JG 74 40th Anniversary Open Day 21 July
Andrew Bates reports of more Phantom tails. All photography by the author unless stated otherwise.
The Luftwaffe's Jagdgeschwader 74 'Mölders' celebrated its 40th Anniversary during July. Part of the celebrations involved an Open Day at Neuburg, home to JG74 since their formation in 1961. For all the Phantom Phreaks out there, this provided the opportunity for what is nowadays a seemingly all too rare activity - a visit to an operational F-4 base!
Formed at Neuburg, north of Munich, in 1961, or Neuburg a.d. Donau to give the full name, JG74 became operational as an all weather fighter unit in May '61 following the acquisition of F-86K Sabres from JG75 at Leipheim. After the inevitable training and work up period, the unit was declared to NATO in October 1962. However, Sabre operations were to prove relatively short-lived, as JG74 was earmarked to become a Starfighter wing, the first F-104G arriving at Neuburg in May 1964. This quantum leap in performance was not fully realised until F-104 deliveries were complete in December 1965. This lengthy transitional period ensured that the last official F-86 flight by JG74 did not occur until 5 January 1966.
The next milestone in the unit's history came in November 1973, when JG74 was officially bestowed with the name 'Mölders', in honour of the German World War II air ace, Werner Mölders, the first pilot to attain 100 air combat victories. Then, the following year, as the Wing celebrated a decade of Starfighter operations, a new era was heralded by the announcement that the unit was to re-equip with the F-4F Phantom II. After flying their last official F-104 sortie on 30 June 1974, JG74's first Rhinos were delivered to Neuburg shortly afterwards, with the unit being declared as combat ready during 1975.
Today, 25 years later, the F-4F remains a potent interceptor with JG74, thanks to the ICE (Increased Combat Efficiency) upgrade programme that has maintained the credibility of the Luftwaffe Phantoms in the modern air combat arena. The ICE improved F-4F's APG-65 radar, AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, and other avionics modifications will no doubt enable JG74 to keep their air combat skills finely honed until their planned conversion to Eurofighter in late 2005.
Naturally, during the Open Day, there were quite a number of examples of JG74's trusty mounts available for perusal around the airfield, including 38+09 amid the variety of F-4 weaponry on display, which enabled a closer look at the M61A1 20mm Vulcan cannon. However, there was one Phantom which attracted most of the attention by virtue of its stunning 40th Anniversary markings. With a predominately white scheme incorporating traditional Bavarian blue and white checks on the tail, 38+39 was guaranteed to get the photographers jostling for position each time the sun tantalisingly popped out from behind the clouds. The aircraft was not best placed for photography, as it was destined to fly later in the day, but patience and perseverance enabled a reasonable shot for posterity.
Further examples of German military hardware were provided by both the Luftwaffe and the Marineflieger, so it was no surprise to see a Tornado or two from each service, including JBG32's superb, but now familiar, tiger schemed ECR 46+44. Also attracting attention in the static was one of JG73's Fulcrums, but by way of a change, it was one of the less common two-seat Mig-29GT variants.
However, in terms of rarity value, there was one static participant that really turned heads, that being the previously unknown TF-104G Fiesta. Little is known of this new prototype, as most details are still classified. Its unrefuelled range and payload are said to be limited, but it is has demonstrated significantly lower operating costs than a Tornado, whilst its low speed handling characteristics and nap of the earth navigational ability are rumoured to be second to none. Some thought has also been given to operations from autobahns, trials for which are continuing. Manufacture of the prototype is said to have utilised a revolutionary new process called 'cut and shut', but it has been argued that this method is not particularly new, as this has allegedly been utilised in the UK during Tornado F3 repair work. Should the design prove successful, production examples are likely to enter service under the designation TF-104GLX.
Overseas participation in the static park included a pair of Norwegian F-16s from 331 Skv, a pair of Italian AMXs from 51° Stormo, a pair of French Mirage F1CRs from ER 02.033, a pair of USAF F-15Cs from the 493rd FS at Lakenheath, and a pair of RAF Harrier GR7s from 3 Squadron. Other noteworthy visitors included a Spanish Mirage F1CE from Ala 14, Austrian SAAB 105öE from 3 Fliegerregiment, and fellow compatriot J-35öE Draken from 2 Fliegerregiment.
As with most German military open days, the flying display was a fairly low-key event by comparison with UK military shows, but was nevertheless still entertaining. The flying programme was dominated by the host nation, as would be expected, but there was also a contribution from Austria and Spain. From 2 Flr came the spectacular and ever popular all red Draken, whilst the Eda flying demonstration was performed by a second Mirage F1CE from Ala 14, which made a subtle change from the more familiar French F1 combo usually witnessed on the show circuit.
As previously mentioned, the home team took the specially marked Anniversary F-4 aloft during the afternoon, which was really put through its paces. However, a short while later, all the Phantom Phanatics in the crowd were given a further treat by the sight and sound of a JG-74 four-ship take-off and formation fly-past. Eight smoky J79 engines left their unmistakable signature in the sky. No doubt environmentally unfriendly, but blissful to watch!
Also giving a blistering performance was a Mig-29G from JG73, and a Tornado from JBG34. The Tornado somehow seemed even more impressive than usual, and certainly raised the decibel level of the show. Despite this, there was one flying participant that managed to outshine even this awesome display of power, and that was the Eurofighter Typhoon. If the EADS pilot flying German development aircraft 98+29 was restraining himself from utilising the full performance envelope, then it certainly didn't show! Hopefully, this was just a taste of future flying displays to come, once production gets into full swing.
As with most Luftwaffe Open Days, this was an event with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. Whilst no doubt some enthusiasts may not have been keen to venture so far for a show of this size, there are other aeronautical distractions and places of interest to be found on the way. Consequently, your scribe and his band of happy travellers made a weekend of it, and took the opportunity to visit the museums at Hermeskiel, Sinsheim, and Speyer, but that's a different story.