Phantom Pharewell – Fliegerhorst Wittmundhafen, June 2013

The history of F-4 Phantom in German Air Force starts in the late 1960s – approximately ten years after the establishment of the Luftwaffe. The first Phantoms for the Luftwaffe were 88 aircrafts of the reconnaissance, unarmed version RF-4E, ordered in 1968. Those airplanes were modernized in 1980s and received additionally the ground attack capabilities.

At the beginning of 1970s it was decided that the already obsolete F-104E Luftwaffe fighter should be replaced by the new design and the bid process was started. There were multiple offers received, including Northrop F-5, SAAB J-37 Viggen, SEPECAT Jaguar and Mirage F1, but the offer that Luftwaffe accepted came from McDonnell Douglas – soon after that, in June of 1971, the 175 aircrafts were ordered. The Phantoms for German Air Force were consecutively delivered until 1976 and based at Wittmund (Jagdgeschwader 71) and Neuburg a. d. Donau (Jagdgeschwader 74) air bases.

Luftwaffe McDonnell Douglas F-4F Phantom II, 38+37.

However, the limitations of the ordered F-4F version (which was the lightened and simplified variant of F-4E) were soon noticed, leading to the upgrade of the German Phantoms based on the agreement reached with US Government in 1975. It was just the first of the several upgrades of the Luftwaffe F-4s during the 40 years of their service. The most significant one was the Kampfwertsteigerung (Improved Combat Efficiency) programme – a three-stage process, that started in 1983 and was finalized in 1997.

Phantom 38+33 in Norm 81 camouflage pattern.

The initially bought RF-4E were all retired in 1994 and staring in the 1990s the number of F-4s in German service was slowly, but consecutively reducing. More than 70 Phantoms were sold to Greece and Turkey, because of Luftwaffe cutbacks due to the end of the Cold War era.

Phantom 38+10 in Norm 72 camouflage pattern.

Nothing lasts forever and the Phantoms´ replacement was already in development from 1980s. The first Eurofighter Typhoon for Germany was received in 2003 and the Phantom retirement process began. However, the delays in the Eurofighter deliveries caused the F-4s were still in active service until 2004 in JG 74 and until 2013 in JG 71.

The year 2013 was the final one for the German F-4 Phantoms and a few farewell events were organized by Luftwaffe, with the biggest ´Phantom Pharewell´ ceremony in June 2013 at Wittmundhafen air base in northern Germany.

The first in, the last out – Phantom Pharewell special livery, celebrating the 40 years of service.

The official farewell to the Phantom fighter was a two-day event, with the spotter day on Friday 28th and a public open day on Saturday, 29th of June. Certainly, there was a huge interest in the spotter day, according to the Luftwaffe, there were around 3500 spotters registered, from all continents. Not surprising, as this was an unrepeatable opportunity to see the German Phantoms during their final performance.

Phantoms in the formation flight display.

And there was all about the Phantoms at Wittmundhafen airfield on Friday. First, there were the special painted aircrafts available: 38+10 painted in Norm 72 camouflage pattern, 38+33 in Norm 81 colours and 37+22 with Norm 90. Then there was 37+01, the first F-4F Phantom delivered to Luftwaffe, painted in the special „First in – Last out” golden-blue livery. The static display was full of other interesting aircrafts, including the test airplanes, as 38+13 was, and Phantoms in different special colours or paintings. There simply were Phantoms all around there.

Spotter day in the shower – Friday at Wittmundhafen.

In addition to F-4s, many other interesting aircrafts could be found on the static display: Belgian F-16s with the special paintings, RAF and Luftwaffe Tornados, Spanish F-18s, Skyhawk, German Eurofighters, Airbus, C-160 Transall, P-3 Orion, helicopters and even L-39 Albatros from Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC). The variety of the aircrafts that would please any aviation fan. And it was just a pity that previously announced Greek and Turkish Phantoms eventually didn´t arrived to Wittmundhafen.

L-39ZA Albatros – Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC).

Between the two sections of the static display there was another Phantom displayed – this aircraft was used for engine warm up and run displays that were performed several times during the day. And each time it meant not only the ear-splitting roar of two General Electric J79-GE-17 engines, but mainly the spectacular smoke effects. There were clearly no doubts why, during their service, German Phantoms received such nicknames as ´Luftverteidigungsdiesel´ (air defence diesel) or ´Ölofen´ (oil furnace).

Luftverteidigungsdiesel, or an ecologist’s nightmare.

Everything was just perfect during the Friday spotter day, but the weather. It seemed that the ´Phantom Pharewell´ was organized in November rather, not in June. There was a constant rain on Friday, varying from the shower to downpour, with the addition of heavy wind and the temperature just reaching 15⁰ C.  Fortunately, the weather on Saturday was better, especially in the afternoon.

The arrival of Spanish Air Force EF-18BM Hornet.

Saturday was the open day, available for all and without the registration. The static display was almost the same, excluding the four Phantoms that were performing the flying displays. And the flying displays were divided into the two blocks – the morning one was a short journey through the aviation history and in the afternoon, there was a Phantom display.

Smoke on! The Phantom engine run demonstration.

Due to adverse weather conditions, there were some cancellations in the first part of the flying displays but still it was an interesting part of the ´Phantom Pharewell´ event. The displays were performed by Bücker Bü 131 ´Jungmann´, Boeing Stearman, Yak-52, Bo 105 and A-4N Skyhawk. At the end of the Skyhawk display the failure was reported and, as the precaution, the ´Scooter´ had performed the unexpected additional display – the emergency arresting gear landing. Everything went good, eventually, there was no need for any emergency crews´ reaction and the Skyhawk taxied off the runway unassisted.

McDonnell Douglas A-4N Skyhawk (BAE Systems).

In the afternoon, the formation of four Phantoms, in four different colour schemes, took off for the final flying performance that included formation flying, solo display and drag parachute landing. All four aircrafts taxied in front of the spectators´ line several times, giving them the opportunity for some last photos. At the end of F-4 display the two EF 2000 appeared in the sky, a clear sign that there is the time to pass the baton to the new generation jet fighter. The short flying demonstration performed by the Eurofighters was the final point of the ´Phantom Pharewell´ flying programme.

After the flying displays all four Phantoms were parked in the centre of the taxiway, together with EF 2000. The F-4s engines were shut down simultaneously, marking the end of the 40 years of Phantom service in the Luftwaffe. And then there was a moment of a sad silence… Auf Wiedersehen Phantom – Moin Eurofighter!

Auf Wiedersehen Phantom – Moin Eurofighter!

According to the official information, almost 130,000 visitors arrived to Wittmundhafen air base to say their farewell to the Phantoms. The F-4 Phantom II fighter, that at the beginning had to be just the temporary solution for Luftwaffe, until the next modern jet fighter would be designed and implemented, stayed in the active service for 40 years, flying 279,000 hours in total. The last official landing on the Wittmundhafen runway was performed by the 37+01 crew: Geschwaderkommodore of JG 71 ´Richthofen´, Oberst Gerhard Roubal and Oberstleutnant Alex Berk. The Phantoms in JG 71 would be replaced by 18 Eurofigter Typhoons, they are planned to be ´combat ready´ in 2018.

The last out – Geschwaderkommodore of  JG 71, Oberst Gerhard Roubal and Oberstleutnant Alex Berk.

The official celebration of Phantom retirement done in front of the parked aircraft was the final point of the ´Phantom Pharewell´ event. There was just one flight planned for the Phantoms from Wittmundhafen airbase – the last short flight to Jever, where the aircrafts would be disarmed and scrapped.