By Daniele Mattiuzzo
Although, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II is technically not a warbird yet, we at WarbirdsNews feel that almost anything related to the mighty smoking Rhino deserves coverage (Click HERE for previous articles), and we felt sure our readers would be interested in hearing about events last week in Larissa, Greece. The Hellenic Air Force stood down 348 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, their storied and sole remaining RF-4E photo reconnaissance unit, on May 5th. That same day, an RF-4E went on display at the Hellenic Air Force Museum at Dekaleias Air Force Base in Tatoi.
Titled “The End of the Film”, 348 TRS held a final public air display on May 4th featuring their three operable RF-4Es, the last flying anywhere in Europe. ‘Rhino’ lovers poured into Larissa from all over the world to witness this event, and we are lucky to have some details and marvelous images via The Aviationist for our readers here. The three RF-4s which took part in this final display included tail number 7499 marked specially for the event (see the lead image), tail number 7450 with special markings from 348 RTS’ 60th anniversary in 2013, and tail number 71765 in standard HAF livery.
Interestingly, 69-7449 and 69-7450 both originally flew for the West German Luftwaffe, being 35+52 and 35+03 respectively in that service. The Germans transferred them to Greece in 1993 to supplement their fleet of new-build Phantom IIs. McDonnell-Douglas built RF-4E 77-1765 for the Greeks, handing her over in 1979. When she went into service, 348 TRS were still flying the RF-84F Thunderflash, which continued flying with the HAF until March, 1991! Of the 27 former German RF-4Es which the HAF received, 21 became operational, with the others becoming parts sources. A good number of retired RF-4Es still litter the airfield at Larissa, as you can see in the closeup aerial shot below.
The highlight of the event was seeing all three Phantoms in formation! A locally-based F-16C also joined in the flying, as did an HAF Mirage 2000EG from Tanagra. As part of the celebrations, a preserved RF-84F Thunderflash also sat on the flight line as testament to the long photo-reconnaissance history of 348 TRS, which now goes into the history books after 64 years of dedicated flying. Future Hellenic Air Force photo reconnaissance missions will now be taken up by F-16s carrying the DB-110 pod.
With the end of Greek RF-4E operations, only the Japanese and Iranian air arms still fly the type. Two Phantom II combat units linger on in Greece, 338 Fighter-Bomber Squadron and 339 All Weather Squadron, both with 117 Combat Wing at Andravida Air Base on the south western coast, though their operational days must surely be limited. Go see them while you still can!
WarbirdsNews wishes to thank the Daniele Mattiuzzo, Alessandro Fucito and The Aviationist for their invaluable contributions to this article.