Hellenic Air Force

The Hellenic Air Force is the air force of Greece with Hellenic being the synonym for Greek in the Greek language. During the period of monarchy between 1935–1973 the force was known as the Royal Hellenic Air Force .
The Hellenic Air Force is one of the three branches of the Hellenic Armed Forces and its mission is to guard and protect Greek airspace, provide air assistance and support to the Hellenic Army and the Hellenic Navy, as well as the provision of humanitarian aid in Greece and around the world. The Hellenic Air Force includes approximately 33,000 active troops, of whom 11,750 are career officers, 14,000 are professional conscripts, 7,250 are volunteer conscripts and 1,100 are women. The motto of the Hellenic Air Force is the ancient Greek phrase Αἰὲν Ὑψικρατεῖν, and the HAF ensign represents a flying eagle in front of the Hellenic Air Force roundel.



In 1911, the Greek Government appointed French specialists to form the Hellenic Aviation Service. Six Greek officers were sent to France for training, while the first four Farman type aircraft were ordered. All six graduated from the Farman school in Étampes near Paris, but only four subsequently served in aviation. The first Greek civilian aviator that was given military rank was Emmanuel Argyropoulos, who flew in a Nieuport IV.G. "Alkyon" aircraft, on February 8, 1912. The first military flight was made on May 13, 1912 by Lieutenant Dimitrios Kamberos. In June, Kamberos flew with the "Daedalus", a Farman Aviation Works aircraft that had been converted into a seaplane, setting a new average speed world record at. In September of the same year the Greek Army fielded its first squadron, the "Aviators Company".

Balkan Wars and aftermath (1912–1930)

On October 5, 1912, Kamberos flew the first combat mission, a reconnaissance flight over Thessaly. This was on the first day of the Balkan wars. On the same day a similar mission was flown by German mercenaries in Ottoman service, over the Thrace front against the Bulgarian Army. The Greek and the Ottoman missions, coincidentally flown on the same day, were the first military aviation missions in the history of conventional war. As a matter of fact, all Balkan countries used military aircraft and foreign mercenaries during the Balkan Wars.
January 24, 1913 saw the first naval co-operation mission in history, which took place over the Dardanelles. Aided by the Royal Hellenic Navy destroyer RHNS, 1st Lieutenant Michael Moutoussis and Ensign Aristeidis Moraitinis flew the Farman hydroplane and drew up a diagram of the positions of the Turkish fleet, against which they dropped four bombs. This was not the first air-to-ground attack in military history, as there was a precedent in the Turkish-Italian war of 1911, but the first recorded attack against ships from the air.
Initially, the Hellenic Army and the Royal Hellenic Navy operated separate Army Aviation and Naval Aviation units. During the Balkan Wars, various French Henry and Maurice Farman aircraft types were used. The Hellenic Naval Air Service was officially founded in 1914 by the then Commander in Chief of the Royal Hellenic Navy, British Admiral Mark Kerr. Greek aviation units participated in World War I and the Asia Minor Campaign, equipped by the Allies with a variety of French and British designs.

Foundation, World War II and Civil War (1930–1950)

