ROKAF’s Last F-4E’s Carry Out Formation Flight Over South Korea

On May 9, 2024, the ROKAF F-4Es flew around the South Korean peninsula in formation with KF-21s and an F-15K as chase (Photo: ROKAF)

Republic of Korea Air Force Phantom II with special liveries flew in formation with its replacement, KF-21, across the Korean peninsula.

On May 9, 2024, the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) F-4Es flew in formation with KF-21s to mark the type’s upcoming retirement. A sole F-15K served as chase plane and took photos of the flight. The formation, consisting of four F-4Es and two KF-21s flew around the Korean peninsula, covering all major cities outside of Seoul. The three-hour flight covered the following regions of Gyeonggi-province (Suwon, Pyeongtaek), Chungcheong-province (Seonghwan, Cheonan, Cheongju, Chungju), Gyeongsang-province (Uljin, Pohang, Ulsan, Busan, Geoje, Daegu, Sacheon), and Jeolla-province (Yeosu, Goheung, Gageodo, Gunsan).

A pair of KF-21s joined the formation over Sacheon to mark its replacement of the F-4 fleet. (Photo ROKAF)

During part of the flight, two KF-21s joined the formation over the skies of Sacheon, home to Korean Aerospace Industries’ manufacturing plant and headquarters. The formation symbolised the KF-21 taking over the F-4E’s role of protecting the nation’s sky. The first batch of KF-21s are expected to be come out  later this year 2024 and achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC) by 2026. Current F-4 and F-5 squadrons are scheduled to be the first ones to receive the new KF-21s.

F-4 Phantoms wore special liveries from different camo schemes throughout the years

The four F-4Es participating in the flight wore a special livery, with three different camo patterns. Two Phantoms (s/n 78-739 and 80-735) donned a historical camo pattern. F-4E 78-739 wore the jungle camo pattern, the ROKAF Phantom’s first livery that was used from the types adoption to service until the 1980s. F-4E 80-735 wore a two tone light grey camo pattern that saw use from the late 1980s until the early 1990s. Lastly the two remaining airframes (s/n 80-738 and 80-743) kept the current ROKAF dark grey camo but instead had a special decal reading “국민의 손길에서, 국민의 마음으로”, roughly translating as “ From the hands of the people, to the hearts of the people”.

The Phantom fleet have special place in the South Korean’s heart as a large proportion of the fund for the ROKAF’s first five aircrafts were prepared via donation. Back in 1975 the Korean government raised over 5 million dollars (71 billion won) in donations as part of the National Defence Fund to acquire its first batch of F-4Ds.

The introduction to service ceremony of the ROKAF’s F-4D can be found in the video below. Notably the F-4D’s have  a marking on the nose  “방위성금헌납기 – Donation to the National Defence Foundation”

A special variant of the Spook character was also worn by the Phantoms

The Spook is a world-famous character used by F-4 squadrons around the world. Created by artist Anthony “Tony” Wong because of the F-4’s canted horizontal stabilisers and rear radar warning receivers resembling a face, many variants of the character have seen use as squadron mascots. This formation flight saw the introduction of two new designs. A Korean Spook wearing a red scarf has and a Spook holding an AGM-142 Popeye missile were specially created for this occasion. Specifically, the Spook holding the Popeye missile is wearing the traditional battle gear of a Chosun dynasty military officer. The F-4Es were the sole operators of the AGM-142s and the remaining stockpile of munitions were all fired prior to the aircraft’s retirement.

Two new Spook characters (middle and right) were created as a derivative of the original F-4 Spook character (left) (Photo: ROKAF)

 With the official retirement ceremony of the F-4E scheduled for June 7, 2024 at Suwon Airbase, the remaining 19 ROKAF Phantoms are still scheduled to fly around until the last few days. With its monumental presence in ROKAF history, the retirement of the last F-4 variant in South Korean arms is expected to be a big event.

The new Spook characters marking the F-4’s retirement can be seen as part of the special decal (Photo: ROKAF)
About Wonwoo Choi
Wonwoo is a student journalist and contributor to The Aviationist based in London, United Kingdom. Currently studying MEng in Aeronautical Engineering with a keen interest in OSINT, plane spotting and aircraft design. He is a former Sergeant of the Republic of Korea Army, having served as an artillery Fire Direction Centre Vehicle Radio Operator.