0381, 0393, 0394, 0402, 0405, 0408, 0412, 0424, 0426, 0432, 0438, 0440, 0442, 0444, 0445, 0480, 0481, 0496, 0506, 0515, 0517.
The F-4E SRA were finally withdrawn on the 16th of December 2005, when the 337 Sq temporary terminated its operation by withdrawing all 28 of them in order to start the preparations for the acceptance of the modern F-16C/D Block 52+, assuming its role as lead interception unit in the northern Aegean.
Two years later the 348 Squadron fleet was also enhanced with 27 RF-4Es from the German Luftwaffe. Under the NATO treaty, Germany granted a large number of RF-4E to Greece and Turkey which were being phased out of active service. These 27 examples started to arrive in the spring of 1993. Only twenty of them were used for service and equipped 348 Sq, which were added to the remaining 5 RF-4E (three of them had already been lost in accidents), while at the same time the remaining ageing RF-84F Thunderflashes, were finally retired from service. The rest of the German examples were used for spare parts. They were all wearing the “Lizard” livery. Later on some of them received a different kind of “Lizard” painting and some of them received a Vietnam camo.
It is worth mentioning that HAF came twice very close to an agreement in obtaining other extra Phantoms. Once in 1987, when the Americans offered some F-4D which were being withdrawn from active service, but also from Great Britain which offered some F-4M Phantom FGR Mk 2, which were also being retired. Both offers were denied due to the fact that it was very expensive for the HAF to maintain all these different types in service.
Peace Icarus 2000: ‘The Legend Is Back!’
After 23 years of presence over the Aegean Sea, HAF decided to upgrade the F-4E Phantom II. In the early 1990s, it began to search for an upgrade program of the existing Phantoms. That was quite logical due to the fact that the aircraft was still a very capable weapon but mainly because the replacement costs of this type were enormous. Finally when the Greek government approved the funds for this program, two candidates offered their proposals. These two were the German DASA and the American Rockwell. The first had already upgraded the German F-4F and the latter was lacking of experience but was mainly based in the knowledge and the know-how of the manufacturer McDonnell Douglas, which had recently acquired.
The program was focusing mainly on the replacement of its radar, centered around the BVR capability with the utilization of the modern AIM-120 missiles. The upgrade of the electronic equipment and the extension of the service life of the fuselage. The final number of the aircraft which were going to be upgraded was 39! 29 examples from Ρeace Ιcarus Ι and 10 examples from Ρeace Ιcarus ΙΙ.
Current Camouflage pattern for the F-4E “Aegean Ghost”
The winner was finally DASA (later on EADS), mainly because of its existed upgrade program. The contract, under the name Peace Icarus 2000, was signed on the 11th of August 1997, and the plan was that DASA was going to deliver all these aircraft by the end of 2000. The main systems supplier of the German company was the Israeli Elbit, which also had gained great experience through its own upgrade of the Israeli Phantoms, but also of the Romanian MiG-21s.
Only one aircraft travelled to Germany and was used as a tested of the upgrading program, while the rest were upgraded in Greece in the facilities of the Hellenic Aerospace Industry in Tanagra. This aircraft was 72-1523 and it was nicknamed ‘Princess of Andravida’ and it served as the prototype of the program. The prototype first flew on the 28th of April 1999 and the tests took place in the facilities of DASA in Manching, near Munich, Germany.
Apart from the new electronics suite, a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) was applied from the Hellenic Aerospace Industry to the entire fleet, in order to extend their structural life. One of the greatest tactical disadvantages of the Phantom, was the problem of its smoky engines. These aircraft were always spotted from miles away due to theirs smoke trails. This problem was greatly reduced from the modification of the existing J79-GE-17A to -17C standards. This modification was mainly the replacement of the ten combustion chambers, with newer ones along with the older fuel injectors and igniters. Some of the engines which were used to the upgraded Phantoms were -17C versions which had been taken from the retired F-4E SRA and some were modified version of the already existing -17As.
Fifteen months later and after the completion of 154 test flights, it was eventually returned back to Greece, where it continued some other trials for its weapons. Finally after two years of long delays the first aircraft were ready by the end of 2002. On December 18th, 2002, the delivery ceremony of the first upgraded aircraft from the Hellenic Aviation Industry was held in its facilities at Tanagra. At the end of this integration, the total number of the aircraft had been reduced to 36 examples due to three losses from accidents since the completion of this program.
The F-4E AUP (Avionics Upgrade Program) Phantoms were all delivered to 117th Combat Wing at Andravida and were all painted in the ‘Aegean Ghost’ scheme, similar to the one of the F-16s. With this upgrade program, this old second generation aircraft had become a very capable multi role fighter which could oppose any 3rd generation enemy aircraft.
The upgraded Phantoms were equipped with:
- New multi-role radar APG-65GY of Hughes, which was also installed in the F/A-18C/D
- New navigation system H-764G of Honeywell, which is a combination of LINS and GPS
- New datalink information system (DTS)
- New radio altimeter ΑΝ/ΑΡΝ-232 CARΑ of NAVCOM.
