On Friday June the 7th 2024 the Republic of Korean Air Force (ROKAF) retired their very last F-4 Phantoms. During a decommissioning ceremony held at their last homebase Suwon South Korea flew the very last F-4’s after the Cold War Era fighter protected the nation for 55 years.


In total South Korea operated around 200 Phantoms in three different versions. The ROKAF received their first six F-4D’s at Daegu Air Base in the second half of 1969, being the fourth county to operate the Phantom back than. The first unit to operate the Phantom was the 151st Fighter Squadron, followed by 152nd, 153rd and the 159th all flying out of Daegu. In 1972 South Korea acquired another 18 F-4D’s from the US followed by more Phantoms in 1975 after the regional security situation deteriorated. A total of 92 F-4D’s found their way to Asia with the last ones being retired as late as 2010. The first, more advanced F-4E Pantoms arrived in September 1977, giving South Korea enhanced air-to air and air-to ground capabilities. A total of 94 F-4E’s where purchased by the ROKAF including aircraft 78-0744, the 5057th and very last build Phantom by McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. South Korea also operated the reconnaissance version of the Phantom, the RF-4. 12 ex USAF RF-4C were sent to South Korea in 1989/1990 followed by another 15 lateron. These flew with the 131st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron from Suwon till 2014.


The official decommissioning ceremony was held on Friday June the 7th at Suwon Air Base. Attendance were the Minister of National Defense, Mr. Shin Wok Sik, other military leaders but most important were all the current and former F-4 pilots, maintenance crews etc. who worked with the Phantoms. The ceremony included a remembrance part for the fallen ROKAF F-4 crews who lost their lives, the commendations and citations to former and current Phantom crews and a very last sortie flown by two F-4's. After returning to base the two Phantoms parked themselves in front of the stage with all the guests after which Defense Minister Shin hung congratulatory wreaths on the nose of one of the F-4's and wrote the a message on the nose saying “Beyond legend, into the future!” The ceremony also included commemorative flights by a range of modern fighter jets such as the F-16, KF-16, FA-50, RF-16, F-15K, and F-35A, symbolizing the transition of air defense duties to newer aircraft. These demonstrations underscored South Korea’s ongoing commitment to maintaining a robust and modern air force.

With the South Korea F-4 retirement the last words went to Phantom pilot Lt. Col. Kim Tae-hyung, the commander of the 153rd Fighter Squadron, 10th Fighter Wing: “As the last commander of the last Phantom Squadron, it was an honor to witness the Phantom’s final moments. Though its mission has concluded, the majesty that once overwhelmed the enemy and the thunderous engine roar that resonated through the earth will forever endure in the hearts of the ‘Phantom Men’. With unwavering pride as a Phantom pilot, I am committed to steadfastly defending the Republic of Korea. Phantom, Forever!”