In 1930 the Aviation Ministry was founded, establishing the Air Force as the third branch of the Hellenic Armed Forces. The Hellenic Army Air Service and Hellenic Naval Air Service were merged into a single service, the Royal Hellenic Air Force. In 1931 the Hellenic Air Force Academy, the Icarus School, was founded.
In 1939, an order for 24 Marcel Bloch MB.151 fighter aircraft was placed, but only 9 of the aircraft reached Greece, since the outbreak of World War II prevented the French from completing the order. The aircraft entered service in the 24th Pursuit Squadron of the Air Force.
During the Italian invasion of Greece in the Second World War, although being severely outnumbered and counting only 79 aircraft against 380 fighters and bombers of the Italian Regia Aeronautica, RHAF managed to successfully resist the assault. On October 30, two days after the start of the war, there was the first air battle. Some Henschel Hs126s of 3/2 Flight of 3 Observation Mira took off to locate Italian Army columns. But they were intercepted and attacked by Fiat CR.42s of 393a Squadriglia. A first Henschel was hit and crashed, killing its observer, Pilot Officer Evanghelos Giannaris, the first Greek aviator to die in the war. A second Hs 126 was downed over Mount Smolikas, killing Pilot Officer Lazaros Papamichail and Sergeant Constantine Yemenetzis. On November 2, 1940, a Breguet 19 intercepted the 3 Alpine Division Julia while it was penetrating the Pindos mountain range in an attempt to occupy Metsovo. On the same day, 2nd Lieutenant Marinos Mitralexis having run out of ammunition, aimed the nose of his PZL P.24 right into the tail of an enemy Cant Z1007bis bomber, smashing the rudder and sending the aircraft out of control.
After 65 days of war the RHAF had lost 31 officers, 7 wounded, plus 4 NCOs killed and 5 wounded. Meanwhile, the number of combat aircraft had dropped to 28 fighters and 7 battleworthy bombers. Still by March 1941, the Italian invasion on air and ground had been successfully pushed back, aided by the vital contribution of the RHAF to the Greek victory. During the Greco-Italian War the Hellenic Air Force shot down 68 enemy aircraft and claimed another 24. The British RAF claimed 150 additional air victories against Italian aircraft. However surprisingly, the Italian Air Force recorded only 65 aircraft lost, during the entire campaign against the Greeks and later the British, with 495 additional aircraft reported as damaged.
In April 1941, the German Wehrmacht invaded Greece in order to assist the Italian assault. During this second wave of foreign invasion, the Luftwaffe eventually succeeded in destroying almost the entire Hellenic Air Force. However, some aircraft managed to escape to the Middle East, including 5 Avro Anson, 1 Dornier Do 22 and 3 Avro 626.
During the German occupation of Greece, the Air Force was rebuilt under the expatriated Greek Air Force Ministry based in Cairo. Three squadrons were built, operating under the command of the British RAF. These squadrons were the 13th Light Bombing Squadron flying Avro Ansons, Bristol Blenheims and Martin Baltimores and the 335 and 336 Fighting Squadrons flying Hawker Hurricane I and IIs and Spitfire V types. The RHAF squadrons in the Middle East flew a variety of missions, including convoy patrols, antisubmarine search, offensive patrols, reconnaissance, attack and interception of enemy aircraft. In Summer 1943, the Greek squadrons participated in the attack against the German Wehrmacht on the island of Crete and then from May to November 1944 in Italy. During those years, 70 Greek pilots were lost.
During World War II Greek pilots who were flying with the RAF achieved many victories. Rhodesian-born Wing Commander John Agorastos Plagis shot down 16 enemy aircraft over Malta and Western Europe. Lieutenant Vasilios Michael Vassiliadis was credited with 11.5 enemy aircraft over Western Europe before he was killed in action on March 15, 1945 over Germany. Steve Pisanos, an immigrant to the US in 1938, joined an Eagle Squadron of American volunteers in the RAF and fought over Western Europe. He later joined the USAAF and acquired US citizenship and continued to fly with the same squadron, now part of the USAF 4th FG. He had achieved 10 victories with the USAAF by 1944.
After Greece's liberation in 1944, RHAF returned to Greece and subsequently played a decisive role in the Greek Civil War, which lasted until 1950. By then, it was re-equipped with Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, Spitfire Mk XVI fighters and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver bombers.

Post-war developments (1950–1970)

After the end of the Greek Civil War in November 1950, Greece sent 7 Douglas C-47 Dakota transport aircraft of the 13th Transport Aircraft Squadron to South Korea to assist the United Nations. Greek aircraft operated in Korea until May 1955. Greek pilots flew thousands of missions including air evacuations, personnel transport, intelligence gathering, and supply flights. In 1952 Greece joined NATO and the Air Force was rebuilt and organized according to NATO standards. New aircraft, including jets, were introduced.
The first jet fighter flown by the RHAF was the Republic F-84G Thunderjet in 1955. It was also flown by the first Air Force aerobatic team 337 SQ “Hellenic Flame”. The RF-84F entered service with the 348 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron in 1956. Although the F-84G was replaced by the Canadair Sabre 2 in 1954 and 1955 after 100 units were retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force and upgraded in the United Kingdom before entering service with the RHAF, the RF-84F remained in service until 1991. The Lockheed T-33 was also delivered as a trainer in 1955. Some RT-33s were used for reconnaissance missions.
In the late 1960s, the RHAF acquired new jet aircraft. These included the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter and the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter. The F-104 and F-5 stayed in service until the mid- to late 1980s.
In the mid-1970s the Hellenic Air Force was further modernized with deliveries of the Dassault Mirage F1CG fleet, the Vought A-7 Corsair II and the first batch of McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs.
In 1993, the United States Air Force delivered 62 additional A-7Es and TA-7Cs increasing further the air-to-ground capabilities of the HAF. These aircraft remained in service until 2011.

