The skies over the Korean peninsula echoed with a bittersweet melody last week as South Korea’s F-4 Phantom fighter jets roared through their final live-fire drills.

This poignant flyout, coinciding with the largest US-ROK Combined Air Training (KFT) exercise of the year, marked the official farewell to a legendary aircraft that served as the backbone of South Korean air defense for over five decades.

The F-4 Retires Alongside the Popeye Missiles

The F-4s, nicknamed “Goblins of the Sky” by South Korean pilots, weren’t just leaving the stage – they were performing a final act alongside the AGM-142 Popeye air-to-surface missiles.

These last training missions cemented the retirement of both aircraft and missiles, with a June 8th, 2024, ceremony planned to formally bid farewell to the F-4 era in South Korea.

It’s got a tremendous following of people,” remarked Chuck Watson, a curator for the Combat Air Museum, reflecting on the F-4’s unique design with a dedicated backseat crew member crucial for navigation and combat awareness.

Developed in the 1950s, the F-4 saw extensive service during the Vietnam War and was hailed as a powerful fighter in its early years.

South Korea acquired the F-4D variant in 1969, propelling it to the forefront of its air defense capabilities.

This formidable aircraft served as the nation’s primary fighter jet until the introduction of the license-built KF-16 in 1994.