The annual Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) exercise was hosted in 2012 once again by Gando Air Base, on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. On April 24th enthusiasts and photographers were invited to attend the “DACT” Spotter’s Day. Mark Forest reports for AeroResource on the events of the day, from Gando.
Held annually over a period of 2 weeks the “DACT” – organised by the Spanish Air Force Combat Command – and hosted by the 46th Wing brings together many squadrons from the Spanish Air Force, Spanish Navy and NATO to train with dissimilar aircraft for the purpose of advancing their pilot’s Air Combat skills in mock air to air combat. The advantages of flying against different aircraft types (hence the name “Dissimilar”) cannot be understated.
DACT was another outcome of the combat experiences of the US Military during the Vietnam War. Pilots of the greatly hailed missile fighters, such as the F-4, found themselves in combat against the smaller and nimbler Mikoyan MiG-17, flying alongside the MiG-21. For anyone having watched the film “Top Gun”, the story is similar here – the combat doctrines of the USAF relied mostly upon the use of air to air missiles, and Air Combat Manoeuvring was almost a dying art. DACT was introduced to allow pilots to gain experience flying against different aircraft types, whose capabilities in flight would be far less known to the pilot (if flying against another aircraft of the same type, both pilots would know the weaknesses and strengths of both combatants). The DACT exercises conducted by the Spanish Air Force are of exactly the same principle.
Normally 2 sorties are flown per day – these being a morning mission and then an afternoon mission. Gando opened its doors for the Spotter’s day allowing photographers who had travelled from around the world to photograph the morning’s launches and subsequent recovery.
Having assembled at the main gate for 0830am for the checking in process and security checks, all the attendees were in an escorted convoy to the main parking area (next to the Search And Rescue (SAR) ramp) on base by 0900am. Here the photographers all boarded the awaiting coach before travelled the short distance along the service road, passing the Atlantic Ocean on the left, with the large array of gathered fighters, transports and ground crews on the right. When we disembarked the coach we were greeted by our hosts, then a few ground rules explained to us before making our way through the Ala 46 main Hornet hangar up the stairs then onto the roof top balcony above the hangar. This small roof top gave an excellent view over the military and civil runways, with the main taxiway running directly in front. This meant all aircraft detached for the exercise to pass right by, and as the lift off point for departures was also directly ahead, this was a perfect point for photography. It was now nearly 0930am and nearly all the morning flyers had their engines running with ground crew running through all the final checks with the pilots.
Some 40+ aircraft were in attendance, detached and visible on the ramps were Spanish Air Force Boeing 707 and Lockheed KC-130H tanker support aircraft, Eurofighter EF2000 Tifons from Ala 11 ,Boeing EF-18A/BHornets from Ala 12 & 15, Casa C.101 Aviojets from 741 Esc, Boeing EAV-8B Matador IIs from Escuadrilla 009 of the Spanish Navy, whilst the only foreign participants were Dassault Mirage 2000Cs from EC 02.005, based at Orange in France. Search and Rescue units were also on site from Escuadron 802 with Fokker F27s and Eurocopter AS332s. It was expected that Mirage F1s from Ala14, which are due to retire this year, were also to participate, but unfortunately cancelled from the exercise.
At 0930 the first sortie of the day began with a pair of Boeing EF-18s from the host squadron Ala 46 launching Whilst the Hornets departed, on the taxiway were Eurofighter EF2000 Tifons making their way to the West end of the runway, followed closely by the Boeing 707, Dassault Mirage 2000s and more EF-18s – it had become very busy in a short space of time. Departures for the morning phase of the exercise lasted exactly 1 hour and were in the following order:
|0930||Boeing EF-18A Hornet||2||Ala 46|
|0940||Eurofighter EF2000 Tifon||3||Ala 11|
|0944||Dassault Mirage 2000C||5||EC02.005|
|0947||Boeing EF-18A Hornet||2||Ala 46|
|0950||Boeing EF-18A Hornet||2||Ala 12|
|0951||Boeing 707||1||Escuadron 471|
|0954||Eurofighter EF2000 Tifon||2||Ala 11|
|0956||Boeing EAV-8B Matador II||2||Escuadron 009|
|1005||Boeing EF-18A Hornet||4||Ala 15|
|1030||CASA C.101 Aviojet||2||Escuadron 741|
No sooner had the final aircraft departed than the first aircraft to return (Dassault Mirage 2000Cs) appeared over the airfield threshold almost an hour after their launch. A quick run and break and the Mirages were in the pattern to land. The arrival of the Mirages was the start of the return of the rest of the participants, with the EF2000s quickly followed by EF18’s and pleasingly one of the Spanish Air Force Lockheed KC-130H Hercules (used in the refuelling and cargo role) which had departed earlier before the start of the Spotters Day event. The KC-130H was a nice “catch” as it is the only camouflage Hercules remaining in the Spanish Air Force, with all the others having been painted in all over grey. Next catch of the day was a based Search And Rescue AS332 which came in from behind the photographers position, and then hovering prior to landing directly in front of the balcony. For the next hour and ten minutes a multitude of Hornets returned, alongside the Boeing 707 tanker, the pair of EAV-8Bs , and finally to finish and close the mornings missions was the pair of Casa C.101s, which touched down just after midday. With the Aviojet’s return, the 2012 DACT Spotters Day came to an end – an extremely busy morning with great flying, and thankfully pleasant weather!
AeroResource wishes to thank the Gando Base Command for the great photo opportunities, with an additional special thanks going to Alejandro of thefightercommunity.com, for allowing us to attend and making this article possible.