Jagdgeschwader 71 Richthofen
Words and photography Michael van der Mee, additional photographs Nico van Remmerden, video Jan Loedeman.
On February 25 Touchdown Aviation were guests at JG 71 Richthofen stationed at Wittmund airbase, Ost-Friesland in Germany. The wing is the last F-4 operator in the German Air Force and continues to operate this legend until 2014 when it will be fully transitioned to the EF2000 Typhoon.
The history of JG 71 goes back to the First World War and one of the world most famous pilots; the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, flying a red Fokker DR1.
The today’s role of the unit is air defense and next to that it provides in house training for the few new pilots that arrive at the unit every year. This role previously was performed by the US Holloman AFB based training unit and later by Fluglehrzentrum F-4F based at Hopsten, but that has been disbanded end 2005 as the F-4 was getting in the twilight of its career.
As the Jagdgeschwader 73 transferred to the EF2000 Typhoon last year, the unit has an historical high number of F-4Fs. With currently 56 examples on strength, the base is overcrowded with F-4s and due to space limitations some of them are in the open as all shelters and hangars are full.
For the air defense role the unit has four F-4s on standby with two at 15 minutes readiness and 2 other as spares on a one hour standby. With the integration of the AN/APG-65 and the AIM-120 AMRAAM in the early 90ies the F-4F is still is a potent and dangerous opponent. Surprisingly, the F-4F was never equipped with an enemy IFF-interrogator. That means the crew has no means to properly identify potential opponents operating outside the visual range.
With the introduction of the EF2000 from 2012 onwards and with major reconstruction of the airbase the unit stands for major changes in the coming few years. Where the professionalism and operational commitments cannot be compromised and flying with two different types for 2 or 3 years the unit has a challenging future ahead!
The author would like to thank Oberst Christian Badia, the Wing´s commanding officer for his hospitality, Oberstleutnant commanding officer of 711 Staffel for his tour around the airbase and Hauptgefreiter Patrick Hetzer, the PRO for the preparations of our visit.