This two-part trip came together as an opportunity to catch two very special 'last chance' events, involving two iconic, classic fighter aircraft types, on either side of the Atlantic within the space of a week. Firstly, one of the last ever chances to see an A-7 Corsair II in the air, at a special farewell ceremony organized by the Greek AF, the last operator of the type in the world. Then, four days later, the annual Phancon meet was being held at Tyndall AFB, Florida, as a final chance to visit the last operational US F-4 unit there, prior to that detachment retiring the Phantom within the next few months. So, a very good reason for a first visit to Greece, with two full days there including a chance to catch some more classic stuff in and around Athens, at the old Hellenikon Airport and the main HAF Museum at Tatoi-Dekelia Airbase...
DAY 1 FRIDAY 17TH OCTOBER
Flying with Etihad via Abu Dhabi, the one-way from Bahrain to Athens kicked off with EY372 operated by five months old A321(SL) A6-AEB, off at BAH on the 16th at 2340 for the 40min flight, in at AUH at 0120L. Connecting on to EY099 to Athens operated by an A320, departure was almost an hour late at 0345, with the 4.55 hour flight in at 0740L. Now, with a 290km drive ahead to Araxos Airbase, it was straight off in the rental, along the Northern Peloponnese coastline overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. Getting into the show in reasonable time, the weather was a little hazy and overcast, so the static shots could wait, as i settled along the crowdline to first catch the small flying display about to start.
The A-7 retirement ceremony being held at Araxos today, was a very special chance to see the world's last operational Corsair II's, otherwise known as the 'Sluff' (Short Little Ugly Fat Fucker). Here, the 336 Mira 'Olympos' (part of the 116 Combat Wing), is the last unit flying the mighty Sluff, after 39 years in service with the Hellenic AF. For the event, most of the last airworthy A-7's, along with some already retired were gathered around the ramps and hangars at the NW corner of the base, along with several other HAF aircraft on static display. Sluffs present here were A-7E's 158021, 159648 and 160616, preserved A-7H 159926 and two-seat TA-7C 154477. Of these, 160616 is painted in the special 'Fly Low, Hit Hard' black and silver 'Olympos' scheme, while 159648 was revealed in a new special scheme in the main hangar for the event. Painted in a very nice overall silver and grey camo with the Hellenic flag on the fin, and all of the five HAF squadron badges that operated the A-7 from 1975-2014, this was the main centrepiece for the official ceremony, where the public were allowed in later. Then, towards the end of the day, the aircraft was towed outside into the nice afternoon sun for the very grateful photographers who had stayed on, with the proud ground crew posing with the squadron's 'Pirates of the Aegean' flag. Great touch.
In addition to the Sluffs, three based F-16's of 335 Mira were also present here, with F-16C 009 and F-16D 028 on static display, while F-16C 015 was inside a small hangar. Then, those involved in the flying display included another F-16C, the colouful 505 of 343 Mira from Chania-Souda Bay painted in special 'Zeus' colours, which threw some flares during his display, while also in special colours, T-6A 037 of 361MEA at Kalamáta had 50th Anniversary markings on the fin. As well as these, another very welcome classic type to be seen today was the F-4E(AUP) from 338MDV at nearby Andravida (not far to the South), with 01528 departing and returning shortly after, to be part of the main event and reason we were all here... the displays by the resident Corsairs. These included TA-7C's 156753 and 156767, which flew seperately and together. 753 also joined in a 'missing man' formation with the F-4E(AUP) 01528, Mirage 2000-5EG 555 and F-16C 012, with the Corsair then pulling up over the airfield into a climb out of sight, to signify the end of the A-7 era. As for these being the last ever A-7 flights today... not quite, with a couple more taking place up to the end of the month. These included 158825 ('Tiger' scheme, not part of today's events) and 160616 ('Olympos' scheme) flying to Tanagra Airbase on the 24th, with the very final A-7 flight understood to be from here for the annual military parade in Thessalonica on the 28th.
Finally, some bonus aircraft today, were a few base movements towards the end of the day, which included another very welcome F-4E(AUP) from 338MDV at nearby Andravida, 01534 which landed, while two departing transports were C-130H 743 of 356MTM and C-27J 4120 of 354MTM, both from Elefsis. Then, at the end of an historic day, a few more aircraft on display were photographed on the way out, with F-104G 12307, F-84F 37230 and T-33A 58646/TR-646 being very nice to catch, along with one more mighty Sluff, A-7H 159952 on display next to the NW gate being a fitting end to the day. And so, to finish off a long day, it was then all the way back to Athens, with tonight's hotel next to the old Hellenikon Airport.
