hellenic air force F4 Phantom
Copyright: Andrea Avian

Hellenic Air Force 338 Mira “Ares”: the last Phantom over the Aegean

The 338 Mira was estabilished on 24th December 1952. All these years, 338 Sqn has consisted and is still continuing to consist the cornerstone of the structure of the Hellenic Air Force , which guarantees the security of Greece and the territorial integrity.The emblem of the Squadron is rapresented by Aris, the god of war, and it well fit with the milestone of the aviations after the 60s, the F-4E Phantom II. In the emblem there is still the quote “H TAN H ENI TAS”, the phrase that Spartian woman said to their sons when they handed over the shield to them- come back with it (winner) or over it (dead).

The 338 Fighter Bomber squadron was formed at the Elefsis air base equipped with the F-84G, the first jet of the Hellenic Air Force. In April 1953 the Squadron redeployed from Elefsis air base (112 Combat Wing) to Larissa air base (110 Combat Wing), where it stayd until November 1956, when it returned to the 112CW. The next redeployment took place in May 1958 moving to Souda air base, Crete, with the 115 Combat Wing.

In January 1960 the squadron stopped its operations for four years, and in 1964 it was again operative with the new F-84F. At the airport of Souda, the Squadron stayed until 30th June 1974, when it stopped again its operations and become incorporated in the 340 Squadron.

The pause in operation took place in order to be reformed in the airport of Andravida with the new F-4E Phantom II, which were just delivered to Hellenic Air Force. In a very short time, the pilots, trained in the USA, diffused their knowledge to the rest of the Unit, yielding a fully operational Squadron in May 1975.

In 1981 the Mobile Training Unit of USAF partecipated in the training of the Squadron on new tactics and advanced aerobatic maneuvers. On 1st February 1984, the new Basic Order 3-1/1984 was applied concerning the increase of fighting capability.

Particularly, all the pilots were trained and certified in “low apex” attacks, low night navigation and advanced maneuvers. There were also carried out a lot of missions for the familiarization of the pilots with the operational environment of the Aegean Sea.

The next milestone in the history of 338 Squadron happened on 5th August 1991, when the replacement of Peace Icarus I and II aircraft by F-4E SRA took places. Since 12th October, flights of the new aircraft were carried out for their operational development. On 18th December 2002, the aircraft, which equipped the squadron since 1st July 1974, returned, having been upgraded structurally as well as electronically, making them the best Phantoms ever flown.

Until today, after 60 years, 338 squadron continues to contribute to the missions of the Hellenic Air Force, having highly trained crew, that in cooperation with an upgraded legendary aircraft, is able to defend the rights and interests of the Hellenic Nation both in Greece as in Cyprus.

Apart from many exercises and training missions outside Hellenic Airspace,  Ares Sqn. partecipated in all range of HAF missions like air to ground attacks, interception, Close Air Support, Interdiction, Air to Surface attacks and Electronic Warfare, but the main role of the Squadron is OCA (Offensive Counter Air) and CAS missions.

The training of the pilots is continuous and includes many release of live ordnance such as AIM-9, AGM-65 Maverick, Laser-guided bomb GBU-12, GBU-16 and GBU-24 and Mk 82 and Mk 84. Squadron sorties are also used to train other HAF pilots with JEWCS jamming pods which fit the F-4E and also with releasing flare targets for A/A live ordnance shots.

Due to its primary role in air-to-ground missions, the 338 Sqn was always present and ready to take action for attacking ground or naval targets during all the tensions in the Aegean Sea such as Ocanographic Chora crisis in 1987 or Imia island tensions during 1996. 338M being the last squadron of Polemiki Aeroporia using the Phantom, is even responsable for the training of new pilots assigned to the Phantom.

Actually the Group is training four pilots are complating the basic training to the F-4E, and after aproximately 70 missions, they are ready to be a aircraft leader, and to continue the big History and career of F-4E in Hellenic Air Force. The Squadron keep two aircraft armed with air to ground weapons ready for QRA.

F-4E Avionic Upgrade Program

On 11st August 1997, when the contract was signed with the German EADS for the Peace Icarus 2000 upgrade, also known as the Avionics Upgrade Program (AUP), the most important milestone was put for the History of 338 Mira. It was decided to upgrade the initial F-4s in Hellenic service (Peace Icarus I and II) and to apply a service life extension program to the entire F-4E and RF-4E fleet.

The AUP was an ambitious and challenging piece of work carried out to enhance the capabilities of the Phantom and to maintain the effectiveness of the weapon system into the 21st century. The AUP was complex and resulted in an all-new avionic system featuring a core MIL standard 1553 Databus with integration of improved AN/APG 65 GY radar, mission computer, armament central system, navigation system including GPS and INS, communication system, TCAN,  radar altimeter (RADALT), data transfer and video recording system,  the CPU-143/A central air data computer, Modular Multi-Role Computer (MMRC), laser gyro inertial navigation system with embedded GPS, AN/APX-113 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) and multi-function colour displays.

A comprehensive upgrade of the associated equipment and mission software ensured that the introduction of this all-new avionic suite brought an increased workload for pilots. In order to ease the transition and ensure that the Phantom cockpit become a more ergonomic and logical working environment a redesigned Human Machine Interface was introduced, featuring Hands on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS), multi function colour display, improved Head Up Display and an enhanced audio warning system.

The AUP upgrade allow the Hellenic Phantom to enhance its operative life. Nowadays the date for its retirement is not clear, probably the Phantom will fly in the Hellenic sky for other 5 years, until the budget for a new aircraft will be available. And, until now, it is not known if the new jet will be the F-16V or the new F-35.

Text and images: Andrea Avian