This F-16C from 343 Mira sports CFTs marked for 'Team Zeus'
Note the IRIS-T air to air missile on the outer starboard wing pylon
Approximately 100 miles (161km) south of the Greek mainland lays the idyllic holiday island of Crete. Many of the tourists who visit the island fly in and out of the international airport located on the outskirts of the city of Chania, on the north-western part of the island. Known as Ioannis Daskalogiannis Airport, it is however also a major military air base utilised by both the United States and the Hellenic Air Force (HAF). It is not surprising therefore to see a cast of Falcons mingling amongst the regular Easy Jet and Ryanair flights vying for position at the end of the airports runway during busy periods. These Falcons are not of the bird variety though, these are Lockheed-Martin (LMTAS) F-16 Block 52+ Fighting Falcons assigned to 115 Pteriga Makhis (115 Combat Wing), some of the most modern F-16s in European skies. Jetwash Aviation Photos was once again afforded no-holds barred access to inbed ourselves with the two squadrons to report on the day to day operations on the Hellenic Air Force's frontline.
Another 343 Mira F-16 departing Souda, this time a single-seat F-16C with CFTs fitted
With an F-16 seen departing in the background, two 343 Mira aircraft await clearance to enter the runway threshold
With Crete's White Mountains as a backdrop, this 343 Mira F-16D powers out of Souda Air Base
Following completion of another mission, the crew of this F-16D get ready to exit the aircraft with the help of one of the squadron's ground crew
We would like to thank everyone at 115 CW, but especially the following people for their help in arranging our visit and assisting us with this article;
Caroline Makropoulos (FCO, British Embassy, Athens)
Col. (P) John Gerolymos (115CW Commander)
Col. Konstantinos Zolotas (115CW Operations/Training Director)
Maj. Nikolaos 'Cabil' Kavallaris (343 Mira)
Maj. Antonios Panagopoulos ( HAF Press Spokesperson)
Col. Dimosthenis Grigoriadis (Director, HAF Chief’s of Staff Office)
A 340 Mira F-16C thunders down Souda's runway on a practice QRA
Note the AMRAAMs on the outer wing stations and IRIS-T missiles on the underwing pylons
A 340 Mira F-16D seen departing Souda on 14th September 2015
First formed on 18th April 1953 at Elefsis Air Base, Athens under the auspices of 112 Pteriga Makhis with the Republic F-84G Thunderjet, 340 Squadron moved to Nea Anchialos and 111 PM in September of the same year, at the same time replacing their F-84Gs with the F-84F Thunderstreak. On 4th February 1960, the squadron was re-assigned to 115 Combat Group (later becoming 115 Combat Wing) at Souda, where it continues operations to this day.
With the continuing tough economic times being experienced in Greece, the Hellenic Air Force has been fortunate not to suffer as one might expect. Whilst most air arms around the world have seen reducing numbers of both aircraft and squadrons within their ranks over recent years, the HAF has seen many of their aging aircraft replaced with state of the art modern equipment, and the F-16s at Souda are a prime example of this. Exactly what the future holds longer term with the continuing struggles of the Greek economy only time will tell, but in the meantime 115 Combat Wing continues to guard Greece and NATO's southern flank to good effect.
115 Pteriga Makhis
Hellenic Air Force
F-16D #618 thunders down the runway at Souda
The blue tailband with five gold stars identifies it as belonging to 343 Mira 'Asteri'
The Have Glass paint scheme is clearly apparent in the photograph above
The reflective paint shown to good effect under the light as the aircraft taxies to Runway 29 at Souda
Line abreast, five F-16s trundle down the taxiway for a morning mission
The main taxiway at Souda also doubles as an emergency runway in case of the main one being out of action
Following the unit's move to Souda, the squadron continued to fly the F-84F until 1975, when the Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) A-7H Corsair II entered service with the HAF. Flight operations with the much loved 'SLUF' (Short Little Ugly Fella, as the A-7 is known) continued through to January 2001, when the squadron disbanded and its aircraft were passed to 345 Mira. Just over two years later on 3rd March 2003, the unit reformed again as part of 115 Combat Wing and was the first HAF unit to equip with the Lockheed-Martin F-16C/D Block 52+ Fighting Falcon.