DAY 2 SATURDAY 18TH OCTOBER
Closed in 2001 after being replaced as Athens International by a new airport to the SE of the city, Hellenikon remains fairly intact, with only the Northern part of the airfield partly re-developed since then. Surviving the closure are four classic airliners which remain parked here, on the ramp at the SE corner of the airfield next to the perimeter fence, which overlooks the aircraft. Three of these are said to be part of the Olympic Airways Museum now, with B727-200 SX-CBA (wfu Jan 92), B737-200 SX-BCA (wfu 2001) and B747-200 SX-OAB (wfu 2002) all fairly intact apart from missing engines, with the B727 still in full colours, the B737 with tail logo painted out, and the B747 with tail logo and titles painted out. Parked next to these, is vintage BAC1-11-200 (SX-BAR) painted in Hellenic Air colours, which is also still fairly intact apart from missing engines. This is the former US Air N1130J which was delivered here in Sep 92 and made only one test flight in Hellenic colours before being grounded, with the airline never starting operations. SX-BAR was the only Greek registatration ever allocated to a BAC1-11, but was never worn, with the aircraft later having CAA (Hellenic CAA) titles and logo added to the left side fuselage. Then, also derelict here are three twins, with Pa-31 SX-AAZ, Cessna 421B SX-AOS and Athens Air Cessna 411 SX-APU also still fairly intact apart from missing engines. Finally for here, next to the SW side perimeter is the old HCAA HQ, where former HCAA DC-3 (R4D-7) SX-ECF is (was) on display. Unfortunately no access was allowed here, so only a shot over the perimeter wall/fence was possible.
And so, a good start here this morning in great weather, picking up some very nice classics, before it was then off for the main stop of the day, the HAF Museum at Tatoi-Dekelia Airbase, around 20 miles to the North through the city. Parking outside the South gate, id needs to be given before a coach then takes any punters around to the museum, where guards will do escort while outside, with the museum ramp being on the open airfield. Very nice collection here, with some highlights being the two former VIP transports, C-47B KJ960 and Gulfstream 1 120 (the only one of the type used in HAF service, initialy for the Royal family). Fighters include a nice selection of Starfighters, including 335 Mira F-104G 32720 painted in an overall Tiger scheme, with F-5's including RF-5A 697170 in a special 349MAH 30th Anniversary scheme, a couple of rare TF-102A Delta Daggers, while inside, a good selection of F-84's include a rare RF-84F Thunderflash. Back outside, alongside the museum aircraft are a group of retired G-164A Super Ag-Cats (replaced by PZL M-18 Dromaders here), while an unexpected bonus on the next ramp along, was Erickson Air-Crane S-64E N243AC (Helitanker #741) named 'Marty', which arrived in Athens on 4th August to be based here on a firefighting standby contract.
From here, it was then on to Athens ATH, around 15 miles to the SE, to catch the flight out after two very nice days in Greece. A bit of time to try and photograph one of the old retired classics here, former Olympic B737-200 SX-BCL was wfu in 2001 and is now used as a fire trainer, still in complete condition with 'Training' titles on the basic Olympic scheme. Other shots managed (from the aircraft while taxying out), were of a couple more retired Olympic aircraft, with A340-300X's SX-DFC and SX-DFD both stored and complete in full colours (actualy registered as N280KS and N292KS). Also, a couple of Hellenic Imperial B747-200's SX-TIC and SX-TID were parked/wfu, along with nice SkyGreece Airlines B767-300ER SX-BPN. This recent start-up carrier is planning on commencing flights to Canada (as well as Croatia and Hungary) around mid-2015, initialy using this former Martinair (ex PH-MCM) aircraft. And so, from here it was on to the US, with a fair bit of travel ahead, firstly on to BA641 to LHR. Operated by an A320, departure was at 1645 for the 3.45 hour flight, arriving at 1830L. After a few night shots from T5 (including of BA's first B787 G-ZBJA), the connection was then on to BA183 to JFK, operated by a B747-400. Departing at 2040, the 7.20 hour flight was in at 2300L... Part II to follow...