One of 338 MDV's Phantoms passes the tower at Andravida after returning from a live weapons firing exercise
Following the recent retirement of the German Luftwaffe Phantoms of Jagdgeschwader 71 at Wittmund, Jetwash Aviation Photos travelled to the Peloponnese region of Greece to see the last operational McDonnell F-4 Phantoms in mainland Europe. Home to 117 Pteriga Makhis (Combat Wing) of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF), Andravida Air Base hosts two squadrons of the mighty 'Rhino', 338 Mira Dioxis Vomvardamou (Fighter-Bomber Squadron) and 339 Mira Pantos Kerou (All Weather Interceptor Squadron), both part of the Hellenic Tactical Air Force head-quartered at Larissa. Fortunately there are no short-term plans for the HAF's F-4E Phantoms to be withdrawn at this time and so we hope that this historic aircraft will continue to fly over the Aegean for many years to come.
'Aegean Phantoms' In 1971 the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) ordered the F-4E Phantom II under the ‘Peace Icarus’ programme, deliveries of the 58 aircraft starting in 1974. The first unit to receive the F-4E was 339 MPK at Andravida, which converted from the outdated Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. Tasked with the all-weather interception role, 339 MPK is also the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the Phantom. Based alongside 339 MPK at Andravida is 338 MDV, which began conversion to the F-4 in 1975 and is assigned to the ground attack role. To supplement and to provide some aircraft attrition replacements, 28 former US Air National Guard F-4Es were delivered to the Hellenic Air Force in 1991 and entered service with 337 Mira, with these aircraft soldiering on until December 2005, when they were all withdrawn from service.
In addition to the F-4E, the HAF took delivery of eight RF-4E reconnaissance versions of the Phantom in 1979, which were delivered to 348 Mira Taktitis Anagnorisis (348 MTA) at Larissa to replace the Republic RF-84F Thunderflash. In 1993 a further 29 ex-Luftwaffe RF-4Es were purchased and also assigned to 348 MTA in July 1994.
Inside 338 MDV's maintenance hangar
Two aircraft from of a 4-ship flight sit at the 'Last Chance' checkpoint on the end of Andravida's runway
#01514 poses just short of the runway at Andravida on 5th September 2013
Two General Electric J79 turbo-jets power the mighty Phantom
Mission over, this F-4 crew pass the control tower at Andravida on their way back to the HAS area
The 'business-end' of a 117 PM Phantom II as it basks in the sun at Andravida
The classic lines of the 'Rhino' are seen to good effect in the image above
#01520 blasts down the Andravida runway as part of a 4-ship afternoon mission
Typical example of a 339 MPK F-4E Phantom sitting outside one of the squadron's Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS)
#71744 wears the 339 MPK squadron badge of 'Aias' (Ajax), a Greek hero from the Trojan Wars
This was the only 339 MPK aircraft we saw with any kind of squadron insignia in evidence
A 338 Mira 'Rhino' gets towed accross from the maintenance hangar
Most 338 MDV aircraft sport a yellow fin tip with 338 in it, but this one clearly lacks it
Leading edge slats were also added to improve the F-4E's high angle of attack manoeuvrability. In 1973, the F-4Es were fitted with target-identification systems for long-range visual identification of airborne or ground targets, whilst the Pave-Tack system provided day and night all-weather capability to acquire, track and designate ground targets for laser, infrared and electro-optically guided weapons.
'Peace Icarus 2000' The Peace Icarus 2000 upgrade programme dramatically improved the mission effectiveness of the Greek Phantoms. Sensor and weapons delivery capabilities for both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions for a total of 36 F-4E Phantoms was approved, with EADS being awarded the contract. The first HAF aircraft (#72-1523, named 'Princess of Andravida') arrived in Germany in the autumn of 1997. After 15 months of intensive work by an integrated team of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS), HAF and Hellenic Aircraft Industries (HAI) personnel in the EADS facilities at Ottobrunn and Manching, the integration of an advanced Raytheon AN/APG-65 radar, Hands On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) system, mission computer, navigation & communication systems and radar altimeter had been completed, together with new multi-function colour displays in the cockpit. Accompanied by a powerful new software package, the latest F-4E version for the HAF can now deliver a broad variety of intelligent stand-off, air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons like the AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9L Sidewinder and AGM-65 Maverick, using the LANTIRN laser targeting pod system. The programme was based on the experience which EADS had gained after the successful conclusion of a similar, but less sophisticated modernisation programme for 146 Phantoms of the German Air Force. HAI performed the upgrade of a further 35 HAF Phantoms in their Tanagra factory, with support from EADS. The first aircraft within the 'Peace Icarus 2000' programme made its maiden flight on 28th April 1999 at EADS Manching. The first HAI-modified aircraft was rolled out at Tanagra on 3rd March 2000. The programme was completed in 2004, with the addition of the Rafael Litening II sensor pod for targeting and navigation for close air support weapons such as precision-guided bombs, the Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick and the advanced IRIS-T air-to-air missile. The F-4Es were all delivered to the two squadrons of 117PM at Andravida and now wear the familiar blue/grey ‘Aegean Ghost’ paint scheme.
117 Combat Wing
Hellenic Air Force
#01510 gets some attention from the mechanics in a 338 Mira shelter
The McDonnell F-4 Phantom II was originally developed for the United States Navy and first entered service in 1960, later entering service with both the US Marine Corps and the US Air force. Designed as a two-seat, twin-engined, all-weather, long-range supersonic interceptor capable of over Mach 2, production ran until 1979 in the United States and 1981 in Japan, by which time a total of 5,195 had been built. Known as the Rhino, Double Ugly, Lead Sled or Spook, the many knicknames given to it are none too flattering, but it has an unerring and respected following amongst it pilots and aviation enthusiasts alike.
Initially the F-4 was designed without an internal cannon, as U.S. designers thought that a gun was now defunct in aerial combat and that missiles would 'rule the roost' in future air wars. However the conflict in Vietnam proved that concept to be a grave error, and so by 1972 the F-4E variant was built with an internally mounted 20mm M61 Vulcan rotary cannon.
Standard 338 Mira tail markings and the specially marked #01510
339 MPK also has a maintenance facility on Andravida, be it somewhat smaller than 338 MDV's facility
The classic wing-tip dihedral and tail anhedral are clrearly evident in the shot of #01514 above
Lining up at the end of Andravida's runway prior to an afternoon mission
We would like to thank the following for arranging and assisting us during our visits with the Hellenic Air Force:-
Caroline Makropoulos (Defence Attaché, British Embassy, Athens)
Col. Nikolaos Papapanagiotou (HAF Spokesman)
Col. Lambrakis Dimitriou (HAF Chiefs of Staff Office)
Col. Christos Lainopoulos (Deputy Commander, 117CW)
Lt. John Blesias (338 MDV)
2nd Lt. Charis Dimitriou (339 MPK)
MSgt. George Bekas