They were the most powerful fighters of Spain until the Eurofighter arrived

The Spanish phantoms of Torrejón: the two Phantom II aircraft preserved by the 12th Wing

If you ask at the Torrejón Air Base (Madrid) if anyone believes in ghosts, they will probably tell you that there are two on their platform.

Spanish and US F-4 Phantom II fighters in the CASA hangars in Getafe in 1980
The history of the F-104 Starfighter that the Spanish Air Force keeps at Torrejón Air Base

Of course, it is not that there are paranormal phenomena in Torrejón, but that Ala 12 preserves two old Phantom IIs (ghost, in English), which are currently parked on the platform of said base. We can see them in this video published today by the YouTube channel Fly By Wire Aviation, which is publishing very interesting videos of historical Air Force aircraft (we already saw here its video of the F-104G and the one it recently published about P-3A Orion Cisne 31):

In February 1971, the first of 36 F-4C Phantom II fighters arrived in Spain, acquired to replace the F-104G then operated by the 12th Wing at the Torrejón Air Base. These fighters were operated by 121 and 122 Squadrons. Four of these planes were lost in accidents, after which Spain bought another four to replace them. In addition to that fighter version of the Phantom II, the 12th Wing also received 12 reconnaissance RF-4Cs, which were operated by 123 Squadron.

The RF-4C CR.12-55 (12-64), preserved today at the Torrejón Air Base (Photo: Ejército del Aire).

The Phantom II had two General Electric J-79 engines, the same engine as the F-104G, but with two differences: the F-104G only had one engine and the F-4C version was more powerful. The F-104G carried one J79-GE-11A, with a thrust of 69 kN with afterburner, while the F-4C and RF-4C carried two J79-GE-15, with a thrust of 75.6 kN with afterburner. The F-4C was the most powerful fighter that Spain has had until the arrival of the Eurofighter, which has a brutal thrust of 89.9 kN with afterburner (the F404-GE-400 engines of the EF- 18 give a thrust of 71.2 kN with afterburner).

The collection of historical aircraft of the 12th Wing at Torrejón Air Base. We see the F-4C C.12-19 in the foreground. Behind him is the F-104G C.8-12, and finally we see the RF-4C CR.12-55 (Photo: Ejército del Aire).

The F-4C were retired from service in 1989, after 28 years of service, being replaced by the more modern EF-18A Hornet, which has now been in service for 38 years. In turn, the RF-4C were decommissioned in 2002. Between both models they totaled 55,000 flight hours in some 36,200 sorties. To replace the RF-4C, reconnaissance nacelles for the EF-18 were acquired. Today, the 12th Wing preserves two Phantom IIs in its collection of historic aircraft, which also includes the F-104G that we saw here a few weeks ago.

Former F-4Cs of the 12th Wing used today as targets at the Bardenas Shooting Range (Photo: Ejército del Aire).

Those two Phantom IIs, an F-4C (the C.12-19, 12-15, cn 1257) and an RF-4C (the CR.12-55, 12-64, cn 1217), they are very lucky, since other F-4Cs were destined for a much sadder end: serving as targets at the Bardenas Shooting Range, in Navarra. You can see below some captures from the latest Fly By Wire Aviation video, with some details of the aircraft preserved in Torrejón.

This is the F-4C C.12-19. A significant feature of this Phantom II variant is that it lacked a cannon integrated into its fuselage, a consequence of the doctrine imposed on the USAF at the beginning of the Cold War, based on the belief that there would no longer be low-level aerial combat and everything would depend on air-to-air missiles. That doctrine caused serious havoc among American pilots in Vietnam, so McDonnell Douglas ended up manufacturing a variant of the Phantom II, the F-4E, with an M61 Vulcan rotary cannon installed in its nose. In the case of the Spanish F-4Cs, they carried a nacelle with an external M61 Vulcan. In the Torrejón Air Base museum you can see one of these gondolas.

The F-4C arrived in Spain with the camouflage paint then used by USAF fighters, consisting of brown and two shades of green, with the lower part of the plane white. It was a really nice painting. In this photo we see that Torrejón's F-4C still has AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range air-to-air missiles, placed on the fuselage supports. This model of missile is no longer used by the Air Force.

In this photo of the RF-4C we can see several curiosities. One of them is its paint.In the 1980s, the USAF adopted a scheme of various shades of gray for its Phantom IIs, a copy of that used by the F-16. The Spanish RF-4C adopted the same scheme. The scheme we see here is not that, but another one that is more uniform and similar to the one used by the Spanish F-104G. On the other hand, this RF-4C retains its AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles (two on each wing). These missiles offered this aircraft a defensive capability in its reconnaissance missions.

Finally, we can see the refueling probe installed on the starboard air intake. The F-4C and RF-4C used the USAF boom refueling system. In 1972, Spain received from the USAF three Boeing KC-97L Stratotanker tanker planes (one of them, the TK.1-3, is in the Cuatro Vientos Air Museum), which were part of the 123 Squadron. They were active for a very short time (they were retired from service in March 1976). The probe we see was installed to be able to refuel the RF-4C with the tanker planes used since then by Spain, the KC-130, which had the hose and probe system.

In this last photo of the RF-4C we see a characteristic of all F-4 Phaton IIs: its arresting hook, located between the nozzles of its J79 engines and used by the naval versions to be able to grab the arresting cables of the US and UK aircraft carriers. These hooks could also be used on dry land runways that had stop cables in case of emergencies.

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