A 340 Mira F-16C fitted with CFTs is seen about to depart Souda on a morning mission
This head-on shot illustrates the Conformal Fuel Tanks to good effect
Force's area of responsibility around the southern part of the Aegean Sea, an area that with the long held tensions between Greece and its Turkish neighbours, is of primary strategic importance.
In April 1960, 337 Mira was re-assigned to 110 PM and departed the base, being replaced by 340 Mira which transferred in from 111 PM, at the same time re-equipping with the F-84F Thunderstreak. The Group then saw 335 Mira join during June 1964, later being renamed as 340 Mira, with 340 Mira being renamed as 338 Mira. At the same time the Group was given Wing status and thus became 115 Combat Wing.
During July 1974, 340/2 Mira was formed as a detachment of 340 Mira with the F-84F, becoming 345 Mira just over a year later. At the same time 340 and 345 Mira both re-equipped with the LTV A-7H Corsair II. On 22nd July 1984, the 222nd Operational Training Sqn was formed at the base with the Lockheed T-33, its mission being to train the wing's pilots, as well as towing targets for the NAMFI (NATO Missile Firing Installation) that was located there. The unit continued to operate from Chania in this role until its disbandment in January 2000. 30th January 2001 saw the demise of the A-7 Corsair in Hellenic Air Force service begin when 340 Mira was disbanded, followed by the transfer of the last A-7s to 116 PM at Araxos Air Base. 340 Mira then reformed on the newly purchased F-16C/D Fighting Falcons on 3rd March 2003 and was later joined by 343 Mira on 21st July 2003.
The base at Chania has developed dramatically since the demise of the A-7 Corsair II and the arrival of the first Block 52+. The F-16 facilities at Chania now comprise individual hardened aircraft shelters for both squadrons, located either end of its single runway, together with two maintenance hangers for Level 1 and 2 maintenance, which is undertaken on base. Higher Level 3 maintenance is undertaken by Hellenic Aircraft Industries at Tanagra. There is also a specialist avionics maintenance unit, wash and paint facilities together with a LANTIRN maintenance workshop.
Two aircraft are kept on constant 24-hour QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) at Souda. Both squadrons commit to the QRA and crews practice alerts on a day to day basis, something I witnessed first-hand. On the second day of my visit to 115CW I was happily photographing F-16s depart Runway 11, when I suddenly got the shout from my escort that we 'had to go'. He had been called on a practice QRA, which saw us hurtling down the runway and taxiways at breakneck speed to ensure he made it within the allotted timescales. The standard 'fit' for the QRA aircraft at Souda is two AMRAAMs and two IRIS-T missiles, with the aircraft also carrying two 600 gallon drop tanks and CFTs.
With the ongoing dispute over territorial waters between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean, there are regular 'incursions' by Turkish Air Force fighter jets into Greek airspace, something which results in the Hellenic Air Force QRA jets receiving the order to 'scramble' on a not to uncommon basis. However Souda is not unique in having QRA jets on stand-by, with Greece having a number of bases around the country with jets and crews on a five minute alert. Unlike most of its NATO counterparts, Greece commits a large number of crews and aircraft to the QRA role, something which adds considerably to HAF overheads.
Basking in the glorious Cretan sun, this 343 Mira twin-stick F-16 awaits its crew outside its Hardened Shelter
'Have Glass'Camouflage The Hellenic Air Force F-16 Block 52+ Fighting Falcons are painted in a special textured blue/grey camouflage paintwork known as 'Have Glass'. It differs from the normal camouflage applied to other versions of the F-16 flown by the HAF and is designed to reduce the aircraft's radar cross signature by scattering and absorbing radiation. The difference between the radar cross section of the older Block 30s for example and the latest Block 52+ of the HAF is quite noticeable, with a claimed 30% reduction in radar signature. As with most things though there is also a downside, this being that the slightly rough finish of the Have Glass scheme is virtually impossible to clean without the risk of damage to the radar reflective paint. Over time the aircraft become somewhat 'grubby' in appearance, something that was quite noticeable on some of the aircraft we saw during our time at Souda.
