For aviation enthusiasts, the annual Tiger Meet exercise is one of the most anticipated military gatherings held in Europe thanks to a wide array of participating aircraft and more often than not the special schemes that are applied to them for the event. For NATO Tiger Meet 2018, it was the turn of 6 Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego of the Polish Air Force to host the event at their Poznań-Krzesiny airbase in Western Poland. Adam Duffield joined around 2,000 other enthusiasts for the traditional ‘Spotters Day’ this year held on May 18 with additional images from outside the base along with Poznan Airshow.

Held between May 14 – 25, NATO Tiger Meet 2018 – or NTM18 – was the first to be hosted by 6.elt since the unit became full members of NATO’s Tiger Association in 2011. The airfield at Poznań-Krzesiny is officially known as the 31. Tactical Air Base (31.blt) and is currently home to 3 and 6 Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego, both operating some 16 F-16C/D Block 52+ aircraft each. Citied as the largest air exercise to be held in Poland during 2018, NTM18 featured 19 units from 16 different air arms with over 65 aircraft – both fixed wing and rotary types.

Whilst the main focus from an enthusiasts perspective might be the special schemes prepared especially for the event, the two week exercise is in fact a serious military exercise. Typically flying at least two sorties a day, almost all of the participating assets launch in a seemingly endless stream of movements during each wave. Flying a mixture of missions that included Air Combat, Close Air Support (CAS), Combined Air Operations and CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue), it gives a chance for the multinational participants to work with each other while strengthening ties as well as enhancing the learning phases in one of the few such exercises of this scale to be held in Europe.

That said, the special schemes that did attend NTM18 certainly brought color to the uniform grey jets that adornes almost every air arm nowadays. A firm favourite of many, and taking home the award for best tiger scheme, was the ‘Ghost Tiger’ Typhoon of Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 74 – the Bavarian Tigers. A unit that has become well known for its impressive schemes over recent years, it was the only ‘full’ scheme applied to a fixed wing participant and certainly stood out. Also representing the German Air Force, Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51’s Tornado scheme was also another favourite with many with its ‘torn’ tiger look. Although each squadron brought at least one marked aircraft specifically for NTM, some schemes also represented significant centenary milestones. The Gripen is often not a favourite of enthusiasts however the Czech example was very well presented with a NTM18 scheme on the starboard side of the tail reflecting the countries flag colours whilst on the port side it celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the Czechoslovak Air Force, the forerunner to todays Czech Air Force – something that was also represented with a large crest covering the topside of the aircraft. Of course, the RAF is also celebrating the same significant milestone this year and the Puma sent to NTM was also the example selected to have the RAF100 logo applied. So far, the application of this logo has been seen as very lacklustre celebration however the Puma has also recieved an all over Tiger scheme in light and dark grey to celebrate the centenary of 230 Sqn itself. Other noteworth schemes include the Gazelle of Escadrille d’Hélicoptères de Reconnaissance et d’Attaque n°3, the AB-212 of 21° Gruppo and the Typhoons of XII Gruppo and 142 Escuadrón. Also worth mentioning, although not related to the special scheme, is the winner of the prestigious ‘Silver Tiger’ trophy which for 2018 was presented to 313 Sqaudron Royal Netherlands Air Force. 

The participants for NTM18 were as follows –

Squadron Air Arm Aircraft
6. Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (6.elt) Polish Air Force F-16C/D Block 52+
313 squadron Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16A/B
XII Gruppo (21° Gruppo) Italian Air Force EF2000 Typhoon
142 Escuadrón Spanish Air Force EF2000 Typhoon
Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 74 (TLG 74) German Air Force EF2000 Typhoon
Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 ‘Immelmann’ (TLG51) German Air Force Tornado ECR & IDS
Flottille 11F French Navy Rafale M
31 Squadron Belgian Air Force F-16A/B
59/1 ‘Puma’ Squadron Hungarian Air Force JAS-39C/D Gripen
211.Taktcká Letka (211.TL) Czech Air Force JAS-39C/D Gripen
Fliegerstaffel 11 ‘Tigers’ Swiss Air Force F/A-18C/D Hornet
335 Mira ‘Tigris’ Hellenic Air Force F-16C/D Block 52+
1 Jet Trainer Squadron (1 Düsentrainerstaffel) Austrian Air Force Saab 105Öe
Flying Squadron 1 NATO E-3A Sentry (operating from Poznań–Ławica airport)
Escadrille d’Hélicoptères de Reconnaissance et d’Attaque n°3 (L’EHRA 3) French Army Air Force SA 342 M Gazelle
814 Naval Air Squadron (814 NAS) Royal Navy Merlin HM2
221 Letka Bitevnich Vrtulniku (231 LtBVr) Czech Air Force Mi-24 Hind
230 Squadron Royal Air Force Puma HC2
21° Gruppo Italian Air Force AB-212ICO

The Tiger Meet Spotters day has, along with many aspects on the military side of NTM, become a tradition when it was seen as a chance for the Squadrons to show off their newly ‘special scheme’ to a group of keen enthusiasts. When the chosen location for NTM18 was initially announced, it generated an immediate interest from within the enthusiast community especially with the low expense accommodation and food in Poland along with cheap flights with budget carriers direct to Poznań itself. Combined with a planned airshow that coincided with the NTM Spotters Day, everything seemed to line up perfectly.

