Home News South Korea bids farewell to its last F-4 Phantom, the legendary combat aircraft that still operates in four countries

South Korea bids farewell to its last F-4 Phantom, the legendary combat aircraft that still operates in four countries

South Korea bids farewell to its last F-4 Phantom, the legendary combat aircraft that still operates in four countries

The South Korean Air Force carried out a show of force of its military power last week at an air base south of Seoul. Thus, on Thursday, March 7, 33 aircraft, including F-35A, KF-16, F-15K and F-4E stealth fighters, did what is usually known as “an elephant walk” or, what is the same , a display on the track of all units. The event, which took place a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un led an artillery firing exercise, was part of the annual Freedom Shield exercise, which South Korea and the United States have been conducting in early March. to strengthen deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

The fully armed planes taxied in formation around an airfield during ‘Elephant Walk’ training to rehearse routine pre-takeoff procedures and evaluate their readiness.

‘Elephant Walk’ is a USAF term initially used during World War II to describe the process of preparing fighter aircraft for taxiing., either immediately before takeoff or immediately after landing. It is generally used as a strategy to demonstrate military prowess and deterrence.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) conducted a similar “elephant walk” in March 2022 in response to North Korea’s launch of a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

However, The highlight of this event was the presence of eight F-4E Phantoms of the South Korean air force, whose decommissioning is scheduled for next June after decades of service, and who led the formation of combat aircraft. We could, therefore, be facing a kind of tribute to the legendary American fighter plane, which only serves in just four countries.

As part of a loan for his participation in the Vietnam War, South Korea acquired the first six F-4D Phantom IIs in 1969. It then purchased an additional 19 F-4Es in 1976. The first 37 factory-new F-4E aircraft were acquired by the South Korean Air Force (ROKAF) for use in 1977. . In total 94 fighters were acquired because the plane proved capable of combat.

On June 16, 2010, 41 years after their entry into service, South Korea retired the older F-4D Phantoms. However, it continues to operate the F-4E and F-5E/F Tiger II, slightly newer, being used as test aircraft to develop new aircraft armaments.

Suwon Air Base in South Korea was one of the remaining airfields in the world where an F-4 Phantom fighter jet could be seen in operation. Following the crash of an F-4E of the 153rd FS in the Yellow Sea on August 12, 2022, during a mission, Phantom activities in Suwon were suspended for about three months that year.

In January 2023, the service announced that the plane would be officially decommissioned in the following months, after more than 45 years of service, following similar measures by other operators of this archaic plane. If plans are on track, the latest ‘Elephant Walk’ could be the last for these Phantoms.

Greece operates 18 F-4s from the Andravida air base and Turkey still retains 54, in addition to Iran.

Built by McDonnell Douglas, The F-4 Phantom was a long-range, two-seat, twin-engine, supersonic interceptor and fighter-bomber originally developed for the United States Navy. Entered service in 1960 with the US Navy and It was later adopted by the Marine Corps and in 1963 by the United States Air Force, so that by the mid-1960s it already constituted an important part of their respective aircraft fleets. Since then, several countries incorporated it into their armed forces and it has participated in numerous conflicts, including the Vietnam War, several of the conflicts between Israel and the Arab countries (on the Israeli side) and the Iran-Iraq War.

An F-4G Phantom II displays its different types of missiles: AGM-45, AGM-65, AGM-78 and AGM-88.
An F-4G Phantom II displays its different types of missiles: AGM-45, AGM-65, AGM-78 and AGM-88.The reasonfreemarker.core.DefaultToExpression$EmptyStringAndSequenceAndHash@646dbd07

Total, Almost 5,200 of these aircraft were produced, making it one of the most legendary aircraft in history.. What is this success due to? Without a doubt, it was one of the most flexible and adaptable devices ever used in the US Armed Forces. During its four decades of service it became the most produced American supersonic military aircraft to date.

He broke 16 different performance records, including speed and altitude records. The Phantom was far ahead of its time: its speed record remained unbeaten until 1975, when the F-15 Eagle set a new mark. With a maximum speed of Mach 2.2the Phantom was quite fast despite its notable dimensions and enormous weight, but it is true that its maneuverability, especially in “face-to-face” combat with other enemy fighters, was not its strong suit. Its two General Electric J79 engines allowed it speeds of 2,370 kilometers per hour, a service ceiling of 18,288 meters, a climb speed of 210 meters per second, an action radius of 680 kilometers and a cruising speed of 940 kilometers per hour.

One of its main characteristics was that It had numerous anchor points to carry bombs, rockets and missiles, which made it very advanced for its time., but in the first versions it lacked a cannon, although it was later added. In Vietnam he would have shot down more than a hundred Mig aircraft and in different conflicts he played a fundamental role, including the first Gulf Warin which the Iraqi air defense systems, of Soviet origin, could not face aircraft such as the F-4G Phantom, armed with missiles such as the AGM-88 HARM, for the suppression of anti-aircraft defenses.

In the United States, the Phantom’s active service ended in 1996, after almost half a century.


The case of Iran a former ally of the United States before the Islamic revolution that ousted the Shah, who not only opera 62 F-4, but it is the only country in the world that has in its armed forces F-14 Tomcats with variable wings, also of American origin, which still function despite the difficulty in finding parts due to the boycott.

With the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Iranian air force, which became the “darling” of the Shah, was strongly threatened by embargoes, in addition to the persecution of military personnel by the new regime. Even so, the Air Force of the new Islamic Republic of Iran (IRIAF) used its F-4s extensively against Iraq in the war against this country and they remain key in its defensive model.

The Phantom, also in Spain

In Spain, the United States transferred 31 aircraft to the Air Force in 1971. The aircraft had been built in 1964 for the USAF and served in the 81st FW in Great Britain. They began to arrive in February 1971, and by 1972 all thirty-six devices had been completed. Designated C.12, the aircraft were retired in 1989.

To alleviate personnel losses and maintain the operation of the 12th Wing, four additional F-4Cs were purchased from the 58th training FW based in the United States. The same order included four RF-4C reconnaissance aircraft from the 363rd RW in South Carolina. Towards the end of 1988, eight RF-4Cs were purchased from the 123rd RW of the Kentucky National Guard, which were quickly received and thus the 123rd Squadron (radio callsign “Titan”) was reborn.

In 1986, the first EF-18Bs began to arrive in Zaragoza to form part of the newly created Ala 15, which relegated the F-4Cs to a secondary role, but not the RF-4Cs, which were to follow. carrying out the reconnaissance work, since Spain did not have any effective aerial reconnaissance device. To reinforce the existing RF-4C, another batch of six RF-4C was purchased from the 192nd RW and they were equipped with an in-flight refueling probe in accordance with the systems that the EdA had (KC-707).

During 1989, all F-4Cs were decommissioned, totaling 69,772 flight hours in 18 years of service. Spain was the last country to cancel this variant of the Phantom. Between 1999 and 2001 the RF-4Cs were decommissioned and in February 2002 the aircraft that remained in service were immobilized on the ground.