Last Rhinos of Andravida

Hellenic Phantom Andravida Greece
Hellenic Air Force Phantom at Andravida AFB, Greece.

Under our main "Phantomania" theme, our contributor George Karavantos visited again Andravida (see previous report), the home of the last Greek rhinos and brings you some unique captures of them.

The 338 Squadron “Ares”, the only remaining Phantom squadron of the Hellenic inventory, is part of 117th Combat Wing, based in Andravida in the Pelopennese region of Greece. ‘Ares' was the first squadron to receive the Greek Phantoms in 1974 under the Peace Icarus programme.

That year, McDonnell Douglas delivered the first of 38 new aircraft for 338 Mira ‘Ares' and 339 Mira ‘Aias' (Ajax) at Andravida. Another 18 examples, plus eight recce-configured RF-4Es followed between 1978 and 1980, to equip 110 Combat Wing at Larissa air base (home of 337 and 348 Mira).

While these were all new-build aircraft, the third and fourth delivery batches comprised second-hand jets. In 1991, the US Air Force offered 28 F-4Es to Greece, followed by 27 ex-Luftwaffe RF-4Es. In total, the HAF received 119 aircraft.

In the late 90s, HAF decided to upgrade some of its Phantoms. Between 1999 and 2005, a total of 38 F-4s were subject to this extensive modification programme that transformed them into the world's most advanced Phantoms. PI 2000 was a joint venture between Germany's Daimler-Benz Aerospace (later EADS) and Hellenic Aerospace Industry (HAI) and was based on the Improved Combat Efficiency (ICE) modifications conducted on the Luftwaffe F-4Fs.

The upgrade package included the Hughes (now Raytheon) AN/APG-65Y radar, GEC digital air data computer, Elbit Systems fire-control computer, Mil Std 1553 databus, Honeywell H-764-G inertial navigation system (INS)/GPS, Hazeltine (now BAE Systems) AN/APX-113(V) identification friend or foe (IFF) system, Litton AN/ALR-68(V)2 radar warning receiver, colour multifunctional displays, new head-up display, hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls, video recording and data transfer systems. The Rafael Litening II laser targeting pod was added under PI 2000 for day/night precision targeting and limited reconnaissance. Weapons now include laser-guided bombs, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, unguided bombs, the Autonomous Free-flight Dispenser System (AFDS), AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder.

Alongside the AUP modifications, HAI put the aircraft through a service-life extension programme (SLEP), adding thousands of flying hours to each airframe.

In 2017, the HAF General Staff decided to put the diminished Phantom fleet under the umbrella of only one squadron which was more efficient. Nowadays, 338 Squadron, is a multi-role squadron which keeps approximately 20-25 operational Phantoms in its inventory. The squadron's objective is to have at least 10-15 on the flight line.

Today, Greece’s financial problems have necessitated the remaining of these old but still lethal rhinos in the defence of Greek territory. For sure McDonnel Douglas’ huge hunter still has a few more years ahead of it. Its distinguishable shape will still be seen over the skies of Pelopenese peninsula and not only.

Long live the legend!

Text and Pics: George Karavantos

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