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First RAAF Phantom pilot remembered

written by Isabella Richards | December 24, 2021

Air Force aviators form a guard of honour for Air Commodore (Ret’d) Lyall Klaffer at his funeral service in Adelaide. (Leading Aircraftman Sam Price)

The Royal Australian Air Force has this month honoured the life of its first pilot to fly the Phantom fighter aircraft with a funeral service in Adelaide.

Former fighter pilot Air Commodore Lyall Klaffer died on 20 November, at age 93, serving over three decades in the RAAF.

Klaffer was the first pilot to fly the McDonnel Douglas RF-4C Phantom fighter-bomber aircraft, which served as part of the RAAF fleet between 1970 and 1973.

He was also the first military pilot to accrue 1,000 hours on the RF-4C Phantom aircraft.

“Air Commodore Lyall Klaffer’s career reads like the script of a Hollywood movie,” said Senior Air Force Representative Group Captain Greg Weller at the funeral service, relaying a statement from Commander Air Combat Group Air Commodore Tim Alsop.


“With operational service in both Korea and Vietnam, including reconnaissance missions over Hanoi, he played a role in some of the most significant events in our nation’s recent history.

“It is upon shoulders such as these that the current Air Combat Group, and wider Air Force, now stand,” he added.

According to the RAAF, he is the only pilot to have flown over Hanoi during the Vietnam War, conducting a Phantom mission out of Thailand.

He was born in Prospect in South Australia in 1928 and enlisted in the Citizen Air Force in 1947.

He flew various types of aircraft and in 1949 survived a mid-air collision, which resulted in the loss of a fellow pilot, according to the RAAF.

“He had the rare distinction of flying three generations of fighter aircraft in operations: Mustangs in Korea, Vampires in Malta and Phantoms in Vietnam,” the RAAF said.

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Comments (4)

  • John Hogan


    Vale Lyall. Thank you for what you did on our behalves during that time in your life. They were weapons but I hope you also were able to enjoy aspects of those aircraft experiences.

  • robin


    The RAAF had F4 E aircraft

  • john McCormack


    A respected and well thought of RAAF Officer…he commanded respect in all that he did..he was his own man and as a younger officer I thought a lot of his achievements.

  • Steven Lane


    I had the great fortune to meet Lyall Klaffer a few years ago. He had published a fascinating account of his career in a book (self-published I think). It stretched all the way from the post WWII era through the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. To clarify he flew the RF-4C on exchange with the USAF and later the F-4E during its RAAF service.


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