With only a few weeks left of flying the legendary F-4F Phantom II in service of the Luftwaffe (at the time of writing that is, May 2013) I thought this would be a good moment to look back at 30-years+ of operating the Old Warrior at Hopsten Air Base. I consider myself as one lucky bastard to have lived so close by to an airbase operating the mighty Phantom. I tend to think that Hopsten was my second homebase next to Twenthe. The West-German Government decided in the early seventies to replace the F-104G in both the air defence as in the air-to-ground role by 175 F-4F's. This was due to the fact that the Starfighter had an aged radar and short range in the air defence role and the delay of the Tornado programme in the air-to-ground role.

The F-4F was a simplified version of the F-4E with no capability to fire AIM-7 Sparrow nor nuclear weapons. Evenso the AN-APQ-120 radar was simplified. The Westfalen Geschwader would gain air defence as secondary task next to air-to-ground. Other Luftwaffe units that obtained Phantoms where Jagdgeschwaders 71 'Richthofen' at Wittmund and 74 'Mölders' at Neuburg and Jagdbombergeschwader 35 at Pferdsfeld. The arrival of the first F-4F at Hopsten (37+97) was on the 4th of February 1975. Before that the based Jagdbombergeschwader 36 flew with the also legendary F-104G Starfighter for ten years. Big difference between the two was the fact that the F-104 needed only one pilot and the F-4F obviously one pilot and a weapon systems officer. This meant a big increase in flying officers and also a different approach of flying of the ex-Starfighter jockeys.

In 1976 the two squadrons (Staffeln) of the Wing were operational on the F-4F and were assingned to 2.ATAF. Also in 1976 JaboG 36 celebrated their 15th anniversary. A year later, in 1977, Hopsten hosted their 4th Open House and their first with the Phantom. The flying programme included a formation of 16 Phantoms ! In 1979 the Wing received a trophy for best unit within 3rd Luftwaffendivision. Furthermore they received the Flight Safety Award. In 1980 JaboG 36 was the first wing ever of the Luftwaffe to conduct low level practise in Goose Bay Canada. The flight with 6 Phantoms to Goose Bay took 7 hours with stops at Lossiemouth, Keflavik and Sondrestrom. During the deployment JaboG 36 lost their first F-4. On September 22 1980 F-4F 38+65 crashed killing both the pilot and the WSO. In 1981 another deployment to Goose Bay was undertaken this time with 8 Phantoms and in a 6-hour non-stop flight airrefueled by USAF KC-135's. On September 20 in the same year the fith Open House was organised. F-4F 38+33 received a special clour scheme for the occasion. These were the colours of Nordrhine-Westfalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen). Also in 1981 a third squadron stood up within the ranks of JaboG 36: ZAE (Zentrale Ausbildungseinrichtung). Their task was to Europeanize crews coming back from their training programme in the States. Also new flight instructors were trained.

In May 1984 the Wing received the name 'Westfalen' by the German D.o.D. In 1986 the 100,000th flying hour with the F-4F in service of JaboG 36 was made. In 1986 JaboG 36 participated in TAM '86 which was held at Kleine Brogel, Belgium. The 25th anniversary of the Wing was celebrated with the 6th Open House. This took place on September 14 1986. This would be the last time that JaboG 36 took a 16-ship formation to the sky. And yet another special painted Phantom was introduced. This time it was 37+55 in a 'Feuervogel' livery. The weather during the Open House was terrible but the quality and quantity of the planes made it all worth while. A legendary Ope House !! In 1991 the Luftwaffe started to upgrade the Phantomfleet in the so called ICE-programme. ICE stands for Improved Combat Efficiency. The Germans called it: KWS which stands for Kampfwertsteigerung. All Phantoms where air attack variants and ICE would upgrade 110 out of 153 to the air defence role. The non-ICE airframes could be recognised by their black noses while the upgraded ones had grey noses. ICE compromised of the installation of the AN/APG-65 radar (the same as in the F/A-18 Hornet), a more capable weapons computer, a new mission computer and the capabilty to fire the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. This upgrade would improve the capabilities of the F-4F dramatically.

After the fall of the iron curtain more German territory had to be defended so JaboG 35 and JaboG 36 where transformed into pure air defence wings. This meant that these wings had to redesigne into so called Jagdgeschwaders. JaboG 35 changed into JG 73 'Steinhoff' while JaboG 36 changed it's name into JG 72 'Westfalen'. Furthermore JG 73 was relocated to the former GDR at Laage. At first JG 72 was planned to go to the former GDR but in a surprice move the Luftwaffe appointed JG 73. In May 1996 JG 72 saw the first participation in exercise Roving Sands. Six Phantoms left Hopsten for Cannon A.F.B. (NM) to stay there for three months. 1996 marked also the 35th anniversary of the Westfalengeschwader. It was celebrated with an Open House. This time F-4F 38+60 was in a special livery with a big white horse on the fuselage. And in 1996 JG 72 participated in Red Flag at Nellis A.F.B. (NV). Training new young Phantom pilots used to take place at George A.F.B. (CA) with German F-4E's (although with American serials and roundels). These F-4E's where phased out and replaced by 24 non-ICE F-4F's. In 1997 all deliveries of those aircraft went through Hopsten. Their new traningbase was to be Holloman (NM). The 'new' F-4F's also used US-style markings and serials. The remaining Non-ICE airframes where to be concentrated at Hopsten.

In the year 2000 just like in 1983 JG 72 once again moved to neighbouring Twenthe due to runway maintenance and the construction of a new tower at Hopsten. On September 8th 2001 Westfalen celebrated their 40th anniversary again with an Open House. This time F-4F 38+73 was adorned with a special livery. But dark clouds were gathering around JG 72. The Luftwaffe announced in their Luftwaffenstruktur 5 the disbandment of the Westfalengeschwader. On January 7 2002 the last QRA took off from Hopsten and a few days later on January 18 the first Staffel op JG 72 was disbanded. The second Staffel was appointed for training the crews coming back from the States so this Staffel remained until closure of Hopsten. This was due to take place in 2005. On January 31 2002 the second Staffel was transformed into the Fluglehrzentrum F-4F (FlLehrZ F-4F).

Although faced with severly reduced flying hours the FlehrZ F-4F took part in several exercises like Red Flag and Maple Flag. Also the annual deployment to Decimomannu (Sardine, Italy) continued until disbandment. In 2003 a crew of the FlehrZ F-4F testfired the AIM-120 AMRAAM on the weapons range of Tyndall (FL). Also noticable was the participation in the exercise 'Anatolian Eagle' in Turkey. The unit had also the task to phase out 21 blacknoses. This scrapping took place at the old QRA area. December 15 2005 was the Fly-out of the last remaining Phantoms. The 37+11 was in a special colour scheme (all black with a big grey horse) and took off together with 5 others for almost the last time at Hopsten. Almost because the actual last flight was a few days later on December 20 2005 when 37+11 together with 37+01 and 38+60 left Hopsten for Wittmund. The 37+11 would reside preserved at Wittmund untill 2012 while 37+01 will take part in the Phantom Pharewell at Wittmund on June 29 2013. The 38+60 would fly with Wittmund's JG 71 until April 2013.

And so the curtain fell for the Hopsten Phantoms. No doubt a sad moment in the history of aviation !

Phantoms Phorever !!!