Last Samurais

Japanese Phantoms

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force is one of the last operators of the F-4 Phantom II. As time marches on for these classic fighters, Rich Cooper takes a look at the current drawdown plans ahead of final retirement and transition to the F-35 Lightning II.

A pair of 501 Hikotai ‘Woodpeckers’ RF-4Es, 57-6912 and 57-6913 (in blue camouflage) get airborne from Hyakuri. Serial 57-6912 was withdrawn from use last year, as part of the gradual drawdown of the Phantom fleet.
All photos Rich Cooper
F-4EJ Kai 07-8428 received white paintwork and the ‘Ojirowashi’ eagle on the fuselage as one of two 302 Hikotai retirement schemes. Aircraft from the squadron participated in a number of Japanese airshows over the last year.
This 301 Hikotai F-4EJ Kai, serial 17-8439, is carrying a pair of indigenous Mitsubishi AAM-3 short-range air-to-air missiles. This squadron was established at Hyakuri in 1972 and eventually took on the operational and weapons training roles. The unit’s badge depicts a local frog species found on Mount Tsukuba.

With high operational intensity, large squadrons, bright squadron markings, a penchant for dramatic special schemes and with in-country photography tolerated within security limits, it’s easy to see why Japan’s Phantoms have an ardent following.

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