European Military Aviation

MAY 25 2011
Military Aviation >> Europe > Exercises: NATO Tiger Meet 2011

It’s hard to believe that NATO’s Tiger Organisation is now in its 50th year, especially as most of the participating crews are significantly younger! The original idea reportedly grew from a social meeting in 1960 that involved two squadrons that shared a tiger as a squadron badge, the USAFE’s (United States Air Forces Europe) 79th TFS flying F-100s from RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk and the RAF's 74 Squadron flying Lightnings a little further north at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk. The following year they got together again at Woodbridge, and also invited along EC1/12 of the French Air Force with their Super Mystere B2s from Cambrai in northern France. The Tiger Meet was born!

A second Tiger Meet took place at Woodbridge in 1962 and this one also involved the Belgians, the Canadians, the West Germans and the Norwegians. At this meeting it was agreed that the aims of the Tiger Meet would be “the improvement of solidarity between NATO members, the creation and maintenance of camaraderie between the participating members and the exchange of experiences and cooperation within the military goals of NATO”.

There has been some form of Tiger Meet almost every year since, as well as a host of “Mini” Tiger Meets which are usually just social occasions. Over the years the event has evolved, and is still evolving, and is now a two week NATO exercise encompassing a range of different scenarios to cater for the mix of different aircraft types now operated by the various Tiger units. However unlike other NATO exercises the Tiger Meet is all organised by the host squadron, with no control being exerted by a higher HQ authority. The NATO Tiger Association now has 21 full members, plus two probationary ones and 11 honorary members. It also allows membership from squadrons whose badge is not actually a tiger - other big cats are allowed!

Cambrai was an appropriate place for the 50th Anniversary celebrations, as its resident Tiger Squadron, now known as EC 01.012 “Cambresis”, was one of the founding members. Whilst the Belgian Tigers at Kleine Brogel had hosted the most Tiger Meets, a total of seven over the last 49 years, Cambrai wasn't far behind having hosted six prior to 2011, and the Belgian's were the hosts just two years ago.

This year’s Tiger Meet occurred over two weeks in May, with most of the participants arriving on Monday 9th. Taking part this year were the based Mirage 2000s of EC 01.012, further Mirage 2000s from ECE 05.330 at Mont-de-Marsan, German Air Force Tornado ECRs from JBG 32 at Lechfeld and Tornado IDSs from AG 51 at Schleswig-Jagel, F-16s from 301 Squadron of the Portuguese Air Force at Monte Real, 336 Mira of the Greek Air Force at Araxos, 192 Filo of the Turkish Air Force at Balikesir, 6 Fighter Squadron of the Polish Air Force at Poznan and a single aircraft from 31 Smaldeel of the Belgian Air Component at Kleine Brogel. F/A-18 Hornets from Ala 15 of the Spanish Air Force at Zaragoza and 11 Staffel of the Swiss Air Force at Meiringen, JAS 39 Gripens from 211 Tactical Squadron of the Czech Air Force at Caslav, Saab 105s from the Jet Trainer Squadron of the Austrian Air Force at Linz and MiG-29s from 1 Squadron of the Slovak Air Force at Sliac, completed the fast air role call.

As well as the jets there were also some helicopters in the shape of a pair of Mi-35 Hinds from 221 Squadron of the Czech Air Force at Namest and a pair of AB212s from 21 Gruppo of the Italian Air Force at Grazzanise. Supporting all these was a Learjet 36A operated by GFD from Hohn in Germany.

Over the years a number of Tiger traditions have been established, the best known of these being the habit of painting aircraft in special tiger schemes. This year was no exception and produced some interesting new designs, as well as some that had been seen before. The host squadron painted two of their aircraft, one in a special 50th anniversary scheme and one with a tiger tail. The other French Mirage 2000 unit, ECE 05.330 produced a tiger schemed jet, as did both the German units.

It’s not just the aircraft that get into the Tiger spirit though, the Tiger theme was to be seen exhibited in every aspect of the operations at the Tiger Meet. Tiger stripes and stuffed tigers (of the soft toy variety) were to be found everywhere – cars, fuel bowsers, aircrew clothing etc – everyone was getting into the Tiger spirit!

Following the traditional flag raising ceremony, the exercise started on Tuesday 10th, with two missions flown on most weekdays until the exercise concluded on Thursday 19th. Not all the squadrons stayed for the whole two weeks, the Hornets of Spain’s Ala 15 flew on the morning of Monday 16th, then headed for home in the afternoon and the F-16s of Portugal’s 301 Squadron did the same two days later. The Slovak MiG-29s took part in the second week, although they only actually flew two missions before heading home.

A few aircraft arrived for the middle weekend, notably two Spanish Mirage F1s from Ala 14 at Albacete, and a Merlin HM.1 from the Royal Navy’s 814 NAS, but they didn’t take part in any exercise missions.

Also at Cambrai during the weekend were some of the participants for the Tiger themed airshow at the nearby Cambrai Niergnies airfield, which took place on Sunday 15th. Most of the jet aircraft that performed at the show operated from Epinoy.

A welcome new addition this year was the 6th Fighter Squadron of the Polish Air Force with their Block 52 F-16s, who were taking part for the first time. However it was reported that they suffered some engine damage to one of their jets, which necessitated a spare engine being brought in by C-130. The bad news was that after the morning mission on the Monday of the second week they didn’t fly again during the exercise whilst the incident was investigated.

In the run up to the event several squadrons had cancelled, either due to financial restrictions or operational commitments, such as the NATO operations over Libya. Consequently the Dutch, Belgians and Norwegians - ironically the hosts for the last three years - as well as the Hungarians were not in attendance. It had been hoped that the Super Etendards of Flotille 11 at Landivisiau would put in an appearance, but that didn’t materialise either.

The enthusiast was well catered for this year, with no less than three so called “Spotters Days”. 1500 tickets were available for each day, with the Monday of the second week selling out very quickly. They were provided with a lengthy enclosure right next to the main taxiway, which gave a good view of the action and was excellent for photography. The only criticism is that on Monday 16th the gates didn’t open until 8.30 and a number of aircraft departed whilst the majority of people were still in the lengthy queue. Only the early birds got to see the Spanish Mirages and the French Air Force Rafales leave.

There was also a good viewing area by the fence roughly half way down the runway on the north side of the base. There were crowds of people here every day, photographers and local people, and whilst there was a convenient mound to stand on, parts of it appeared to consist of chicken manure! (not that that appeared to deter anyone!!)

The last mission was flown on the afternoon of Thursday 19th, followed by the traditional flag lowering ceremony at 6pm that evening. All that was left then was the after show party and the prize giving. The Portuguese Jaguares of 301 Squadron scooped the most trophies, winning three of the six. The trophy for the best paint scheme went to the Panthers of AG 51 for their black Tornado, and the winner of the party games trophy was, perhaps surprisingly, the Swiss!

The main departures day was Friday 20th, and transport aircraft started arriving the day before. By 2.30 in the afternoon everyone had gone home and the skies over the airfield at Cambrai were quiet again, the silence broken only by the singing of the skylarks. The quiet will become a permanent fixture over Cambrai soon, as the base is scheduled to close next year.

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2011-05-30 - Degsy
Great Shots of the TM Chris, nice & crisp! Superb rotation shots of the Fighters getting airborne.

2011-05-26 - Franz
Excellent report Chris and fantastic photos! I think Chris's are some of the best photos on the entire GAR site!

2011-05-26 - Jeffrey Wilson
Great job Chris of sharing the variety and wild paint schemes of this years Tiger Meet!



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