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    HomeMilitarySouth Korea's F-4 Phantom II Jets: A Farewell Flight into History

    South Korea’s F-4 Phantom II Jets: A Farewell Flight into History

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    F-4 Phantom IIs” by Gone-Walkabout is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    On May 9, 2024, the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) commemorated the upcoming retirement of its F-4E Phantom II fighters with a final flight of four F-4Es across South Korea. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) paid tribute to over five decades of service by the Cold War-era fighter aircraft, which have been a stalwart in South Korea’s defense against northern threats since 1969.

    Speyer – Technikmuseum Speyer – McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II 01” by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    This ceremonious flight not only marked the end of an era but also the beginning of a new chapter in South Korean aerial defense, as the F-4 is set to pass the baton to more modern aircraft like the F-35 and the indigenous KF-21 Boramae fighters.

    Berlin – Militärhistorisches Museum Flugplatz Berlin-Gatow – Bundeswehr Luftwaffe McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II” by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The final retirement of the F-4 Phantom II is scheduled for June 7, 2024, during a ceremony at Suwon Air Base, leaving only a few countries, including Greece, Turkey, and Iran, still operating these iconic jets.

    F-4E Phantom – RIAT 2016” by Airwolfhound is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    The four participating F-4E fighters, belonging to the 10th Fighter Wing’s 153rd Fighter Squadron, the last ROKAF unit to operate the type, displayed special liveries that echoed their storied past.

    USAF Heritage Flight: Republic P47D-40-RA Thunderbolt/Jug 44-90368 ‘Tarheel Hal’ – N4747P, Lone Star Flight Museum; North American Aviation P-51D Mustang, 44-73264, ‘Gunfighter’ – N5428V, Commemorative Air Force; McDonnell Douglas F-4E-60-MC / QF-4E Phant” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    One jet donned a jungle camouflage pattern from the 1969 era up until the 1980s, and another featured a two-tone light grey camouflage used from the late 1980s until the early 1990s.

    Mc Donnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II USAF” by fsll2 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The remaining two aircraft kept the current ROKAF dark grey livery but were adorned with a poignant decal that read ‘From the hands of the people, to the hearts of the people: 1969-2024’.

    Mc Donnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II” by fsll2 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    During the three-hour flight, the F-4s retraced significant moments of their service, soaring above the central city of Cheongju, the airbase where they had been stationed from 1979 to 2018.

    File:Turkish Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II, Istanbul Aviation Museum.JPG” by Weslam123 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

    The jets then revisited the east coast airspace, symbolic of their role during the interception of a Soviet heavy bomber in 1983. The flight included a stop in Daegu for refueling, a location that marked a shift in the balance of air power between the two Koreas when the F-4s first arrived.

    KF21ADEX-20.10.2023 1” by AnShmat is licensed under CC BY 4.0

    The farewell flight showcased a fusion of the old and the new as the F-4Es flew in formation with two KF-21 Boramae fighters, the latest in South Korea’s aviation technology.

    The side view of the KF-21 Boramae” by dooyeol Choi Music travel 음악 듣기용 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

    The KF-21, which first flew on July 19, 2022, is expected to achieve initial operating capability by 2026 and will play a pivotal role in South Korea’s “three-axis” deterrence system against North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats.

    The third prototype of the KF-21 Boramae on display at the 2022 Sacheon Airshow” by dooyeol Choi Music travel 음악 듣기용 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

    The Phantoms’ final journey also took them to Sacheon, home to Korea Aerospace Industries, where they briefly flew alongside the KF-21 prototype jets. The route continued along the west coast, where the Phantoms had sunk a North Korean spy ship in 1971, before making their return to Suwon.

    McDonnell F-4 Phantom II” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The ROKAF once operated around 220 Phantoms but has since whittled down the fleet, with only about ten units remaining in service at the time of the farewell flight.

    F-22A ‘Raptor’ and F-4 ‘Phantom II’” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The F-4 Phantom II first flew in 1958, developed initially as an interceptor for the United States Navy, and evolved into a multi-role fighter-bomber, adapted for reconnaissance and electronic warfare missions.

    McDonnell Douglas F-4 ‘Phantom II’” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The retirement of the F-4 Phantom II is a significant milestone in South Korea’s aviation history. As these storied jets take their final bow, they leave behind a legacy of resilience and evolution, paving the way for a future where the skies over the peninsula will be guarded by the next generation of fighter aircraft.

    Berlin – Militärhistorisches Museum Flugplatz Berlin-Gatow – McDonnell F-4 Phantom II 04” by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The stoic farewell flight symbolizes the transformation of South Korea from a nation seeking to fortify its air defenses to a modern economic powerhouse with cutting-edge military might.

    Relevant articles:
    South Korea makes special flight to say goodbye to the F, Aeroflap
    4Es conduct farewell flight as the type bows out of South Korean service, European Security & Defence
    F-4 fighter jets hold farewell flight after over five decades of service, Yonhap News Agency
    Code 1 Aviation, code1aviation.com

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