Wittmund Spotters Day Report

Tuesday 5th June 2012

A favourite with aircraft enthusiasts worldwide, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom is sadly a dying breed so the opportunity visit one of the last units still flying the venerable 'Rhino' could not be missed. Germany's last operational F-4F Phantom unit, the famous Jadgdeschwader (JG) 71 'Richthofen' opened its doors at Wittmund to around 800 enthusiasts to capture the Phantom before the planned out of service date of 2013.

Ian Matthews was there for UKAR to enjoy them before they're gone. Michael Hall provides additional photos.

Although there was no flying by JG71 on the photoday itself, the days prior saw around 4-6 F-4F launches each morning and afternoon including flying of the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) pair on most days. The Richthofen Phantoms still stand on alert and continue to be tasked with protecting the northern part of Germany's airspace.

First stop after entering the base at Wittmund was the JG71 hangar. Inside were preserved examples of the CL-13 Sabre, F-104G Starfighter and an Me-109 all proudly carrying the red 'R' of the Richthofen Geschwader. The unit operated the F-104G for a decade with the first aircraft of the type replacing them, the F-4F, arriving on 7 March 1974.

A total of 12 F-4F Phantoms were parked outside for photography in the JG71 shelter complex. A lot of thought had gone into preparing the aircraft as intake covers and flight tags had been removed. There were no fences around the fighters which enabled great angles for photos and gave an operational feel for photography. It was a shame some of the 'Rhinos' weren't in missile fit to add a little variety to the photos but the visiting spotters could not have wished for better access.

The weather leading up to the event was very showery with low cloud and the forecast didn't look good. Come the afternoon of the photo event itself, the skies cleared and the sun shone through. The refreshments waiting for the enthusiasts were certainly welcome plus it gave the chance for a spot of shopping as a stand sold patches, stickers and t-shirts.

Some of the F-4's did carry special markings in the form of pencil artwork on the intakes highlighting the recent deployment of a number of JG71 Phantoms to Iceland as part of NATO Icelandic Air Policing mission. The aircraft that stood out the most was F-4F 38+28 which had received a special paint scheme to commemorate 45 years of maintenance by LIG (Luftwaffeninstandhaltungsgruppe) 21 at nearby Jever. The aircraft proudly carried the legend '45 Jahre in Schortens' and included the badges of all three maintenance units plus the total number of GAF F-4F depot (361), post flight (31) and periodic (23) inspections carried out.

A nice touch during the photoday was Major Olaf Ring, the Commanding Officer of JG71 walking down each parked Phantom with a couple of hundred photographers in trail and opening the canopies as he went. This enabled the classic image of the Phantom in front of the shelter with the 'lids' up. It really was a case of 'Richthofens Flying Circus' - great fun.

The final flight of the F-4F at Wittmund is planned for the end of June 2013 when the last aircraft will be flown to Jever. It is hoped another Spotters Day will be held to commemorate the passing of this great fighter from service with the German Air Force. If the photo day is as good as the 2012 event, this should be well worth attending.