- New CPU-143/A central air data computer of GEC Avionics
- New Multi Mode Radar Command of Elbit
- New Have Quick II communication system AN/ARC-164 of Magnavox
- New Collins TACAN navaids AN/APN-153Y
- New multi-functional color displays on both cockpits
- New Heads Up Display (HUD) of EL-Op
- New Data Transfer Unit
- New Hands On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) system
- New Hazeltine AN/APX-113(V) IFF advanced friend/foe identification system (AFIDS). This is the most disguisable feature of the upgraded F-4E ΡΙ 2000. There are four antennas on the top of the nose and are nicknamed “bird slicers”!
Concerning its weaponry, the main advantage is the ability to carry the new air – air BVR missile AIM-120B AMRAAM (it can carry up to four missiles), sacrificing their original AIM-7 capability. The aircraft can also carry the modern dispenser missile AFDS, AGM-65 missiles (A/B and G), smart bombs like GBU-10/24 Paveway II/III, Mk 20 Rockeye II along with other free fall bombs.
Compared with before the upgrade, the weapons system officer’s (WSO) role has now been upgraded to match the capabilities of the APG-65 radar that features multiple modes of operation. Furthermore, the use of the Litening pod is the WSO’s sole responsibility. An experienced WSO serves as the ‘brains’ of the tactical formation, providing regular situational awareness updates to other jets, increasing the probability of a kill in air-to-air missions or providing accurate attack parameters for air-to-ground missions. With this Litening II pod, F-4s can now also undertake non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (NTISR) duties and launch laser-guided bombs (or designate these weapons for other types).
Phantom Profile Shots
338 Fighter Bomber Squadron
Callsign: Aris (Greek God of War)
The 338 Squadron was formed on December 24th, 1952, at Elefsis AB, as 338 Fighter Bomber Squadron, equipped with the F-84G Thunderjet aircraft. In May 1958 it was incorporated into the 115 CW at Souda AB till January 1960, when it was disbanded. It was formed again in August 1964 equipped with F-84F Thunderstreak aircraft.
In June 1974 the Squadron was redeployed at 117CW in Andravida AB, where the F-4E Phantom II were delivered. On 5th of August, 1991, the squadron replaced the old aircraft with upgraded version of F-4E coming from US stocks, the F-4E Southeastern Regional Agreement (SRA).
The emblem of the squadron took its present form in 1974. The God has been «modernized» in relation to the earlier emblem, since instead of a spear he is holding a 2000 lb bomb. At the background there is the international mascot of the F-4 Phantom, Spooky, as the squadron operates with this type of aircraft for more than 40 years. Inside the emblem there the inscription «H TAN H ΕΠΙ TAΣ», the phrase Spartan mothers used to say to their sons when they handed over the shield for the battle: «Return with the shield or (be carried) upon it».
338th Squadron Profile Shots
339 All Weather Squadron
Callsign: Ajax (the son of King Telamon of Salamis)
The 339 All Weather Squadron was formed on July 7th, 1952, in 112 CW at Elefsis AB. It was named initially 339 Fighter Bomber Squadron and it was equipped with F-84G “Thunderjet” aircraft, the first jets of the Hellenic Air Force. After being redeployed to several bases across Greece, in March 1971 it was finally redeployed to Andravida AB at 117 Combat Wing where it is based till today.
On April 1974 the first deliveries of F-4E Phantom II aircraft started, under the program Peace Icarus I. At the end of 1997, HAF decided to upgrade the aircraft purchased under the programs Peace Icarus I and Peace Icarus II. On December 18th, 2002, the delivery ceremony of the first upgraded aircraft was held in the Hellenic Aviation Industry facilities, and so began the integration of the upgraded aircraft in 117CW. The Squadron started to receive the upgraded aircraft in 2002 and the deliveries ended in October 2005.
Both Squadrons have dual tactical role of Ground Attack and Interception, but their main roles are Ground Attack for the 338Sq and Interception for the 339Sq.
S/N 71745 of 339th Squadron
The introduction of the F-4 in the Hellenic Air Force inventory in 1974 marked the beginning of a new era for the Hellenic Air Force. The new jet not only incorporated technological advances but also contributed to a major development in tactics and aviation mentality. At that time the Phantom was the most modern aircraft of the HAF but at the same time it was also a mature jet, battle-proven in the conflicts of South-East Asia, with multi-role capabilities and unique features.
For its time, the F-4E was comparable to the F-15E Strike Eagle of today. It featured two seats, twin engines, good performance, large payload, beyond visual range (BVR) capabilities, and day and night operational capability. Until the entry to service of the F-15, the Phantom was the fighter with the greatest possible thrust!
Today, Greek financial problems have impacted the military, but the Phantom still plays an important role in the defence of Greek territory. The name ‘Phantom’ is usually synonymous with the old saying ‘drink, smoke and make noise’. And yet today this jet is capable of fighting against modern opponents on equal terms. Despite being a “dinosaur” of another era, is still capable of not only engaging with more modern aircraft but also be able to maintain its dominance.
F-4E Detail shots