With the F100-PW-229 engines afterburner in full flow, a second QRA aircraft lifts off the runway at Souda Air Base
A 343 Mira 'Stars' F-16C fitted with Conformal Fuel Tanks makes the short journey from its HAS to Runway 29
F-16 seen nestling inside one of the numerous shelters at Souda
There are currently three aircraft at Souda with a variety of schemes representing the team, with the main display aircraft now emblazoned in a striking new paint scheme. With Capt. Sotirios Stralis (340 Mira) and Capt. Georgios Androulakis (343 Mira) at the helm of the Fighting Falcon, the team has recently completed their first demonstration in the United Kingdom at RAF Fairford during the 2015 Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). Whilst at RIAT 2015, the team had the privilege of being awarded the 'Best Livery Award' at the show, won for the second year running by the Hellenic Air Force, with Team Zeus following up the previous success of the A-7 Corsair team from Araxos that won the trophy in 2014. Team Zeus is unique in that it is the only team displaying the Fighting Falcon with CFTs attached. During our time at Souda, Team Zeus participated in 'Athens Flying Week', a now annual event that sees the Hellenic Armed Forces demonstrate their prowess over the capital.
The CFTs have little effect on the F-16’s performance or radar signature, pilots still being able to pull 9g with them fitted. To extend the aircraft's effective range even further, the Block 52+ can be fitted with two 600 U.S gallon underwing fuel tanks and a single 300 U.S gallon belly-mounted tank, giving the aircraft an effective radius of some 750 miles with a full payload, which makes it capable of 3+ hour missions. Other features of the aircraft include the AN/APX-113 advanced electronic interrogator/transponder IFF system, a helmet-mounted cueing system (HMCS), ASPIS internal electronic countermeasures suite and the Northrop-Grumman AN/APG-68(V)9 radar, which features significant improvements in detection range, resolution, growth potential, and supportability. Furthermore, application of advanced processing techniques enhances the radar's ability to operate in dense electromagnetic environments and resist jamming better than any previous models.
The HAF Block 52+ is also equipped with the LANTIRN system. LANTIRN works by providing data from the AN/AAQ-13 Navigation Pod directly to the cockpit's head-up display (HUD). Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) imagery is displayed so that it exactly overlaps with the real world outside, providing a clear view either at night or in adverse weather. Cues from the terrain following radar (TFR) are either fed directly into the flight computers or presented on the HUD so the pilot can then take appropriate action, allowing the pilot to follow the contours of the terrain at a pre-selected height. The FLIR imagery from the targeting pod is presented on one of the aircraft's full-colour multi-function displays (MFD) in the cockpit. After acquiring a target, the pilot can bring the targeting pod's FLIR to bear and identify the target. In the case of the AGM-65 IR Maverick, the missiles seeker-head can simply be cued on target by the aircraft's Fire Control Computers (FCC) and thus to LANTIRN, which feeds its data into the FCC. Target acquisition by the missile would be almost immediately after the AN/AAQ-14's FLIR has acquired it. The pilot need only check that the Maverick has locked-on, then fire it, and slew the FLIR to the next target, after which he can directly fire another missile.
Operations at Souda 115CW's operations at Souda begin early most mornings. The maintenance personnel and crew chiefs begin prepping the aircraft for the first of the day's missions around 6.30 most mornings, with the pilots arriving a little later for their briefings and the first day's missions normally scheduled for take-off around 9am local time. All aircraft at Souda operate from one of the twenty-eight Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) that are located at each end of the runway, 340 Mira's at the western end and 343 Mira's at the eastern end.
The Fighting Falcons assigned to the two squadrons were purchased under the 'Peace Xenia III' Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement with the United States, delivery of the aircraft taking place between 2002 and 2003. HAF F-16s are equipped to carry the Raytheon AIM-9L Sidewinder, Raytheon AIM-120C AMRAAM (Advanced, Medium-Range Air to Air Missile), or Diehl AIM-2000 (IRIS-T) for air defence; the Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick, Boeing GBU-31 JDAM, Raytheon AGM-154 JSOW (Joint, Stand-Off Weapon),CBU-103/104/105 WCMD (Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser) and Raytheon Paveway LGB (Laser Guided Bomb) for strike missions; plus the Raytheon AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) for the SEAD role. The aircraft can also carry the LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) system, made up of the AN/AAQ-13 navigation pod and the AN/AAQ-14 targeting pod. The F-16 carries the LANTIRN pods on its chin stations; the Navigation Pod on the port station (5L) and the Targeting Pod on the starboard station (5R). However 115CW now only operate with the AN/AAQ-14 Targeting Pod, having tansferred all of their navigation pods to 111CW at Nea Anchialos.
