Belgian Air Force Demo Team 2012
   Text &  Pictures : Anthony Graulus & Archivs sbap © sbap 2012  
   

Wittmund air base, located in northern Germany at around 470 kilometers of Liège, is the home base of the last German Air Force’s mythic Phantoms but also of the BAE Systems company and their four A-4N “Skyhawks”, used as target tugs. The last F-4 operational squadron is the JG71, better known as “Richthofen”. As the Phantom will be retired from the German Air Force in June 2013, I was thinking that it was time to take some pictures of the last ones still flying.
The base is not very big, and located in German rural area at around 20 kilometers from the coast.

Wittmund air base was created in 1911 and in the first years was the home base of the Zeppelin. At end of the first world war, in 1917, the base was transferred to the German navy department, and again equipped with the Zeppelin. After the dissolution of the airship troops in 1920, all the buildings were deconstructed, and the area was converted to cropland. In 1938, shortly before the second world war, the base was rebuilt and equipped with 3 runways positioned in a triangular shape. The rebuild works were completed in 1940. After the Battle of Britain period, the base was the departure point of a detachment of Heinkel HE111’s, foreseen for the southern England bombing raids.
From 1943, BF 110 night fighters in Wittmundhafen were stationed to protect the naval facilities at Wilhelmshaven before the increased heavy bombing performed by the allied task force. From the spring of 1944 until March 1945, the rocket fighters Me-163 were used. All war operations were stopped after heavy allied bombing and the total destruction of the installations.
After the war, the airfield was completely destroyed for the second time, and agriculture was again performed on the premises. By 1950 the British began the construction of a new airfield. This still exists today, and has since 26 April 1963 been the home of the Fighter Wing 71 "Richthofen". Stationed in parallel to the Fighter Wing, a private company provides airplanes, including Super Sabres, for target tugging as well.

Jagdgeschwader JG71 “Richtofen”
There was also a short-lived Jagdgeschwader 71 serving with the Luftwaffe during the early stages of World War II. It consisted of one group with a staff and two squadrons. It was created on the 16th July 1939 in Schleissheim, and served until designated II./JG 51 in October 1939.
The unit was formed in June 1959, equipped with 50 Canadair Sabre Mk.6’s and stationed at the former RAF base in Ahlhorn. The highest-scoring fighter pilot of all time, Erich Hartmann, flew the Canadair Sabre  and aircraft such as the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, in the newly formed wing in the late 1950s.
On the 21st April 1961, the 43rd anniversary of the death of “Red Baron” Rittmeister Manfred Von Richthofen, JG 71 was given the honorary title of “Richthofen” by Federal President Heinrich Lübke. In 1961, JG 71 transferred from Ahlhorn to Wittmund.
In May 1963, the introduction of the first F-104 Starfighters into Luftwaffe service took place. In 1974 the Wing obtained its first F-4F Phantom II's and on the 19th September 1974 the unit's Starfighters were decommissioned. In 1988 the Wing's secondary role of Fighter Bomber Attack was given up so that JG 71 is now exclusively a Fighter Wing.

 


JG 71 is part of NATO's Immediate Reaction Force, meaning that it must be ready to deploy 12 aircraft on five days’ notice. Currently the Phantoms are kept operational to fulfill Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) interceptions and provide training for future Eurofighter Typhoon pilots. JG 71 is sharing its QRA duties with JG 74, which completed Eurofighter conversion in late-2008. Depending on the situation, the dividing line between the two units is roughly Frankfurt-Berlin, with JG 71 protecting the northern part of Germany.
The unit participated in a Baltic Air Policing deployment in November 2009 and in June 2010 six of the unit's F-4s were deployed to Iceland as part of NATOs Icelandic Air Policing mission.

   
Artist view of the JG71 "Richthofen" planes (  
   

My objective was to take pictures of the Phantom’s before their retirement foreseen in some months. I planned two days to be sure to have enough opportunities, and a score of five or six aircraft “shot” was acceptable for me. Eventually, I had the opportunity to watch -and take pictures of course- no less than 12 different aircraft (20 are currently remaining). This plane might be at the end of its service, but she is still very much alive!
The base offers different spots were great pictures can be taken, without any problems. After a session at the departure point with a general view on the base, I went to the side of runway 08 to take some shots of landings…all was perfect. Moreover, on top of the heavy Phantom activity I got the chance to shoot three of the four “Skyhawk” in action, and a “Typhoon” from Laage present at Wittmund to perform some touch and go’s. All conditions were perfect to make a report, even the weather was great! So for the Phantom lovers, it’s time to pixelate them for the progeny…

   
Operations and F-4's in hangar
   
Installation First mission of the day
   
Holding point Take off!
   
Many missions performed on two sunny days Full afterburner
   
The caracteristic black smoke of the Phantom Long take off
   
With a discrete "R" as Richthofen on the air intake Ground activities
   
You can miss the location...JG71 "Richtofen" Real ecologic...loved black smokes!
   
Final approach Drag chute landing
   
Mission accomplished A Laage "Typhoon" in training
   
The white one at take off Bae Systems A-4N N434FS
   
Another A-4N in Israeli camouflage scheme
   
Bae Systems parking

 

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