Modernization (1980–1997)

Until the late 1980s the Air Force deployed missiles armed with U.S. nuclear warheads using the LTV TA-7C Corsair II. As a result of Greco-Turkish tension around the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the U.S. removed its nuclear weapons from Greek and Turkish alert units to storage. Greece saw this as another pro-Turkish move by NATO and withdrew its forces from NATO's military command structure from 1974 to 1980.
In March 1985 the Greek government announced the purchase of 34 F-16C and 6 F-16D Block 30 variant in the “Peace Xenia I” modernisation program. In the same month Greece ordered 36 single-seat Mirage 2000EG and 4 two-seat Mirage 2000BG, as part of the “Talos” modernization program.
Subsequently, in 1989, the first fourth-generation fighters were introduced, marking the beginning of a new era: the first Mirage 2000 EG/BG aircraft were delivered to the 114 Combat Wing in Tanagra airforce base and equipped the 331 and 332 squadrons. In January 1989 the first F-16C/D Block 30 arrived in 111 combat wing in Nea Anchialos airforce base and were allocated to the 330 "Thunder" and 346 "Jason" interceptor squadrons in Larissa airforce base.
On March 29, 1991, the RF-84F were retired from service after 34 years and 7 months of operational life. In November 1992 more RF-4Es were delivered to the 348 "Eyes" Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron.
In 1993 the “Peace Xenia II” modernisation program began. Greece ordered 32 F-16C and 8 F-16D, Block 50 variant. The first Block 50 was delivered on July 25, 1997. These aircraft, equipped with the LANTIRN navigation and targeting pod as well as AIM-120 AMRAAM and AGM-88 HARM missiles, were allocated to the 341 "Arrow" and 347 "Perseus" squadrons in Nea Anchialos airforce base. The basic mission of 341 "Arrow" squadron is Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses. The role of 347 "Perseus" squadron is air-to-ground missions.

Entering the 21st century (1998–2007)

