Phantom with Spain

Last revised May 8, 2004

Between October 1971 and September 1972, Spain's Ejercito del Aire (EdA) acquired an initial batch of 36 ex-USAF F-4C Phantoms through the Mutual Defense Aid Program as replacements for the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter and the North American F-86F Sabre in front-line air defense fighter units. The program was known as Peace Alfa.

The F-4Cs were designated C.12 in EdA service, the C standing for fighter (Caza) and the 12 indicating that the Phantom was the 12th fighter type to enter service since the Civil War. They were serialed C.12-01 thru C.12-36.

Ala 12 (12th Wing) based at Torrejon was formed to operate the Phantom. There were two squadrons, Escuadrones 121 and 122. In support of Phantom operations, the EdA acquired three Boeing KC-97L midair refuelling tankers. These were operated for four years until replaced by KC-130H tankers.

In October 1978, the EdA acquired four more ex-USAF F-4Cs as attrition replacements under Peace Alfa II, serial numbers C.12-37 through -40 being assigned. At the same time, four ex-USAF RF-4Cs unarmed reconnaissance aircraft were acquired. The RF-4Cs were known as CR.12 in EdA service, with serials CR.12-41 thru CR.12-44 being assigned.

The Spanish F-4C Phantoms were replaced by McDonnell Douglas EF-18A/B Hornets in the late 1980s, the last F-4C being withdrawn from front-line EdA service in April of 1989. Seven were lost in accidents.

The Phantom had been out of front-line service with the EdA for nearly ten years when eight ex-USAF RF-4Cs taken from the 123rd TRW, Kentucky ANG were delivered to Spain in 1989 to form a new 123 Escuadron within Ala 12 at Torrejon. These planes were acquired to fill in the void until the Spanish Hornets can be fitted with a reconnaissance pod. These RF-4Cs differed from the first batch of four RF-4Cs in being equipped with new radios, new radar warning equipment, new VOR/ILS equipment and KS-86 cameras. They were powered by smokeless J79-GE-15E engines. They have been fitted with several upgrades while in service, including AN/APQ-172 terrain-following radar, new ECM systems, a laser ring inertial naviation system, and midair refuelling probes permanently plumbed into the dorsal refuelling probe receptacle. They were assigned the serial numbers CR.12-45 to -52.

To support the new batch of RF-4Es, a single RF-4C from the first batch (CR.12-42) was retained. Also retained were six F-4Cs from the original batch (C.12-09, -10, -14, -19, -37, and -20) for service as target tugs and weapons test platforms. The last of these was finally retired in 1990.

Six more ex-USAF RF-4Cs (EdA CR.12-53 to -58) were delivered in October 1995. These replaced the EdA's first batch of RF-4Cs. These planes were provided with Have Quick digital UHF/VHF communication radios, Itek AN/ARL-46 radar warning receivers, Tracor AN/ALE-40 chaff/flare dispensiers, plus the ability to carry and launch up to four AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles. In late 1996, a series of upgrades of these aircraft was begun, which included the replacement of the APQ-99 terrain-following radar by the Texas Instruments AN/APQ-172 radar, a ring laser-gyro INS, plus the addition of an Israeli-built inflight refuelling probe (although the original USAF refueling system is still installed).

It had originally planned that the RF-4C would continue in service with the Ejercito del Aire until at least 2010. However, the last RF-4C was retired from the EdA at Torrejon Air Base on October 18, 2002. This retirement also marked the disbandment of Escuadron 123 de Reconocimiento Fotografico. The decision to retire the Phantom early was taken after signs of corrosion were spotted in the hydraulic pipes of some airframes. The RF-4C will be replaced by the EF-18s of Escuadron 121.

The following is a list of the USAF serials of the Phantoms that were transferred to Spain, along with their equivalent EdA serials.

64-738/817	McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom
 			0813 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-13 w/o 7/7/79)
64-818/881	McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom
			0820 to Spain in 1978 (EdA C.12-37)
 			0846 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-12)
			0850 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-14)
 			0853 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-17)
 			0854 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-18)
 			0855 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-20)
 			0856 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-32)
 			0857 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-21, w/o 10/14/77)
 			0858 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-29)
 			0859 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-31)
 			0861 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-26)
 			0862 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-27)
			0864 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-36)
 			0866 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-15)
 			0867 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-09)
 			0868 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-16)
 			0870 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-35, w/o 4/25/83)
 			0871 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-11)
 			0872 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-19)
 			0877 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-23)
 			0878 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-30)
 			0880 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-28) 
 			0881 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-25, w/o 2/14/75)
64-882/928	McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom
			0882 to Spain in 1978 (EdA C.12-38)
 			0884 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-01)
 			0886 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-06, w/o 2/7/85)
 			0887 to Spain in 1971 (EdA C.12-33)
			0892 to Spain in 1978 (EdA C.12-39)
 			0894 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-24, w/o 5/4/84)
 			0895 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-10)
			0896 to Spain in 1978 (EdA C.12-40)
 			0900 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-02)
 			0903 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-03)
 			0906 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-05, w/o)
 			0907 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-34)
 			0909 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-04)
 			0920 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-07)
 			0924 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-22)
 			0925 to Spain in 1971  (EdA C.12-08)
64-997/1017	McDonnell RF-4C-20-MC Phantom
			1006 to Spain in 1995  (EdA C.12-53)
64-1038/1061	McDonnell RF-4C-22-MC Phantom
			1039 to Spain in 1995  (EdA CR.12-54)
64-1062/1077	McDonnell RF-4C-23-MC Phantom
			1069 to Spain in 1989 (EdA CR.12-45)
			1070 to Spain in 1989 (EdA CR.12-46)
64-1078/1085	McDonnell RF-4C-24-MC Phantom
			1083 to Spain in 1989 (EdA CR.12-47)
65-818/838	McDonnell RF-4C-24-MC Phantom
			822 to Spain in 1989 (EdA CR.12-48)
			823 to Spain in 1995 (EdA CR.12-55)
			835 to Spain in 1989 (EdA CR.12-49)
65-839/864	McDonnell RF-4C-25-MC Phantom
			841 to Spain in 1989 (EdA CR.12-50)
			851 to Spain in 1989 (EdA CR.12-51)
			864 to Spain in 1995 (EdA CR.12-56)
65-865/901	McDonnell RF-4C-26-MC Phantom
			873 to Spain in 1989 (EdA CR.12-52)
			876 to Spain in 1995 (EdA CR.12-57)
			897 to Spain in 1995 (EdA CR.12-58)
65-933/945	McDonnell RF-4C-28-MC Phantom
			936 to Spain in 1978 (EdA CR.12-41)
			937 to Spain in 1978 (EdA CR.12-42)
			942 to Spain in 1978 (EdA CR.12-43)
			943 to Spain in 1978 (EdA CR.12-44)



  1. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  2. McDonnell F-4 Phantom: Spirit in the Skies. Airtime Publishing, 1992.

  3. E-mail from Ben Marselis

  4. Boeing/McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II Current Operations, World AirPower Journal, Volume 40, Spring 2000.

  5. Continental Europe News, Air Forces Monthly, December 2002.