Phantom #37-01 seen in its celebratory scheme wearing the titles 'First In-Last Out',
signifying that it was the first F-4F delivered to the Luftwaffe;
and that it was still there at the very end of the Phantom's service life with the Luftwaffe
'Luftwaffe Phantoms' The McDonnell F-4F Phantom entered service with the Luftwaffe in the early 1970s. The first German F-4F flew on the 18th March 1973, with the first twelve going directly to the 35 TFW at George AFB, California to be used for pilot training. Jagdgeschwader 71 'Richthofen' was the first unit to train on the aircraft, commencing on 1st January 1974.
#38-28 took part in the final flypast of four Luftwaffe Phantoms on 29th June 2013
She is seen here about to land on Runway 26
Other air arms soon began to realise the Phantom's potential. The Imperial Iranian Air Force ordered 225 F-4D, F-4E & RF-4E variants, Korea took delivery of 18 ex-USAF F-4Ds, followed up with an order for more F-4D and F-4E aircraft. The United Kingdom ordered Phantoms for both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy (RN) and in 1967 Israel took delivery of its first Phantoms, with some 200+ being delivered over a period of several years. In the far east, Japan became the second operator of the F-4, ordering 154 aircraft (mainly F-4EJ, with some RF- recce versions). The Phantom finally started to see service in Europe when the Luftwaffe ordered 88 RF-4Es and 175 F-4Fs. Spain received around fifty F/RF-4Cs, whilst in southern Europe the Hellenic Air Force and Turkish Air Force also operated the Phantom in relatively large numbers. The last country to become a Phantom operator was Egypt in 1979. Over the years the USAF, USN, USMC, RAF, RN and Israel have withdrawn their fleets. Now it is time for the Luftwaffe to bid farewell to this iconic and wonderful airplane. The F-4F once equipped four wings and the RF-4E two wings in the German Air Force. Jagdgeschwader 71 was the first Luftwaffe unit to operate the Phantom, taking delivery of its first aircraft in 1974 at Wittmund, and so it was fitting that it was also chosen to see its final withdrawal from mainland Europe some 40 years later, at the same airbase and with the same unit.
The 'business end' of a Luftwaffe F-4F Phantom
By the end of Phantom operations twelve aircraft remained in service, ten with JG.71 and two with WTD-61 at Manching
The aircraft above sports' the WTD-61 unit badge and is seen in the static display at Wittmund during the 'Tag der Offenen Tür'
F-4 Phantom; 'Guardian Of The Free World'
No other aircraft in aviation history has gained such a following amongst aviation enthusiasts and crews alike as the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. Developed as a long range all-weather fighter for the US Navy, it was first flown on 27th May 1958. The first delivery to the US Navy (USN) at Patuxent River commenced in 1960, followed by the US Marine Corps (USMC) in 1962. The US Air Force (USAF) soon woke up to the fact that the Navy had an aircraft that had a better radar, could fly faster, further, and carry a larger weapons load than any tactical aircraft in the Air Force inventory at the time. This realisation was quickly followed with an order for 583 F-4C variants. The RF-4C recce-Phantom was ordered in 1963 (503 were built) along with 46 RF-4Bs for the USMC. A variety of variants then followed in the US inventory, such as the F-4D, F-4E, F-4G, F-4J, F-4N & F-4S.
A Luftwaffe F-4F sits in a Hardened Aircraft Shelter at Wittmund Air Base
Phantom #38-28 had this scheme applied in November 2011, as it was the last Luftwaffe F-4F to fly out of Jever Airbase under the command of LIG 21. Over a period of 45 years, LIG-21 completed 361 depot level maintenance overhauls, 31 hourly post-flight inspections and 23 periodic inspections on the F-4F fleet. A special colour scheme celebrating the 45 years in Schortens, with all three badges from the maintenance units responsible were applied to the tail-fin of the aircraft.
Smoke eminates from the tyres as #38-10 recovers on Wittmund's Runway 26
WTD-61 at Manching made a superb effort in commemorating the Phantom's withdrawal, as can be seen above
A couple of close-ups of WTD-61's commemorative F-4F Phantom
June 28/29th 2013 saw the final withdrawal of the iconic McDonnell F-4 Phantom II from the German Luftwaffe, when Jagdgeschwader 71 'Richthofen' said farewell to their last operational Phantoms. To mark this historic ocassion, JG.71 at Wittmund Air Base held a 'Spotters Day' on the 28th and a 'Tag der Offenen Tür' (open day) on the 29th. The event was witnessed by aviation media and enthusiasts from far and wide, and in numbers, hoping to get one last look at the once ubiquitous 'Rhino' before it fades into history.
