The NATO Tiger Association (NTA) held their latest NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) at Schleswig-Jagel Air Base in Northern Germany. 11 countries took part and with a number of stunning tiger schemes on offer, the Spotters days were much anticipated. Duncan Monk reports from a blustery Germany.
Home to Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 “Immelmann” (AKG 51) flying the Tornado ECR, Schleswig-Jagel is a huge sprawling base just over 30 minutes south of the Danish border.
The base was founded in 1916 and was used by the German Air Force flying the Messerschmitt Me 262 during the Second World War. After the war the British took control of the airfield and it was a used extensively during Operation Plainfare – the Berlin Airlift. The British handed over the Southern part of the airfield over to German control in 1958 and the North side was handed over in 1959.
The NTA was formed in the early sixties, although the origins are a little fluffy, when the 79th TFS at RAF Woodbridge and 74 Squadron at Wattisham got together to promote closer ties and unity between the squadrons. One officer, Lt Mike Dugan, took it upon himself to increase the number of units and wrote to any unit that he could find a address for with a tiger head emblem in their squadron badge inviting them to NATO tiger day. Many units accepted but replied via official channels causing a little unrest in the Head Quarters hierarchy who asked ‘what the hell they thought they were doing’! Mike’s plan was backed by his Wing Commander who subsequently gained support from Head Quarters and so NATO Tigers were born.
At the second Tiger Meet in 1962 at Woodbridge the following aims were formulated, and these remain valid to this day:
Improvement of solidarity between NATO members
The creation and maintenance of team-spirit and camaraderie between the participating members
The exchange of experiences and cooperation in line with the military goals of NATO.
Since 1962, the Tiger Meets have evolved into a military exercise where the participating units fly combined missions utilising the entire range of military operations including air to air refuelling, air combat, low flying and the use of weapon ranges. For countries that can not afford to deploy to large exercises in North America, such as Red Flag, the ‘Tiger Meet’ is one of the few multinational exercises available for crews to cooperate, learn and train together in a realistic ‘threat’ environment.
The typical program of an eight-day NATO Tiger Meet starts with the arrival of the participants and support aircraft, followed by an opening ceremony were all nations taking part flags are raised till the last day. From then on the operations start, with morning missions being flown by most participants amongst each other, while in the afternoon the friendly blue forces are flown against red forces which are usually units from the host nations country acting as enemy forces. The missions last between 60 and 90 minutes and are carefully planned, briefed, executed and debriefed and this schedule is followed for most of the flying days.
At the end of the operational week the crews relax and tighten social ties between all participating units with the Tiger Games – a mix of BBQ, sport and games. The ending of a Tiger Meet is always symbolised by the lowering of the national flags, followed by the traditional farewell party where various awards are handed out, such as best dressed, best paint scheme, and the prestigious Silver Tiger Trophy – which was won this year by 11 Staffel, Swiss Air Force.
During the NTM it has now become tradition to have Spotters days where the aviation enthusiast community can get close to the action. Spotters days are well attended with thousands travelling from across Europe and further afield to see the uniquely painted aircraft on base.
It is a well organised event, with enthusiasts being bussed to an enclosure near to the taxiways and runway’s providing the best photo opportunities to witness a 40+ aircraft launch and then have the aircraft taxi past on landing to get great close up shots. Each unit brings its own tiger branded merchandise and are sold by crews under a massive mess tent with incredibly decent prices. With bratwurst, snacks and drinks available at very reasonable prices as well, the enthusiasts are well looked after and not fleeced like at traditional airshows.
Units attending NTM14 were as follows:
- 59/1 Sqn (HUN) – Gripen
- 211 Sqn (CZE) – Gripen
- 221 Sqn (CZE) – Hind + Hip
- 6 Sqn (POL) – F-16 Fighting Falcon
- 313 Sqn (NLD) – F-16 Fighting Falcon
- 31 Sqn (BEL) – F-16 Fighting Falcon
- 192 Filo (TUR) – F-16 Fighting Falcon
- ec 1/7 (FRA) – Rafale C
- ece 5/330 (FRA) – M2000-5
- 11F (FRA) – Rafale M
- Staffel 11 (CHE) – Hornet
- TaktLwG 74 (DEU) – Typhoon
- TaktLwG 51 (DEU) – Tornado
- JTS (AUT) – Saab 105
- 814 NAS (GBR) – Merlin
- 1 Sqn (NATO) – E-3A Sentry (flying from MOB)
Other units flying from Schleswig during NTM14:
- Khr 36 (DEU) – Tiger
- GFD (DEU) – Learjet
It is clear to see from the short time mixing with the crews that The NATO Tiger Association goes from strength to strength, with the tiger squadrons becoming more united and tightly knit.
The NATO Tiger Squadrons will reconvene next year in May at Konya AB, where NTM’15 will be hosted by 192 Filo of the Turkish Air Force.