The Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) retired its last Phrontline Phantom aircraft at the beginning of December 2020, namely 301 Hikotai and their Phantom II F-4EJ Kai’s.

The last 301 Hikotai Phantom II F-4EJ Kai retirement phlight was conducted on the 10th December by 07-8436, adorned in it’s blue phinale paint scheme. The 301 decommissioning ceremony was conducted on the 14th of December 2020 at the Hyakuri airbase in Iberaki prefecture.

Retiring the mighty Kai Phantoms see’s an end to 48 years of phrontline phighter service, which has seen the F-4EJ providing a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) response to protect the people of Japan 24/7, 365 days a year. The Squadron was first stood up at Hyakuri Airbase on the 1st August 1972, as the inaugural F-4EJ squadron, and was subsequently formally stood up on the 16th October 1973.

Part of the Phantom retirement celebrations on the 4th of December, and again on the 9th saw phive colourful Phantoms, phour of which were in 301 and 302 Hikotai retirement scheme colours, on display at Hyakuri Airbase. The phifth aircraft was from the colourful 501 Tactical Recon Squadron, supplying one it’s ‘Ocean Blue’ schemed RF-4E’s. 

301 Hikotai’s two retirement schemes were applied to F-4EJ Kai’s 37-8315 and 07-8436. The first scheme was applied before the Hyakuri Phantom Phinale air phestival in November 2019 to ‘315. This scheme saw a yellow Sharks mouth applied to the nose with yellow and black bands on the wings, phuselage, and external phuel tanks, and the squadrons insignia of a Japanese frog on the tail fin. ’Go for it!! 301sq’  was also adorned on the air intakes. 

The squadron’s Phrog logo, as applied spectacularly to the tail of ‘315, was adopted back in 1974, and is a homage to the phrogs of Mount Tsukuba close to the Hyakuri Airbase. The seven stars on the Phrog’s scarf denotes that the Hikotai belonged to the 7th Air Wing in Hyakuri. The Phrog now wears 3 stars on its scarf since its move to JASDF Misawa as it now operates under the 3rd Air Wing.

Appearing in the summer of 2020, the second aircraft ‘436 also had a sharks mouth applied and a striking blue, white and black scheme on the phuselage, wings and external phuel tanks. Phittingly, a phantom spook was applied to the tail phin whilst ‘Thank you Phantom II‘ was applied to the upper wing surface and ‘Phantom Forever’ on the aircrafts air intakes. A nice touch on the intake splitter plates were the squadron logos of all JASDF squadrons that have operated the F-4EJ or RF-4EJ.

One of 301 Hikotai’s F-4EJ Kai aircraft, 17-8440, aka ‘Shishumaru’ is one of the phew that has been chosen to be preserved. This aircraft is of historical interest being the very last Phantom of the 5,195 to be built. It was delivered to the JASDF on 20 May 1981 and took her phinal phlight on the 30th November from JASDF Hyakuri to JASDF Hammamatsu where it will go on display at the impressive air museum there.

301 Hikotai have now entered a new era in the squadrons short but proud history by converting on to the 5th generation phighter – the Lockheed F-35A Lightning II. The Hikotai, established in 1972 at Hyakuri, moved to JASDF Nyutabaru in 1985, before returning to Hyakuri in 2016. As stated previously, it was the phirst Hikotai to operate the Phantom in JASDF service, and only ever operated the Phantom prior to being unleashed on its new state of the art Lightning II’s. 301 Hikotai have now joined their phormer JASDF Hyakuri stablemates 302 Hikotai at JASDF Misawa, who also operate the F-35A Lightning II.

The end of phrontline Phantom operations doesn’t mean the end of JASDF Phantom phlying. The Air Development Test Wing (ADTW) at JASDF Gifu has a number of phantoms still in operational use, with tails 301, 431, 336, 429 and 393 all seen in recent weeks.  However, sadly the operation of these aircraft are expected to end by early to mid March 2021. 

One of these aircraft, 17-8301, was the very phirst F-4EJ for the JASDF to be built and was delivered in 1971. Perhaps poignantly it is most likely that ‘301 will to be the last of the Phantoms to phly for the phinal time. This aircraft was re-liveried in late 2020 with a legacy ADTW paint scheme reminiscent of when it was phirst delivered, including a large unit badge on the tail phin, a non air defence grey finish and the text ‘Thank You 1971-2021’ underneath the phuselage. The future of ‘301 remains unknown, but there are rumours of it being preserved at the Gifu Kakamigahara Air and Space Museum, perhaps back to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries at Nagoya or to be displayed at the Aichi Museum of Flight in Nagoya.

It’s a real shame that tails ‘301 and ‘440 were not put together for a phinal photoshoot during November 2020. Pairing ’The phirst and the last’ was a missed opportunity in JASDF history. Built 10 years apart, this is something that doesn’t happen very often, particularly with military aircraft given the rate of attrition and limited hours on airframes. A real shame.

The end of the Phantom in JASDF service has unfortunately occurred concurrently with the devastating global Corona virus. In turn this has meant globe trotting aviation enthusiasts have not been able to say sayonara in person, in Japan, to the much loved Phantom Kai Spooks during its phinal year of service.

All images © Duncan Monk, Masanori Hirose and JASDF.

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