In March 1966, the squadron then re-equipped with the Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter, this time taking on a dual-role, with day interception as the squadron's primary role; and ground attack as its secondary role.
In July 1974 the squadron moved once again, taking up residence at Thessaloniki-Mikra with 113 Combat Wing, where it remained until March 2001, when it was disbanded. On 21st July 2003, 343 Mira was re-formed once again, equipping with the latest F-16C/D Block 52+ at Souda, Crete, alongside 340 Mira, where it continues to this day as part of 115 Combat Wing.
Mission complete, the crew of this F-16D shut down the engine and await the groundies to secure the aircraft
This 340 Mira F-16D is seen taxying back to its shelter after a mission on 14th September 2015
The F-16 above illustrates how dirty the Have Glass paintwork can get over time
Operating alongside 340 Mira is 343 Mira. The squadron was first formed at Elefsis Air Base in September 1955 operating the North American F-86E Sabre in the day interceptor role as part of 111 Combat Wing. In November 1956 the Squadron was re-assigned to Tanagra, where it stayed until May 1958, whereupon it was then re-assigned to Nea Anchialos. In 1961 the F-86E aircraft were replaced with the F-86D version of the Sabre, the squadron also changing its role to all-weather interception.
Team Zeus seen here landing at RAF Fairford, UK after its display in 2015
The aircraft also has a Honeywell H-423 Inertial Navigation System, an AN/ALR-56M Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), AN/ALE-47 countermeasure system and a Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible cockpit. The two-seat F-16D version is equipped with a larger dorsal avionics compartment that accommodates all the systems of the single-seat model, as well as some special mission equipment and additional chaff/flare dispensers, with the rear cockpit able to be configured for either a weapon system operator (WSO) or an instructor pilot; and can be converted with the simple flick of a switch in the cockpit. Other features include passive missile warning and terrain-referenced navigation. As mentioned previously, one of the more noticeable features of the HAF Block 52+ aircraft is the ability to carry conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), which hold an additional 450 gallons of fuel. The CFTs are designed to replace the normal under-wing fuel tanks, which leaves the inner wing stations free to carry additional weapons. The CFTs provide the aircraft with the range to be able to protect Cyprus, something which without air-to-air refuelling was not really possible before.
343 Mira pilot about to taxy his F-16 to the runway
Of note is the JMHCS helmet he is wearing
The aircraft's Crew Chief brings this F-16D to a stop, whilst another 'groundie' gets ready to put the wheel chocks in place
Team Zeus Also part of 115 Combat Wing is 'Team Zeus', the Hellenic Air Force's F-16 demo team. The team was formed in January 2010 at Souda Air Base with assistance from the United States Air Force's 'Viper Team West' based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The HAF team chose to use the name Zeus; 'Father of the Gods', according to Greek mythology. Following the team's training, they performed their first demonstration in November of the same year at Tanagra, home of 114 Combat Wing and held in conjunction with the 'Archangel' airshow days.
Nato’s Southern Guardians
115 Pteriga Makhis (115 PM) has two associate squadrons, both 340 Mira 'Aleppou' (Fox) and 343 Mira 'Asteri' (Star) being equipped with the F-16C/D Fighting Falcon and operating under the auspices of the Hellenic Tactical Air Force. The two units at Souda (as the military side of the base is known) have slightly differing roles though, 340 Mira operating in the interceptor and strike role, with 343 Mira also operating as an interceptor and strike unit, but additionally being tasked with the Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD).
History of Hellenic Air Force Operations at Souda
Located on the northwest part of the island of Crete, which is located in the middle of the Akrotiri peninsula and forms with its south coast the large natural harbour of Souda, the airport at Chania is often also referred to as Souda Air Base. Its construction began in August 1954, with 115 Combat Group taking up residence in November 1958 with their Republic F-84G Thunderjets. In 1959, 337 Mira moved in to join the already resident 338 Mira.
