2017 Event Review

RF-4E PHANTOM II PHAREWELL, May 4, 2017

 

Location: Larissa AB, Greece
Admission: Free, Limited to 500 as evaluted ny the HAF. Every person who was accepted was issued with a lanyard and pass which had to be displayed at all times while on base.
Parking: Free
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: Not an air show
 
United States Army Special Forces Black Daggers Parachute Team

Patch of the RF-4E retirement

On Friday, May 5th, the Hellenic Air Force retired its RF-4E Phantom II from service. In an official ceremony, the 348 Mira Taktikis Anagnoriseos (MTA, Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron), based at Larissa AB, was disbanded. After 39 years of operation, this day marked the end of the reconnaissance version of the Phantom II in the HAF and in Europe. The Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force remain the last RF-4E operators.

On May 4th, the 348 MTA hosted a spottersday to give aviation enthusiasts and photographers a last chance to see this iconic aircraft in action. 514 spotters joined the event. There were plenty of opportunities to take photos of the squadron's last three aircraft, two of them with a special color scheme and one wearing the Southeast Asia, Vietnam-era, camouflage color scheme. That day, the Phantoms were flying twice in a rarely seen "clean" configuration, which means without any wing mounted pods or rockets. A highlight was several overflights of a three-ship RF-4E formation. This formation was then joined by a Mirage 2000 and an F-16. Some air show feeling came up when a T-6A Texan II and an F-16C performed an impressive display.
Since Larissa AB also is home to the 337 Mira there was some additional F-16C/D Block 52+ flying activity.

History of the 348 MTA

On November 26th, 1953, the 348th Tactical Reconnaissance Flight was established, based at Eleusis AB. They flew the F-84 with a downward looking camera mounted in the front section of the left wingtip tank. July 5th, 1954, the flight moved to Larissa AB. Almost one year later, the flight was upgraded to Squadron status and became a full member of the NATO Recce Forces. From 1955 until 1957, the squadron flew the RT-33A, a conversion of the T-33A trainer aircraft, by removing the back seat and adding a new nose section to accommodate state of the art photo camera equipment. In August 1956, the squadron received its first RF-84F Thunderflash. For the time being, the RF-84F was a highly sophisticated aircraft. Its three nose-mounted cameras could photograph targets independently or with overlaps from horizon to horizon. The squadron received its first RF-4E on November 3rd, 1978. With eight RF-44Es delivered to the HAF a specific RF-4E squadron, the 348 MTA RF-4, was established and operated in parallel to 348 MTA. In July 1987, the two squadrons merged into 348 MTA, flying both the RF-84F and the RF-4E. After the RF-84F being withdrawn from frontline service and the loss of three RF-4Es, the HAF needed additional RF-4Es. Luckily, the German Air Force retired some of their RF-4Es and sold 27 aircraft to Greece. 20 of these joined the active fleet while the remaining seven were used as spare parts source. The ex-German aircraft had their Radar Warning Receiver equipment removed and were not able to carry and launch AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. In 2003, the squadron was assigned an additional role: Electronic Intelligence by using the ASTAC (Analyseur de Signaux Tactiques). This is a reconnaissance system used to intercept and analyze tactical and technical data on RF emissions radiated by land-based radars and weapon systems.

In its 64 years of existence the 348 MTA has accumulated some 181,000 flight hours. With the retirement of the RF-4E the analog, film based aerial reconnaissance has come to its end, being replaced by the Goodrich DB-110 pod. The DB 110 is a digital, compact, day/night, two-axis stabilized, real-time, tactical reconnaissance pod system carried by F-16 Block 50 aircraft.

Report by Ralf Peter Walter for The Aviation Magazine with photography as noted

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