NARRATIVE BY MARK ROUKE & IMAGES BY CHRIS W. BALMER/MARK ROURKE
Andravida Air Base – Home of the Hellenic Phighting Phantoms
Located 2.5 Kilometres (km) from the town of the same name, Andravida Air Base is located in the region of Elis, Western Greece. It is home to two squadrons of McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II’s, a detachment of Bombardier CL-215’s and the Greek Air Force Air Tactics Centre (KEAT). The Phantom units come under the responsibility of the 117th Combat Wing (CW).
Andravida was chosen in the early 1950’s as a future air base for the Greek Air Force and in 1955 the first building for the new infrastructure began. By 1960 an Air Detachment had been established under the name – Killini-Andravida Air Detachment. A Government decision in March 1961 abolished the detachment and instead formed the 117th Combat Group (CG) with 339 Squadron (Sqn) and its Republic F-84F Thunderstreaks coming over from Elefis.
By May 1969 the unit designation changed from a Combat Group to a Combat Wing and the base prepared itself for the introduction of the F-4E with a huge re-building programme with added facilities and upgrades for aircraft maintenance and personnel accommodation. In 1973 338 and 339 Squadrons moved to nearby Araxos under the 116th CW while work at Andravida was complete.
The first Phantom arrived at Andravida on April 5th 1974 and all deliveries were completed by the end of the year, 339 Sqn being joined at Andravida by 338 Sqn to maintain the fighter-bomber and interception role.
The Lockheed T-33 also operated at Andravida for over 12 years between December 1976 and March 1989 with the 368th Applied Training Flight. The unit had four of these classic trainers on its strength.
The weather radar was installed in 1978 and by 1979 the personnel accommodation buildings were complete and Andravida is as much now as it was then.
338 ‘Ares’ Fighter Bomber Squadron
The venerable, and still very capable F-4E Phantom II’s are operated by 338 Fighter Bomber Squadron ‘Ares’ and 339 All Weather Squadron ‘Ajax’, and use the F-4E PI2000 version (Peace Icarus 2000) which were part of the AUP (Avionics Upgrade Programme) started in 2003. The updates included the AN/APG-65GY all weather radar, AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile), Litening targeting pod and the ability to carry modern air to ground weapons. All of the upgrades were carried out in Germany.
In all thirty six aircraft were upgraded, and are all allocated to 117th CW at Andravida, with the aircraft being equally distributed between the two squadrons. 338 ‘Ares’ main mission profile is that of ground attack with interceptor capability as a secondary function
338 Squadron was formed on Christmas Eve 1952 at Eleifis Air Base near Athens, with the Republic F-84G Thunderjet, before moving to Larissa in November 1965 under the 112th Combat Wing umbrella. A move again in May 1958 to Souda Bay meant this time the squadron was operated under the 115th Combat Wing until it was disbanded in January 1960. Three years later though, in 1963, the squadron was reformed at the same base flying the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak.
The squadron was redeployed to the 117th CW at Andravida in June 1974 to receive the F-4E Phantom II, with the first aircraft actually arriving in April.
The Squadron is named after Ares, one of the twelve Olympian Heroes, who was ‘God of war, battle lust, civil order and manly courage’
The Squadron today is lead by Lieutenant-Colonel Theodoros Aivaliotis, and he is very proud of what the F-4E can still give to the Greek Air Force. “It is the best Phantom ever flown in the world” he states.
Joining the Air Force Academy in 1989, Lieutenant-Colonel Aivaliotis graduated in 1993 and joined 338 Squadron in 1994. After four years in the back seat he qualified as a front seat pilot, and has been on the squadron ever since, rising to be the Wing Commander at 338 Squadron.
Lieutenant- Colonel(Lt-Col) Aivaliotis especially enjoys the Litening Pod equipped to his Phantoms, “It’s very precise”, he states, and with the many other sensors and the ability to carry the latest Air to Ground weapons, the F-4E is a very potent Ground Attack platform which has already shown its mettle in exercises such as the Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) which he hopes to return to in the near future.
339 ‘Aies’ All Weather Squadron’
Formed on July 7th 1952, 339 sqn started life with the F-84G at Elefis air base near Athens. By 1959 it had received the F-84F and moved to Larissa but was only there a short while because in 1960 it redeployed to Nea Ancialos Airport with the 111th Combat Wing. The ‘Aies’ or ‘Ajax’ Squadron is named after the mythological Greek hero.
The unit arrived at Andravida in March 1971 and has been there ever since, apart from a short hop over to Araxos in 1973 while rebuilding and infrastructure work was completed. Once complete, the unit moved back to re-equip with the F-4E.
Once the unit became operational on the Phantom its primary role was all weather interception, a role it maintains to this day, though between September 1978 and February 1982 the interception main role was secondary to the fighter-bomber mission.
339 Squadron also maintains a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) at Santorini on the island of Thira and two aircraft were deployed at the time of my visit.
Second in command at 339 Squadron is Lt-Col Christos Togias. The 42 year old joined the Greek Air Force straight from High School and after four years at the Air Force Academy graduated to Flight School, flying the Cessna T-37 and Rockwell T-2 Buckeye. He arrived at Andravida in 1996 and is hopeful he will start and finish his career at this base.
339 Sqn is a very happy unit, and has a mantra of ‘two is better than one’ repeated by many of the crews relating to their tight knit teamwork in a twin seat aircraft. Lt-Col Togias said the squadron has a well founded tradition of high morale.
Obviously the Phantom is now an aging aircraft so I put it to Lt-Col Togias what the heavily updated aircraft can give to the Greek Air Force. He explained that in the modern environment there is less need for close in dogfighting and with the Phantom’s effective avionics update, which include new a Head Up Display (HUD) and Head Down Displays (HDD) coupled with the APG-65/AMRAAM combination, the crews remain confident they can deliver in the modern combat zone. They train the Phantom to its strength, staying far enough away to use the AMRAAM but close enough for radar jamming to be less of a problem.
What was obvious at Andravida was the high level of professionalism and a good morale amongst it’s flight crews and other squadron personnel. The tradition of staying at a base throughout your career certainly pays dividends, the expertise really shone through and the Greek population, as well as NATO, can depend on the 117th Combat Wing to be ready and willing to defend their freedom.
Caroline Makropoulos (Defence Attaché, British Embassy, Athens)
The staff and personnel at Andravida Air Base