The glory days of the F-4 in Europe are now over, and in Greece only one squadron remains. In the December issue of AFM, Gert Kromhout speaks to the Phantom drivers of 338 Mira.
The final Hellenic Air Force (HAF, or Ellinikí Polemikí Aeroporía) Phantom squadron is 338 Mira ‘Ares’ (the Greek god of war), based at Andravida air base near the west coast of the Peloponnese peninsula. The squadron is part of 117 Pterix Mahis (117th Combat Wing).
The demise of the RF-4E in HAF service wasn’t unexpected – the airframes were old and had never been updated with modern systems. However, the end of 339 Mira in October last year was more surprising. The end of the ‘nine-ers’ came quickly and some feared that 338 Mira might follow a similar fate. Lt Col Kappos Alexandros, commander of 338 Mira, does not share these worries. He said: “The General Staff decided to disband 339 because putting the whole Phantom fleet under the umbrella of one squadron would be more efficient and would not change the way we conduct operations.”
While the two squadrons have now merged, the spirit of 339 Mira is still present at the base. Patches of 339 Mira are still widely worn on flight overalls, while paintings referring to the unit still decorate squadron buildings. Moving 338’s operations from the eastern side of the base to the former 339 buildings on the western side has contributed to keeping the spirit alive.
Prior to the two squadrons’ merger, 338 was tasked primarily with air-to-ground and 339 with air defence. “Now we are a multi-role squadron,” explained Lt Col Alexandros. “All of my pilots are training for both missions and must be able to employ all available weapons. Admittedly, we have experts in various tasks or weapons, but everybody must be able to perform them all. The experts are the contact persons for new tactics, information and intelligence coming to the squadron. That can come from our headquarters, but also from the HAF Air Tactics School [Kéntro Aeroporikís Taktikís, KEAT] that is also located at Andravida. KEAT includes experienced pilots from all of the air force’s fighter types.”