LMTAS F-16C/D Fighting Falcon Block 52+
The Hellenic Air Force was Lockheed-Martin's lead customer for the F-16 Block 52+. Powered by Pratt & Whitney's F100-PW-229 improved performance engine rated at 29,160lbs, the power-plant provides the aircraft with a surface ceiling of 49,000ft (15,240m) and a maximum speed of 1,350mph (2,173km/h), or Mach 1.8. The HAF Block 52+ F-16s are equipped with various navigation systems such as tactical air navigation (TACAN), a VHF Omni-directional receiver (VOR), distance measuring equipment (DME), and an instrument landing system (ILS).
Seen taxying to its empty shelter is aircraft #601 of 340 Mira
Another aircraft sporting 'Team Zeus' markings is aircraft #503
An F-16C fitted with two 600 U.S gallon fuel tanks on the underwing pylons taxies out for a mission at Souda
The black/yellow checkerboard markings on the tailfin identify it as a 340 Mira aircraft
Aircraft #503 at the Last Chance Checkpoint, under the watchful eye of one of the 'groundies'
Seen waiting at the Last Chance Checkpoint to Runway 29, this 340 Mira F-16C carries an AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN targeting pod
#510's Crew Chief prepares to give the aircraft's pilot the signal that everything is good to go and that he can taxy out to the runway
Alongside the two frontline squadrons at Souda is the SMET (Sminos Metekpaidefsis ston Tipo) or Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the F-16 Block 52+. The SMET however does not have any aircraft assigned to it, borrowing aircraft from the two active squadrons on an as and when required basis. Pilot conversion training with the SMET takes around ten months and involves about 40 hours on the base flight simulator and 80 hours in the F-16, equating to approximately 50 flights in the aircraft.
The two squadrons at Souda currently have 37 aircraft on strength, 19 with 340 Mira and 18 with 343 Mira. Fitted with their conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), they give the aircraft a useful extended range capability that allows the 115 PM F-16s to provide a potent frontline fighter force in the Hellenic Air
A 343 Mira F-16D undergoing maintenance inside one of the unit's protective shelters
The majority of maintenance on the Wing's aircraft is carried out on base, both squadrons having their own seperate facilities
Major Programmed Depot-level Maintenance (PDM) is carried out by Hellenic Aircraft Industries (HAI) at Tanagra
A 343 Mira F-16C awaits its pilot, with the squadron's crew building seen directly adjacent to the aircraft
With Runway 11 in use, two twin-stick 'Vipers' from 343 Mira taxy out for an afternoon mission on 10th September 2015
F-16C #518 seen just touching down at its home base on 10th September 2015
Note the depoyed air brakes at the rear of the aircraft
Having prepped the aircraft inside their respective shelters the aircraft are then dragged outside to await their pilots. Once the pilot has completed his 'walk around' and strapped into the aircraft, the F-16s then taxy out to the Last Chance Checkpoint located adjacent to the runway thresholds, where the Crew Chief Inspectors carry out the final checks and ensure nothing has been missed during preparation at the shelters. Each wave of aircraft normally consists of a mix of both squadrons' aircraft, with some of these usually involving some pilots operating with the OCU. There doesn't appear to be a standard configuration in terms of what the aircraft carried on the underwing hard-points. We saw aircraft flying 'clean' (without any underwing stores or drop tanks), some with two 600 U.S Gallon drop tanks and some carrying LANTIRN targeting pods. We also noticed that some flew with CFTs attached and others without, and that all of these configurations were adopted by both the F-16C and F-16D variants.
Night operations are normally conducted by 115 PM twice weekly, Tuesday being a regular fixture with the other day varying subject to operations. The increased civilian holiday traffic that uses the airport during the summer months does have an adverse effect on night ops though, as a lot of the flights regularly arrive after dark. During the day 115CW fly operations both morning and afternoon, and it is not unusual to see six or more F-16s waiting at the end of the runway at any one time.
Checks completed, the 'Last Chance' crewman signals to the pilot prior to releasing him for taxy to the runway threshold
All 115CW operations are conducted from the respective squadrons HAS sites