In 1998 Greece decided, in collaboration with the German Aerospace Industry and the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, to upgrade 39 F-4E Phantom II fighters. The first aircraft was delivered at Andravida Air Base in December 2002. This aircraft, which was named "Princess of Andravida", was unique because it did not have the M61 Vulcan gun installed. All upgraded F-4s were equipped with the new AN/APQ-65YG radar similar to that of the F/A-18 Hornet, a new onboard Mission Control Computer, a Head Up Display, the IFF Interrogator, Multi Function Displays and were also capable of carrying a variety of advanced Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground missiles. These included the AIM-120 AMRAAM, the AIM-9M missile, the AFDS and the entire family of the Paveway laser-guided bombs.
These aircraft were the F-4E Peace Icarus 2000 or F-4E Phantom II AUP variants. Although gradual retirement of F-4 units started in 2017 with view of replacing them with additional new F-16s, as of today these aircraft are still operational in multi-role missions with the 338 Squadron ”Ares” and the 339 Squadron "Ajax” based in Andravida Air Force Base. Recently, according to 338 Squadron "Ares" crews, the F-4E Phantom II PI2000 has been certified for use of GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided bombs, making the aircraft an excellent and modern platform for precision strikes.
In 2000, Greece decided to purchase a large number of fighters to replace the remaining non-upgraded F-4E Phantoms, a number of A-7 Corsairs, and the fleet of Mirage F1CGs. An order for 60 F-16 Block 52 Plus was placed. The order was for 50 single-seaters of the C version and 10 two-seaters of the D version.
Until 2001 Greece participated in NATO's "nuclear weapons sharing", using the A-7 Corsair II to deploy tactical B61 nuclear warheads from Araxos Air Force Base. Greece then strategically decided to remove all nuclear weapons under storage in Greece and did not purchase any more aircraft with nuclear mounting capabilities.
In September 2004, Greece also decided to upgrade all of its existing Mirage 2000 to the Mirage 2000-5F Mark 2 standard and place an additional order for 15 new Mirage 2000-5Mk2 aircraft. The project was undertaken by Dassault Aviation and the Hellenic Aerospace Industry. The Mirage 2000-5Mk2 has a new and more powerful radar, improved long range Air-to-Ground capabilities which includes the SCALP EG Cruise Missile, a new Self-Protection System, a new Inertial Navigation System, a Glass Cockpit and the addition of air refuelling capability.
Eventually In 2005, HAF was officially the first air force in the world to add the F-16 Block 52 Plus to its inventory, since the first aircraft were delivered. This advanced F-16 type is an improved version of the Block 50 featuring a more powerful radar, Conformal Fuel Tanks for longer operational range, advanced communication systems, an upgraded engine, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System and is capable of carrying more advanced weapons including the IRIS-T Air To Air missile. Three squadrons are operating with this type of F-16. These squadrons are the 337 Squadron "Ghost" in Larissa air base, the 340 Squadron "Fox" and the 343 Squadron "Star" in Souda air base.
In 2007, the Greek government ordered an additional 30 F-16 fighters, 20 single seaters and 10 double seaters. However this time, the aircraft variant was the F-16C/D Block 52+ Advanced, that had been specifically modified for the Hellenic Air Force and offered as F-16 52M by Lockheed Martin, due to the improved computing power of the onboard mission computer. The difference between the Block 52+ and the Block 52+ Advanced, is the LINK 16 Communications System of the Advanced version, as well as a more powerful Mission Control Computer, an extra Multi Function Display with a movable map navigation, advanced Debriefing System and the capability to carry the RECCE Reconnaissance Pod. The first aircraft were delivered in May 2009 and fly with the 335 Squadron "Tiger" in Araxos air base.

Recent years and future plans

Due to the retirement and obsolescence of units that have ended their operational cycle, the HAF was looking forward to acquiring new 4th, 4.5th or 5th generation fighters and at the same time maintain a total number of 300 advanced fighters, according to the Supreme Air Force Council "2007–2012 operational planning" study which was published in 2007. Candidates for the new generation aircraft were the Dassault Rafale, F-35 Lightning II, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, MiG-35 and the Sukhoi Su-35.
During the Greek economic crisis, budget cuts forced HAF to ground many of its F-16s due to lack of spare parts and maintenance. Eventually in 2015, Greece requested from the U.S. Government to provide spare parts in support of its F-16, F/RF-4E, C-130H/B, C-27J, T-6A/C, and other aircraft with systems/subsystems of U.S. origin. The estimated cost of this order was $160 million. In addition, past budget cuts, although did not have any significant impact on HAF capabilities, delayed some long-awaited programs for the future. The HAF modernization program estimated in 2007 that a purchase of 45 advance training aircraft, 15 SAR helicopters and 40–60 new fighters was necessary. Some of these programs have either been cancelled or delayed.
To fill the gap, HAF has dedicated resources for the upgrade of the fleet of its existing Mirage 2000 and F-16 fighters. As of 2018, Lockheed Martin has been contracted to upgrade 84 F-16C/D Block 52+ and Block 52+ Advanced to the latest F-16V Block 70/72 standard, bringing capabilities to the fleet only available in 5th generation fighters such as the F-35 Lightning II. This upgrade has also been considered by HAF as an essential first step for future compatibility with the F-35 fighter, in case Greece eventually decides this purchase. While HAF's earlier F-16C/D Block 30 and Block 50 aircraft are not included in the upgrade, they are expected to receive equipment donated from the upgraded platforms. The upgrade program is scheduled to be completed by 2027.
In July 2016 the upgrade of 6 stored Lockheed P-3B Orion naval support aircraft started, extending the lifetime of 4 airframes to at least 2025. The first upgraded aircraft was delivered in May 2019 and was assigned, as with all other 3 upgrades, to the Navy Aviation Command of the Hellenic Navy, therefore no longer under the command of the Hellenic Air Force.
In April 2019, new developments suggested that, as part of the selection process for the new HAF advanced fighter, Greece was indeed considering the Lockheed Martin F-35 as a replacement of its older F-16 Block 30s or F-4 Phantoms and as complementary to the F-16V upgrade program, but the acquisition of the new aircraft would depend on the country's fiscal plans and Washington's ability to offer a long-term payment framework. At the same time, the US Pentagon confirmed Greece as one of 5 countries to be considered as potential new customers. In January 2020, Greece formally expressed interest in acquiring the F-35 and participating in the F-35 program, following a visit by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the White House. A figure of 20 aircraft was floated, to be acquired no earlier than 2024, following successful completion of the upgrading of the Greek F-16 fleet.

