2004, το περιοδικό CodeOne (vol.19 No.2) επισκέπτεται την 111 Πτέρυγα Μάχης.
Φωτογραφίες Katsuhiko Tokunaga, κείμενο Eric Hehs.
Keraunos, Greek for lightning, refers to the thunderbolts flung by Zeus, the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and overseer of the pantheon of gods who reside there. The Hellenic Air Force attaches the appellation to its 330 squadron at Nea Anchialos AB. The 330 Keraunos squadron proudly identifies itself as Greece's first F-16 squadron. The unit celebrated fifteen years in its fighting falcons in January 2004.
The 330th has three sister squadrons at Nea Anchialos, 346 Squadron (Jason, after the mythical Argonaut who searched for the Golden Fleece), 341 Squadron (Assos, Greek for Ace), and the 347 Squadron (Perseus, who cut the head off the Gorgon Medusa in Greek mythology). The 330th flies Block 30 F-16s and performs air defense missions. The 346th, an F-16 training unit, operates two-seat Block 30 F-16Ds borrowed from the 330th. The 341st flies Block 50 F-16s in the suppression of enemy air defense, or SEAD, role. All three squadrons fall under the 111 Wing of the Hellenic Air Force.
Greece has been a member of NATO since 1952 and has played an important role in defending NATO's southern flank. The 111th has a NATO commitment as well. The 341 Squadron is part of NATO's Rapid Reaction Force. Following NATO evaluations in 2005, all three operational squadrons at Nea Anchialos are expected to have NATO commitments.
Col. John Vizandios, who commands the 111 Wing, was one of the first F-16 pilots in the HAF. "I was fortunate to be in the initial team of six Greek pilots who received F-16 training in the United States in the late 1980s," he explains. "All six of us were on the runway here at Nea Anchialos in 1988 waiting for the first flight of F-16s to arrive." Vizandios is a former F-4 pilot. Other veteran HAF F-16 pilots have experience in the F-5, Mirage, and the F-104.
Nea Anchialos AB is located on the Adriatic coast just south of Volos, which is at about the midpoint between Athens to the south and Thessaloniki to the north, Greece's largest and second-largest cities, respectively. Nea Anchialos is in Greece's Pelion region, which is known as the land of the mythical Centaurs, creatures with a body half human and half horse. Today, the region is better known by tourists and locals for its beautiful combination of verdant mountains and clear blue sea. Nea Anchialos-based F-16 pilots are treated to stunning vistas from the best seat in the world.
The wing's diverse squadrons—flying SEAD, air-to-air, and air-to-ground missions—provide a unique training environment. "The 111th can create what amounts to a composite package with its own aircraft," notes Vizandios. "We don't need to ask for support or escort from other bases to provide realistic training. I expect that the Block 52+ squadrons being formed at Suda in Crete will have the same capability, but in a single F-16 type."
Col. Elias Venetis, the deputy base commander at Nea Anchialos, was also a member of the first six Greek pilots trained in the F-16. "When I was introduced to F-16, the biggest challenge was transitioning from a second-generation fighter, the F-5, to a third-generation fighter," Venetis recalls. "The F-16 was full of avionics and provided capabilities far beyond the F-5. Pilots transitioning to the F-16 had to change their way of thinking. Former F-5, F-4, and A-7 pilots had to forget old habits and learn new ones. This was the biggest challenge in training new F-16 pilots, which became the responsibility of our initial group of six. We did a good job. The HAF didn't have one accident or any major problems in these early stages of the program."
The HAF has added to and upgraded its F-16 fleet since the late 1980s. Beginning in 1996, Hellenic Aerospace Industry performed structural upgrades on its Block 30 fleet (purchased under the Peace Xenia I program). The upgrade, called Falcon-UP, prolongs the airframe lifetime from 4,000 hours to 8,000 hours. Peace Xenia II resulted in the purchase of the Block 50 F-16s now flying from two squadrons at Nea Anchialos.
Many of these HAF F-16s have been equipped with both LANTIRN and
Litening pods as well as advanced electronic warfare suites. Greece ordered fifty new Block 52+ F-16s in June 2000 and exercised an option for an additional ten in 2001. These advanced F-16s, the first production Fighting Falcons delivered with conformal fuel tanks, began arriving in Greece in late 2003. The last of the sixty Block 52+ aircraft are scheduled to arrive in Greece in August 2004.
"The two Block 52+ F-16 units being formed on Crete are pulling some of our more experienced F-16 pilots from the three squadrons at Nea Anchialos," explains Lt. Col. Ioannis Podiotis, the commander of the 330 Squadron. "As a squadron commander, I am continuously trying to replenish this lost experience. We concentrate on increasing the skills of our newest F-16 pilots in a safe environment. Nea Anchialos is an ideal location for this training. We have many places to fly both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. I'm satisfied with our F-16s. No, I love the F-16, especially the Block 30. I consider Block 30 as a perfect balance for air-to-air missions. It's a very capable platform."