Photocall 2009

Wittmundhafen, Germany

5 June 2009



It isn´t very often that a NATO flying unit celebrates its 50th anniversary in style these days. It is even less frequent that a sort of mini open day is being organised along with the anniversary. The German Luftwaffe´s Jagdgeschwader 71 "Richthofen"  hopefully set a trend last June 5 and 6 when the unit's anniversary party led to Wittmund air base's gates to be opened to aviation enthousiasts.



JG 71 "R" formed in 1959 on CL.13 Sabres, converted to F-104G Starfighters during 1964 and since 1974, a full 35 years, the unit has been flying the F-4F Phantom. Thus, the reason for the celebrations was two fold. Never without inspiration, the Germans designed a suitable colour scheme to adorn this F-4F 37+03. It carries the picture of the wing's namesake, Freiherr Manfred von Richthofen, on its fin.

Besides 37+03, many a Phantom could be found on base. Among them close to a dozen on the main runway which was closed for the occasion after arrival of the last guest aircraft invited for the weekend. Many Phantoms looked remarkably shabby following their return from participation in exercise Maple Flag in Cold Lake, Canada. However, the Phantom's days are finally numbered. The base undergoes extensive reconstruction for the introduction of the Eurofighter EF.2000, set to take over in 2012. To give a taste of things to come, A two seater EF.2000 from JG 73 "Steinhof" can be seen landing above centre. To the right, a Tornado in recce configuration from AG 51 "Immelmann" is seen touching down. 

Another Tornado, this time an Electronic Combat and Reconnaissance (ECR) configured aircraft from JBG 32 at Lechfeld, completed the Luftwaffe's tactical line-up. The Tornado is set to soldier on especially in the recce and ECR roles for some more years and may be on show during a future event.


Of course, there were a number of heavies to be seen. A German Navy Atlantic, said to be the last of its type flying, is seen on final approach. It is one of three ELINT configured machines that may be replaced with RQ-4 Global Hawk derivatives in a few years. Anyway, it sports another rendition of a wing's namesake, this time Graf Zeppelin. This name is born by MFG 3 from Nordholz which now mainly flies former Dutch Navy Orions. The C-160D Transall will remain the Luftwaffe's transport workhorse as long as the Airbus A.400M is still not ready. The pair was joined on its parking section on Wittmund's runway by this Hungarian Air Force Antonov An.26.


Germany's allies were on view with fighters as well. To the left, an enthousiastic Spanish Hornet pilot pulls his EF-18A in a steep climbing turn following an overshoot. It came in the company of the two seater shown centre. The Swiss Air Force have found their way to Wittmund for air combat exercises during recent years and paid a visit with the F/A-18D shown right.


Like the Germans, the Italians are true masters in aircraft decoration. The AMX shown left wears a camouflage scheme seen with the Regia Aeronautica, the Italian Air Force of the 1930's and early 1940's. The AMX-T two seater shown centre displays the usual state of affairs as far as AMX paint schemes go. Another Eastern European ally to join the celebrations was the Czech Air Force, which sent one of their pair of SAAB JAS-39D Gripen two seaters.


Remarkably, despite the types proliferation, this was the only F-16 to be seen. The aircraft, F-16AM FA-71, belongs to the Belgian Air Component's 2 Wing from Florennes. 

Finally, one of the last chances to view a Hungarian MiG.29 before this type disappears into oblivion. The Hungarian Air Force now finished the introduction of the MiG's successor, the Gripen. 

With a fine selection of aircraft, excellent viewing opportunities, no obtrusive barriers and especially some very nice weather with spotty clouds, Wittmund and the Luftwaffe provided the opportunity for a well spent day out.

Thanks go to all involved in organising this event.

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink