With the “retirement” of last U.S. Air Foce McDonnell-Douglas QF-4 Phantom IIs back in December, 2016, one could be forgiven for thinking that date marked the final operational activities for this magnificent multi-purpose combat aircraft. However, the type still soldiers on with a handful of military air arms in other nations, albeit in small numbers and living on borrowed time. The Republic of Korea Air Force has three active squadrons of F-4Es with the 17th Fighter Wing at Cheongju, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force is believed to have a few dozen operational Phantom IIs (originally ordered as F-4Ds, Es and RF-4s), the Hellenic Air Force has two squadrons of F-4Es (338 and 339 with the 117th Combat Wing at Andravida), the Turkish Air Force has a single squadron (111. Filo “Panter” at Eskişehir). The other operator is the island nation of Japan, which has three operational squadrons of F-4EJs within the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (301 and 302 Squadron with F-4EJs and the RF-4EJs of 501 Squadron at Hyakuri Air Base).
However, as they begin transitioning to the F-35A Lightning II, Japan is now preparing to retire their fleet of Phantoms. 302 Squadron will disband in February, 2019. The other two units will follow suit before too long with all ‘Samurai’ Phantom operations due to come to a close by March, 2021. 301 and 302 Squadrons will reform at Misawa Air Base, operating some of Japan’s expected force of 42 F-35As. With respect to 501 Squadron’s RF-4EJs, their aircraft will likely be replaced with F-15Js updated with a synthetic aperture radar.
In celebration of their nearly half century Japanese Phantom II operations, 302 Squadron held a special air show on December 2nd at Hyakuri Air Base just north of Tokyo. Several of their aircraft were painted in commemorative liveries to mark the event, which was attended by huge numbers of Phantom Phanatics from around the world. Well-known and highly regarded photographer Richard Cooper led a small number of these enthusiasts to Japan with the Center of Aviation Photography (COAP), in part to cover the event. He has been kind enough to let us use a few of his images here.