Politics and political involvement

According to the Greek Constitution and the Hellenic Armed Forces Doctrine after 1974, the armed forces of Greece are required by law to remain politically neutral at all times. In its early years however, the Air Force was considered politically right-wing and royalist. Nevertheless, its officer corps proved to be the most politically left-wing of the Armed Forces. During the Greek Civil War, the officers of the Greek Army denounced their Air Force counterparts as "leftists" and "communists" and considered them disloyal and unreliable.
During the Coup of the Colonels the Air Force aided King Constantine II in his failed countercoup of December 1967 and many leading Air Force senior officers were tortured by the ESA men of Dimitrios Ioannidis. The only Air Force officer that had a significant role in the dictatorial regime was Antonis Skarmaliorakis.
After Andreas Papandreou and his Panhellenic Socialist Movement rose to power in 1981, ending a long conservative dominance in Greek politics, Air Force officers were proven to be among Papandreou's most enthusiastic supporters in the Armed Forces. Prime Minister Papandreou returned the “favor” and in 1984 he made an Air Force Marshal, Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff making this the first time someone from the Air Force rose to occupy this position.
In international politics, the antagonism between Greece and Turkey has made it imperative for HAF to maintain quantitative and qualitative balance. For years, more frequently than not, HAF and TAF pilots have engaged in mock dogfights over the Aegean sea. Due to Greece's previous economic problems it became less likely for HAF to purchase additional advanced fighters as originally planned. Therefore, this could have affected the balance of air power in the eastern Mediterranean region. This scenario has, so far, been prevented by negative developments in Turkey’s F-35 program in 2019, rise of diplomatic tensions in Turkey-US bilateral relations during the same period and at the same time, the decision of Greece to direct funds towards the further upgrade of its existing F-16 and Mirage 2000 fleet.
Due to the existence of the ‘’Joint Defence Doctrine’’ between Greece and Cyprus HAF is also responsible for the defence of Cypriot airspace, as Cyprus has no air force of its own. HAF aircraft have to be able to reach the island and remain over Cypriot airspace for prolonged periods of time and possibly under combat conditions. The distance between the nearest Greek air base on the island of Crete and Cyprus is about 700 km. Furthermore, the Air Force seeks to have the ability to strike at distances of more than 1,000 km from its bases.



Commissioned officers



According to Hellenic Ministry of National Defence the HAF operates a total of 400+ aircraft of all types. Following the retirement of the A-7 Corsair and RF-4E Phantom II fleet, HAF currently operates 230 fighters, 193 of which are fourth-generation aircraft. Numbers in service are drawn from references and are valid as of 2019.

