Hellenic Air Force says farewell to the RF-4E Phantom II at Larisa Air Base
Hellenic Air Force: 348MTA “The end of the film”.
Ελληνική Πολεμική Αεροπορία: 348MTA “Το τέλος της ταινίας”
The 348 Mira Taktikis Anagnoriseos (MTA, Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) was founded in 1953 on Elefsina Air Base. The nickname of the squadron is “Matia” which means “Eyes”.
Six Republic F-84G were the first aircrafts which were used by the 348 MTA. In 1954 the unit moved from Elefsina to Larisa. A year later, in 1955, the six Republic F-84G were replaced by twenty RT-33A Silver Star aircraft. In August 1956 the next new reconnaissance aircraft was introduced, the Republic RF-84F Thunderflash.
The Hellenic Air Force was the first Air Force within NATO which operated the RF-84F Thunderflash. The Thunderflash was a pure reconnaissance aircraft, with special equipment onboard and it was able to be equipped with three cameras in the nose. These cameras could take pictures of individual targets as well as large areas and all in high resolution.
On 22 October 1976 a contract was signed with McDonnell Douglas in the United States of America under the name “Peace Icarus” and consisted of 26 new Phantoms, with eight of them being the RF-4E photo-reconnaissance variant and the other 18 were F-4E’s.
It was 3 november 1978 when the 348 MTA received it’s first RF-4E Phantom II. All eight were delivered by the summer of 1979 and all wore the brown-green South East Asia camouflage scheme. It took three days to fly the RF-4 Phantom from Lambert Field St-Louis to Larisa. During the delivery flights there was an American pilot in the front and a Greek pilot in the back.
Because of it’s size the performance of the modern RF-4E was highly superior to the older RF-84F. The Phantom offered more room for the camera systems and it was capable of wearing up to three external fuel tanks to increase it’s endurance.
Unfortenately the first RF-4E was lost during a crash on 10 december 1979 but luckily the crew managed to survive by using the ejection seats. On 11 july 1985 an RF-4E flew into a mountain with killing it’s both occupants. A third one crashed into the sea on 7 may 1987 with also killing it’s both occupants. After these crashes only five RF-4E’s where in use with 348 MTA.
On 29 march 1991 the Republic RF-84F Thunderflash were withdrawn from use after almost 35 years of service. With only a handfull of RF-4E’s operational it was almost impossible for 348 MTA to fullfill the need for reconnaissance results.
Germany came with the solution in 1993 by donating 27 RF-4E’s. Twenty of them where flown to Greece in 1994 and the other seven were used for spare parts only. Despite being the same type there were some differences between the American made and the former German RF-4E’s. The main differences were the ejection seats, nose shape and wing type. The German RF-4’s didn’t have the possibility of using AIM-9L Sidewinder guided missile for self-defence, but this was later build on the RF-4’s in Greece. The German RF-4’s were more stable while flying low but the American ones had a better maneuverability.
In 2003 a new mission was assigned to 348 MTA: SIGINT (Signal intelligence). For this task the Thomson CSF ASTAC (Analyseur de Sugnaux TACtiques, Tactical Radar Signal Interceptor and Analyzer) pod was used. This pod was able to obtain enemy’s Electronic Order of Battle scanning and locating the position of emitters in ranges up to 500 miles.
The 348 MTA used different camera systems like the KS-127A Long Range Oblique Photography (LOROP). This system had excellent results at great distance, with a range of 50 kilometres and an alltitude of 40.000 feet on clear days! This KS-127A camera system could be used by the American as well as the formerly German RF-4’s.
Just two of these camera systems were delivered along with the delivery of the eight American build RF-4’s. In one of the accidents one KS-127A camera system was destroyed. In the early 90’s a new KS-127A camera system was delivered to the 348 MTA.
Other camera systems used are the KS-87B for front facing photography, the KA-56E used for low altitude (200 ft – 4.000 ft) photography, the KA-91 with a 18 inch diameter lens for panoramic view at middle altitude (5.000 ft – 25.000 ft.) photography and finally the AN/PSM-37 infra-red camera for day and night photography.
Every mission had to be prepared down to the last detail. The two pilots had to be experienced in all aspects such as flight altitude, position of the sun and other meteorological conditions and choose the right camera to get the job done.
“The end of the film” 5 may 2017
After 64 years the 348 MTA was disbanded on this day. A total of 181.000 flight hours were made, 1.400 hours with the F-84G(R), 1.600 hours with the RT-33A, 80.000 hours with the RF-84F and 98.000 hours were made by the RF-4E. Of those 98.000 flight hours 23.000 flight hours have been made by the last three operational RF-4’s. The end of the RF-4E also means the end of analog cameras and the end of the wet-film recce technology.
On this day many former members of the squadron were invited to see the last three operational RF-4E’s fly for the last time in the Greece sky!
One of them was still in the brown-green camouflage scheme in which they were delivered in 1978. One received a special all black livery with in orange text and silhouettes of all types flown by the 348 MTA and the national blue and white flag on it especially for this withdrawal. The third one flew in the old German light and dark green colours with the special tail for the 60th anniversary of the 348 MTA with silhouettes of all the types on it’s fuselage.
For this event the Hellenic Air Force send the Zeus demonstration team with it’s F-16 and the Daedalus demonstration team with it’s T-6 towards Larisa to perform their display. The Belgium Air Force joined the event with two F-16’s. The Royal Air Force wanted to join with two Tornado’s but due to a bird strike they had to return to their homebase.
Luckily all three RF-4’s could fly twice during this special day and there was a nice formation fly-by performed by the three RF-4’s with an F-16D and Mirage 2000EG. The F-16 and Mirage 2000 banked away from the three RF-4’s above Larisa air base.
After landing the special painted RF-4 taxied to the apron to be exhibited together with a well preserved RF-84G Thunderflash and an F-16C block 52, to mark the history and the future of the Hellenic Air Force recce capability.
In those 64 years a total of twelve Hellenic Air Force airmen lost their lives, one flying the RT-33A, seven flying the RF-84F Thunderflash and four flying the RF-4E Phantom II. For those twelve airmen there was a moment of silence to remember and honour them!
After the disbandment of 348 MTA the F-16 Block 52’s equipped with the UTC Aerospace Systems DB-110 day and night reconnaissance pod took over the reconnaissance tasks from the RF-4’s. This task is now been executed by 335 Mira based at Araxos.