Unfortunately, this was where the perfection on paper seemed to end. Initial confusion around the ticketing system started with the ‘early’ opening of a website selling combined NTM and Poznań Airshow tickets that closed, with no notice, less than 24 hours after opening leaving many concerned as to the fate of their order. Although explained a few days later as a mistake, further confusion arose prior to the event with a lack of tickets being issued especially with some only receiving theirs just a few days beforehand.

With a scheduled  registration at an offsite carpark at 0700, the queue was expectedly sizeable with everyone eager to get on base to catch the first launch. The reality however was that registration didn’t open until after 0730 by which time the queue continued to grow and snake around said carpark. From a personal perspective, it took approximately 3 hours from joining the queue just before 0700 to arriving on base at 1000, while many joining the queue behind were waiting even longer – some reportedly missing the first wave of launches due to delays in the registration process and lack of busses to the base.

Upon arrival on base, a photographers worst fears were soon realised – shooting in to the sun. Whilst there had been a number of posts on various forums and social media outlets warning that this would be the case, some still hoped that this could be rectified in some way before the event. AeroResource are led to believe that the NATO Tiger Association, the organisers behind such days normally, were not in charge of this particular event and it was handled by a 3rd party company involved with the airshow to organise – whether this was the only location option available to them or if no regard for photography was given is sadly unclear. The area for photography was a cordoned off box on the north side of the Runway 29 threshold giving a somewhat distant view of the parked aircraft. With such a large crowd, it was also clear that the area given, and prime locations to try and get the only possible glimpse of sunlight on the aircraft as they turned on to the active runway, were going to be busy with queues three or four deep forming in many places. Those that pre-empted this came prepared with ladders although it was a shame that some felt it acceptable to place 4-5 step ladders on the fence rather than slightly behind. For those unprepared – the vast majority from looking around – it was left to try and find a gap between shoulders and cameras to grab whatever shots possible.

In an unexpected move that demonstrated how dissatisfied many were, no sooner had the busses ceased from shuttling attendees to the base, the queue to leave started as people started to vote with their feet. With only a single bus running every hour until the close some, having already queued for 3 hours to get in, spent another 2 hours queueing to leave. With queues already significant before the first bus ran back, many left in search of alternate locations to shoot from that favoured the sun.

Despite the positioning, those that did attend were treated to almost non-stop action for the first couple of hours during the first launch thanks to the fixed wing types. Taxiing towards the crowd and turning on to the runway directly in front of the gathered attendees at least gave some chance to witness the special schemes from each unit – of which all but the French Navy Rafale M  from Flottille 11 flew during the morning, however it did fly in the afternoon wave). For those wanting to catch the rotary assets however, there was to be even more frustrations than the position of the ‘spotters enclosure’. With their staging area at the opposite end of the airfield, their departures and subsequent arrivals were but small dots in the distance throughout the day. However, further evidence of organisational failures occurred later in the day when a massed flypast of the rotary assets (including the special ‘Alien’ schemed Mi-24 Hind, RAF Puma, French Gazelle and Italian 212) took off and flew down the runway for the awaiting enthusiasts – all of which had already been left the site some earlier due to the event closing!

It is such a shame for an event that is normally held in such high regard seemed to fail rather haphazardly to meet the high expectations of the attendees. Watching social media during the day, people’s thoughts were clear to see with many taking to the official Tiger Meet Spotters Day event page to leave their thoughts on the reviews section – something that was later disabled and while those reviews were taken down some hours later.

As had been mentioned previously, the majority of attendees purchased the ‘Spotters Pack’ that included access to the Poznań Airshow being held the two days after the spotters day at the nearby Poznań–Ławica airport. Once again, the event saw photography directly in to the sun for the majority of the day however the opening segment on Saturday saw a number of the Tiger Meet special tails arrive at the show for static display. With the disappointment for many of not being able to get up close to them the day before, this was a welcome opportunity to take a closer look at the schemes the units had put so much effort in to.

The Tiger Meet Spotters Days are high on the list of ‘must attend’ events for many with ‘spotters’ coming from far and wide based on the great reputation that they have. For the author however, this was the first such Tiger Meet and, based on watching the results from many previous years, my expectations were high. Unfortunately, like many, I have come away from feeling nothing but disappointment for an event that, at face value, appears to have only benefitted the third party organising the airshow and spotter’s event. The great reputation of Tiger Meet Spotters Days has likely been tarnished by this year’s events however blame should not be laid with the NATO Tiger Meet association whose control it was out of. Despite this year’s downsides I, like many, will certainly be looking ahead to next year’s event (which, based on early available information, will be held at Mont-de-Marsan, France) knowing that hopefully, the correct people will once more be running the show.