European Military Aviation

FEB 16 2012
Military Aviation >> Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) Flying Course 2012-1

TLP was started in January 1978, at the height of the Cold War, with the aim of improving the capabilities of the member air forces and developing tactics, techniques and procedures to enhance multi-national tactical air operations. This requirement continued beyond the end of the Cold War, however.

Since then there have been a significant number of operations that have involved the deployment of multi-national air forces, and some of these are still ongoing in certain parts of the world. These have shown that the role of the TLP course is as relevant today as it was in 1978. Since its inception thousands of aircrew have completed the course, and it provides some common ground for aircrew from different air forces when they deploy for coalition operations.

The original member nations were Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, the USA and West Germany. The first courses were held at Furstenfeldbruck in West Germany and consisted of a two week seminar. In September 1979 the TLP moved to Jever in West Germany and a flying phase was introduced, extending the course to four weeks.

In March 1989 the TLP moved again, this time to Florennes in Belgium. In 1996 Denmark and Italy joined, but in 1997 Canada withdrew, having sent its European based aircraft back home several years earlier. The numbers grew again in 2002 when Spain joined. A further move occurred in July 2009 when, due to weather issues, airspace restrictions and a ban on night flying, the TLP relocated to its current home at Albacete. At this time France became a full member, having supplied a liaison officer for several years, and Greece also joined. There are currently ten member air forces and other air forces are invited to attend.

The flying course still lasts four weeks, with one mission being flown during the afternoon on most days. Night flying occurs during week three and a Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) element is introduced during week four.

The TLP also runs a number of academic courses throughout the year, host conferences and deploys its staff. As the TLP is at a Spanish base it is commanded by a Spanish Air Force officer.

TLP Flying Course 2012-1 started on Monday, 16th January. Participants included five F-16AMs from the 10th Wing of the Belgian Air Component at Kleine Brogel, a large contingent from France comprising a trio of Rafale Cs from EC 01.007 at St Dizier-Robinson, a pair of Mirage 2000Cs from EC 02.005 at Orange-Caritat, four Mirage 2000Ds, one from EC 02.003, two from EC 03.003 and one from ETD 02.007 at Nancy-Ochey, plus a pair of Super Etendards from the Navy's 17F at Landivisiau.

The German Air Force contributed a trio of Tornado IDS from JBG33 at Buchel whilst Italy provided a pair of Air Force Typhoons from 4th Stormo at Grosseto and five Navy AV-8B+ Harrier IIs from Grupaer at Grottaglie, including a specially painted example.

The Netherlands provided four F-16AMs from a mix of squadrons at both Leeuwarden and Volkel, and Spain provided four EF-18AM Hornets, a pair each from Ala 12 at Torrejon and Ala 15 at Zaragoza. Finishing it off were a trio of F-16Cs from the USAF's 480th Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Wing based at Spangdahlem AB in Germany.

For the CSAR element the Italian Navy provided a pair of EH-101s from 1 Grupelicot at La Spezia, an Amphibious Assault version and a Tactical Transport version, whilst Spain provided a Navy SH-60B Seahawk from 10 Escuadrilla at Rota and an Air Force AS332B1 Super Puma from 803 Escuadron at Getafe.

The "TLP Spotters' Day" started with extensive security checks followed by a short bus journey to the TLP building for a welcome and briefing. There were a few restrictions on what could be photographed, which were outlined at the briefing.

Next up was a tour of the TLP ramp to photograph the aircraft and then a briefing about the capabilities of the based Mirage F1s of Ala 14 from one of the pilots. This took place in a Hardened Aircraft Shelter (HAS) with a Mirage and its weaponry serving as a backdrop.

Then it was back to the TLP building for lunch before being bused out to the runway to observe the mission launch.

Albacete has a single east-west runway (09/27), so the south side was an ideal location for photography, and the clear skies and cold air provided excellent winter light. The aircraft launched to the west from runway 27, with the helicopters launching first followed by a steady stream of jets.

There was a delay to the launch, so the group's trip out to the airfield was also delayed, but by slightly too long, meaning those in attendance got out just as the helicopters were lifting!

Unfortunately, from a photographic perspective, the runway direction was changed for the recovery, which meant that the light, whilst still glorious, was in the wrong direction. The jets returned much as they had gone out, in a steady stream, and once they were all in the helicopters came back, just as the light was fading.

With activity concluded it was back onto the buses for the short journey to the gate and time to head for home.

The Spotters' Day provided a fairly unique opportunity to get close to military combat aircraft in their normal environment.

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