Part of the final four-ship Phantom flypast on 29th June 2013, #37-22 recovers after the display
The 'Kampfwertsteigerung'– better known as 'ICE' (Improved Combat Efficiency) Programme consisted of three stages, with the 156 remaining F-4Fs in the Luftwaffe put through the programme, which included:
- Overhauling the airframes to increase the structural life for 6,000 additional flight hours, while giving potential for up to 10,000 additional flying hours
- Extension of Planned Depot Maintenance (PDM) intervals from 54 to 72 months
- Preventive inspection and repairs at an earlier stage
- Dividing the fuselage into structural problem zones
- Re-working areas with proven structural fatigue
The basic avionics update was also given to the fleet and contained the following :
- Integration of a Honeywell Laser INS
- A GEC-Macroni digital CPU-143/A air data computer
- A Rockwell-Collins unit for the LINS
- Installation of a MIL Std 1553 digital data bus
43 F-4Fs went through stages 1 and 2, designated as Luftangriff (Ground Attack) variants and can be identified from the full ICE variant by their black radomes, under which the old APQ-120 radar was retained.
Stage 3 of the ICE update was given to the remaining 113 F-4s. The core of this update is the AN/APG-65Y radar and the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile.
It contains :
- Hughes AN/APG-65 radar set
- A Litef mission computer to increase the weapons computer capacity.
- New radar control panel for the rear cockpit
- AIM-120 launch rails installed in AIM-7 Sparrow bays
'Phabulous Phantoms Phorever'
Perfect light, perfect colour scheme, perfect aircraft. It doesn't get no better than this!
With the F-4Fs service life nearing its end and the Eurofighter Typhoon entering service, the Luftwaffe's remaining F-4Fs saw a few further updates including:
- Update of the AN/ALR-68(V1) RWR to AN/ALR-68(V3) or DASI standard.
- A new IFF transponder
- The gun camera replaced by a video based system
- Old UHF radios replaced with UHF and VHF radios
For the record, the Luftwaffe units that operated the F-4F Phantom were JG.71 'Richthofen', JG.74 'Mölders', JBG.35 and JBG.36 'Westfalen'.
A total of 175 F-4F Phantoms saw service with the Luftwaffe, together with ten F-4Es used for training in the United States and a further 88 RF-4E recce versions. The F-4F was very limited as a fighter, as the only weapons available were the AIM-9B Sidewinder and its built-in M-61A1 cannon. The aircraft was therefore only capable of rear attacks from close range, which meant that the aircraft was put at great risk in aerial engagements. The Luftwaffe quickly concluded that this would not be sufficient for the future and so in 1975 an update of the fleet was authorised.
After this update the F-4F was well equipped for the air-to-ground role, but was still lacking in its air-to-air capabilities. The 'Peace Rhine' programme was initiated in 1980 and ended in 1984, but did not include provisions for the AIM-7 Sparrow, so the F-4F was still limited to visual engagements during air-to-air combat. With the new generation of MiG-fighters being fielded by the Warsaw Pact air forces it became obvious that something had to be done. With the Eurofighter Typhoon not due to enter service until the late 1990s it was decided that a service life extension program (SLEP) and an avionics update was required. The integration of the AN/APG-65 and the AIM-120 AMRAAM were made in NAS Point Mugu, and with the full air defense upgrade installed the F-4F became a potent and dangerous opponent.
So there we have it. The last F-4 Phantoms in mainland Europe take their final bow and enter the history books along with those of the many other nations who once operated this iconic and much-loved aircraft. Over 5,000 examples of the F-4 were produced by McDonnell-Douglas, the type being credited with over 280 'kills' during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, with a further 116 kills accredited to Israeli pilots in the conflicts with Egypt and Iran. Combine that with the fact that the type operated from both land and sea, and in a variety of roles such as interception, strike, reconnaissance and suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD), the F-4 Phantom can rightly claim to be one of the finest combat aircraft of the 20th Century.
How much longer the Phantom can continue to be seen in operational service is anyones guess, what I do know is that they are becoming fewer in number and that anyone hoping to experience the thrill of a Phantom in the air will most likely need to travel further and further afield to fulfill that need.
Phantom #37-01 lines up on the Wittmund runway to commence its final display on Saturday 29th June 2013
On a typically cold day in northern Germany, a JG.71 Phantom taxies out for a mission
The grey camo' pattern seen above is the final scheme applied to Luftwaffe Phantoms prior to their withdrawal
Seen blasting down the Wittmund runway with the familiar smoke trail behind it,
#37-01 displays the awesome power of the Phantom for the last time
The final landing of a Luftwaffe F-4F at Wittmund takes place as #37-01 recovers in front of its stablemates
The other three aircraft sit and wait for the aircraft to land, with the pilots still sat in the cockpits
Prior to the ICE upgrade the Luftwaffe Phantoms were painted in the 'Norm 72' scheme seen above
#38-10 is seen above about to take part in the final 4-ship flypast