Current inventory

Previous notable aircraft operated were the Supermarine Spitfire, F-86 Sabres, Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Grumman HU-16 Albatross, Sikorsky H-19, Bell 47, Dassault Mirage F1, Lockheed T-33, Republic F-84F, Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, Northrop F-5, A-7 Corsair II, and the RF-4E

Weapons inventory


This list includes only some notable aircraft that have been flown by the Hellenic Air Force over the years. Many can be viewed as part of the Hellenic Air Force Museum display in Acharnes, Athens.
AircraftTypes flownYears in ServiceNotes
Henry Farman IIIHF20, HF22, HF271912–1917
Airco DH.4DH.41918–19225 BHP Puma powered aircraft operated
Airco DH.9DH.91918–193242 received in 1918–1920
Airco DH.6DH.61918Trainer – 1 delivered to Naval air wing at end of WWI
Bristol F2 FighterF2B MkIV, Type 81A "Greek Version"1923–1939
Hanriot HD-4141H1935–1941
PZL P-24P.24F/G1936–1941
North American T-6T-6G Harvard1946–1969
Curtiss HelldiverSB2C-51946–1949Part of US assistance during the last days of WWII
Supermarine SpitfireMk VB/VC, MkIX LF/HF, MkXVI1947–1953One has been restored to flyable condition and serves as the only flyable Spitfire outside the UK.
Lockheed T-33 Shooting StarT-33A, RT-33A, CT-133 Silver Star1951–2000
Douglas C-47 SkytrainC-47B DakotaUnknown–1991No official records of entering service
F-86E SabresF-86D Sabre Dog, F-86E Sabre1954–1965120 used Canadair CL-13 Mk4 acquired from RAF and converted by North American to F-86E; 35 F-86D Sabre Dogs
Republic F-84F-84F, F-84G, RF-84F1957–1983Operated 234 Republic F-84G from March 1952 until June 1960
Lockheed F-104 StarfighterF-104G, TF-104, RF-104G1964–1993Approximately 146 aircraft
Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter F-5A/B, NF-5A/B1965–2001Acquired approximately 94 aircraft from 1965 to 1991
Grumman HU-16 AlbatrossHU-16B 1969–1997
Convair F-102 Delta DaggerF-102A, TF-102A1970–197724 units acquired in 1969
Dassault-Breguet Mirage F1F.1CG1974–2003Acquired 40 F1/CG
LTV A-7 Corsair IIA-7E/H1975–201460 A-7Hs and 5 TA-7Hs and later 50 A-7Es and 18 TA-7Cs
RF-4 Phantom IIRF-4E1975–201735 aircraft; 6 original units and 29 ex-Luftwaffe acquired in 1993. All upgraded in 2000 and fleet gradually being withdrawn since 2017. However all but one, still operational as of 2019.

Aircraft markings and camouflage

The primary camouflage scheme utilized by the Hellenic Air Force is the Aegean Ghost scheme. This is modified slightly for each aircraft type but is standard for all combat and transport aircraft in the inventory. Some training, search-and-rescue, and firefighting aircraft are colored partially or completely in high-visibility colors for identification and easier location in case of an accident. The air force also frequently uses colorful commemorative schemes to mark anniversaries and other special occasions or for display purposes. National markings are applied to all aircraft, with the national roundel consisting of concentric blue, white, and blue rings displayed on the fuselage sides and wing surfaces and a tricolor fin flash of similar blue, white, and blue horizontal stripes on the rudder. The words Πολεμική Αεροπορία are applied to the fuselage as well, although this is less common in current schemes. Aircraft in Aegean Ghost scheme may have low visibility markings applied in which blue is replaced by dark grey and white by light grey.
Originally, many aircraft in service retained the basic color scheme they were acquired in. Prior to World War II, combat aircraft were given a green and brown top scheme with white or sky blue underside, similar to the Royal Air Force. After the war, jet fighter aircraft such as the Sabre and Starfighter would serve in a polished metal scheme. Later, most aircraft received green and brown camouflage again, consistent with the United States Air Force's South East Asia scheme, referred to as Vietnam camouflage in Greece. A-7 Corsair IIs would be some of the last aircraft to fly with this scheme, retaining it until their retirement, long after all-over grey schemes had become the normal application for Greek aircraft. C-130 Hercules transports which used South East Asia early in their careers were repainted in an overall grey theme.

Aircraft accidents and incidents

The worst accident in the history of the Hellenic Air Force occurred on February 5, 1991 when Lockheed C-130H Hercules s/n 748 crashed into Mount Othrys during the landing approach to Nea Anchialos. Sixty-three people were killed.