Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson



The Bundesluftwaffe (Federal Airforce) was a major user of the F-4 Phantom. The first in Luftwaffe service were RF-4E's, which entered service with AufklaerungsGeschwader 51 (AG51) in January 1971. AG52, based at Leck, received RF-4E's in September 1971. In all, 88 of the recon. version were delivered to the Luftwaffe, and they were finally withdrawn from service in 1993/94. During their service with the Luftwaffe, they had a number of upgrades, including the fitting of a weapons delivery system which gave these aircraft a secondary ground attack capability. All 88 airframes were thus modified, the upgrade being completed in 1982.

The Luftwaffe had originally planned to wait for the development of the MRCA (multi role combat aircraft), which eventually emerged as the Tornado, before disposing of its F-104G's. It became clear, however, that the Tornado would not be ready for service in time, and meantime a fighter version of the Phantom would be a possible stopgap choice. The St. Louis-based manufacturer proposed a lighter and simpler F-4E, which would be significantly cheaper than the USAF version, and would incorporate major components from German industry. This was the F-4F, and it entered service in September 1973, equipping two interceptor wings, JG71 and JG74, as well as two fighter-bomber wings, JaboG35 and JaboG36. A total of 175 F-4F's were delivered, the last one in April 1976.

There were two major upgrades of the F-4F during its service life. Between 1980 and 1983 they were retrofitted with in-flight refuelling equipment, and upgraded to accept the Sparrow missile as well as the Maverick and the latest Sidewinder missiles. A new digital weapons computer, improved electronic countermeasures, cockpit displays, and all-weather systems were provided.

In late 1983 the Improved Combat Efficiency (ICE) program was launched, involving provision of more sophisticated radar equipment and the ability to launch the Hughes AIM-120 missile. The ICE upgrades were applied in full to the aircraft of the interceptor wings, but the Jabo wings, which were due to get their Tornados before long, were only partly upgraded.

With the advent of the Typhoon in Luftwaffe service, the F-4F was progressively pensioned off. The last nine aircraft, including the first delivered (3701), were retired with a formal ceremony at JG71's base at Wittmund on 29.June 2013.

The Initial Image

This is a photograph taken at a show, so I don't know the builder or the kit. It's a good clear image with plenty depth of field, and portrays an aircraft of JG74, based at Neuburg an der Donau in Bavaria. The aircraft is finished in the Norm 72 scheme, the standard camo used in the earlier period of the F-4F's service.

Apart from the open canopies, the image will not need any reconstruction by me, so I can get an in-flight image fairly quickly.

Treatment of the Image

I had no unexpected problems during the selection phase of the work. Since I am rather averse to the excessive clutter that models often have dangling from their pylons, I saved myself the hassle of selecting all the tiny components of the missiles.

A few of the markings needed a bit of work, notably the yellow demarcation lines for the walkways on the top of the engine nacelles, and the Geschwader crest aft of the intake.

The view of the model is from a fairly high angle, so I chose a correspondingly high-angle background image. It's one of my favourite high-angle shots, which I modified a bit for this application


In my outline history of the F-4F's deployment, I didn't mention the fact that, as a result of German re-unification in 1990, the Luftwaffe acquired a third interceptor wing. The re-equipping of the two JaboGeschwader with Tornados had reached a stage where JaboG35 might have become redundant, but all of a sudden the Bundesrepublik inherited the East German JG73, which was using the MiG-29UB. The decision was to retain JG73, and add one of the Staffeln of JaboG35 to it, holding on to their F-4F's. Hence, the new JG73 was based at Rostock-Laage airbase, in the former East Germany, and flew one Staffel of MiGs and one of Phantoms. Today, the MiG's have been sold on to the Polish Air Force.