2009 Articles

SEP 18 2009
NATO Tiger Meet 2009

Kleine Brogel based 31 Smaldeel set a new standard in their hosting of the annual NATO Tiger Meet with the first two week incarnation of the event. On Friday 18th September around 6,000 aviation enthusiasts attended the ‘Spottersday’ under clear blue skies and welcome warm sunshine. As in 2007 when the author also visited Kleine Brogel for the 20th anniversary OCU event, the opportunities to get up close with the participants were readily available, both statically and flying wise during the missions and special flypasts and displays were choreographed throughout the day. Easterly winds meant Runway 05 was in use and a dark, cloudless, starry sky heralded a crisp, clear and sunny morning which blossomed into a warm afternoon - weather that real life tigers would have been very at home in.

As in my previous visit of 2007 the queue to get in was going to be an ‘interesting’ proposition. Enthusiasts had been arriving through the night at a designated field for early bird ‘spotters’ and, as early as 6:00am, people were starting to take their places to be amongst the first to get in. On the whole organisation was pretty good and after taking our places in the queue at just past 07:00am the gates were opened promptly at 08:00am and within 30 minutes we were on base and beginning the day’s festivities.

The origins of the NATO Tiger Meet can be traced back to 1960 when it is reported that 74 Squadron of the Royal Air Force and the 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) of the United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE), came together for an event with an additional alcoholic beverage or two! In 1961 the French from EC01.012 became involved and the NATO Tiger Association was born. In 1962 at the event hosted at RAF Woodbridge, the aims of the association were formulated; the improvement of solidarity between NATO members; the creation and maintenance of team spirit and camaraderie between participating members; and the exchange of experiences and co-operation in terms of the military goals of NATO.

Today, the event encompasses a wide ranging spectrum of aerial scenarios which provide vital training for European forces including air to air missons, missions over military ranges, air to air refuelling, low level sorties and operating as part of a COMAO package.

Greeting the masses as they neared the flightline was F-104G Starfighter FX-52 which was a participant in the 1978 event at Kleine Brogel. The aircraft was the first from 31 Squadron to receive a full tiger scheme and has been restored in the colours worn during the 1978 Tiger Meet. It was transported in for this year’s event from Weeze Airport, Dusseldorf.

Early morning launches commenced around 09:30am and involved the so called ‘enemy’ red forces of Belgian F-16s from their home base, before a mass launch of the Tiger participants. One of the highlights of the day was the mass formation flypast by the special schemed aircraft, led by the host unit 31 Squadron. A nice touch on recovery was the taxiing of all the aircraft in front of the spectators, with complimentary waggling of airbrakes and folding wings if you’d got them!

The rotary element of the NATO Tigers took to the fore after the recovery of the first sortie of the day, the two Czech Republic Mi-24V Hinds being the most menacing sight. Also involved was an Italian Agusta AB-212AM and a pair of Belgian Agusta A-109s plus a Royal Navy Merlin, the sole contribution from the UK. The growing force of helicopters within the Tiger association is now so much that they are an integral part of the operations in areas such as Forward Air Controllers or in a Combat Search and Rescue role.

During the quiet lunch period Michel ‘Mitch’ Beulen flew his demonstration in the Belgian F-16 and further sorties were commenced by the locally based squadrons. Aircraft were also continuing to arrive for the nearby Sanicole Airshow to be held over the following weekend. The other European regular F-16 from the Netherlands also departed to Sanicole for a rehearsal flight. The afternoon then got going in similarly busy fashion to the morning, and by now temperatures were beginning to peak and the sun began to get less favourable for certain shots.

Depending on your taste in tiger liveries, there were a number of schemes which caught the eye and it was no surprise that the French contingent were particularly strong contenders for the best scheme on show. Rafale B, 304/118-EB from EC05.330 at Mont-de-Marsan followed on the tradition of striking Rafale colour schemes from last year’s event at Landivisiau with an overall tiger scheme complete with Tiger Woman tail-art! From the older generation of French fighters came Mirage 2000C 91/103-YR from EC01.012 at Cambrai, wearing a combination scheme of Tiger meets Terminator. This aircraft scooped the Silver Tiger Trophy.

The host unit opted for a more low-viz tiger scheme in the form of F-16AM Fighting Falcon FA-87, that was still very pleasing on the eye, particularly in sunshine. The Spanish Air Force adorned one of their Mirage F1s of Ala 14 with a tiger tail and fuel tanks, whilst Norway brought two tiger marked aircraft; the regular F-16BM 692 which has now attended the last three tiger meets and F-16AM 671 with, for me, the best tiger tail of the whole event. Taking the prize for the ‘Most Fancy Paint Scheme’ was Aufklarungsgeschwader 51 and their Tornado IDS 45+06, celebrating 50 years of RECCE operations.

The event wrapped up around 5:00pm, and for the majority it had been an excellent day of flying, blessed with superb weather. There can be no doubting the enthusiasm for these kinds of events in Europe, with many nationalities represented amongst the crowd. The use of step ladders is highly prevalent at these events, unfortunately, and what advantage it gives to someone stood at the front of the crowd line still bemuses me.

Unfortunately the event was also witness to the reported death of a British enthusiast who had tragically suffered a heart attack and our thoughts go out to his family and friends at what must be a difficult time. The NATO Tigers move onto Volkel in the Netherlands next year, and they will have their work cut out to produce an event a well managed as the 2009 version.

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2010-02-23 - Malcolm Corner
The British spotter that died was my brother, John. I understand that a moment's silence was held in his memory and I would like to thank all the spotters. A small ray of comfort in what was a real shock to my family and I. Many thanks RIP John X

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