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Goodbye TLP, The Final Edition; Florennes May 19, 2009

The Tactical Leadership Program; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On Tuesday, May 19th, I went to the TLP at the Belgian Florennes for the very last time because it is going to disappear from this base. The TLP will move after this edition from the Belgian Florennes to the Spanish Albacete. It promised to be a special edition because it will probably be my last TLP for the next few years.

Lots of things have been changed in a time window of twenty years within military operations. There have been many technological developments and the political situation has been changed dramatically because of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Air operations were executed on a low altitude in the past where visual contact with the enemy was normal before the pilot decided to attack. The low altitude exercises became a real tease for the people who lived around the air bases of Europe where these kind of exercises took place. This would change when the TLP was introduced. This exercise enables the pilots to fly missions each day on different locations all over central Europe. Only night flying activity was still not an option at Florennes. For these reasons the TLP moved once a year to a different location for the night flying missions.

Most of the scenarios nowadays are performed on high altitudes because of improved weapons and tactics which were developed with the help of TLP experience. Besides the military traffic on these altitudes, also civil traffic is scheduled to fly at these flight levels. This is a serious obstacle for future held military exercises over Central Europe such as the TLP at Florennes. To keep the pilots of the NATO in training for this kind of missions, the political members of these states decided in July 2006 to move the TLP to another location. The organization has decided to move the TLP to the Spanish Albacete from the summer of 2009. The concept of the TLP is not in danger and the design of the course will therefore remain the same. At the new location it is possible to organize the TLP six times a year. Also it is possible to perform some night flying activity during each TLP session. It is intended that the night flying program will start in 2010.

Today on May 19, a press day was held at Florennes and for tomorrow a spotter's

day was planned. Both days were planned to show everybody the farewell party of the TLP who was indirectly involved into the exercise. I was not present on both days. Therefore I had chosen to experience the TLP goodbye party from the spot where I viewed this great exercise for over fifteen years with many pleasure. This spot was located into the field next to the head of the taxi track and is located on the west wind landing. This field is known for its large amounts of clay; appropriate shoes were required in all those years at this spot. I have some beautiful memories of the TLP with its famous clay fields despite of this. I saw some beautiful things in all those years from silly friends to exciting aircraft and also some big frustrations like cancelled missions; this all is beyond description. Every year during the winter season we were completely covered with clay and dirt and it was really cold and sometimes it was all for nothing. But it was well worth it all those years, because the TLP was the only structural exercise just two hours away from our homes where we could see some exotic aircraft.

When I arrived at the Florennes on this beautiful day, the sky was clear and blue and weather conditions were perfect. There were already many people along the road in the hope to see their last TLP mission. The first aircraft appeared at the runway for take-off after half an hour of waiting. It was a Piper 21 of the Belgian Air Force. The pilot of this light aircraft made a beautiful fly-by along the people who stood next to the fence of the base. After waiting for a longer period, finally the moment was there; the TLP platform became alive. The ground crew of all the participating TLP members started to prepare the aircraft for a TLP mission. It did not take long before the first engines were started. The first aircraft appeared at the head of the runway after fifteen minutes of waiting. Two Czech Alca's and two Greek F-16's were waiting to start their TLP mission. The light on the taxi track was great as usual on this location; it was perfect for the fighters which passed us. Also Two Spanish Air Force Eurofighters appeared after some Italian F-16's Italians, American F-16's and some Greek F-16's. Behind all these fighters my highlight of the day showed up. Two French Super Etendards showed up. This type of aircraft is quite extraordinary and they aren't seen for many times. After one hour of departures, all the TLP participants were airborne.

Today it would take more time before all the participants would return to Florennes from their sorties, because they would fly a long distance mission on which they practice some air to air refuelling. More than two hours after the departure of the last participant finally the first plane would return. Two French Super Etendard and two Italian F-16's flew in a tight formation over the base before entering the break for landing. The recovery of today's mission was quite fast. A formation of two or four planes came in for landing every five minutes. Especially the light on the large delta wings of the French Mirage 2000's was very nice. The blue green colour scheme on the Greek F-16's turned out beautiful on photo. The two Spanish Eurofighters flew very low over the grass fields before entering the runway. This led eventually to a number of spectacular landing photos. The entire recovery would take approximately one hour. After a beautiful day full of action and some nice participants, the TLP mission became to an end and I was about to go home. All good things must come to an end and sadly enough also the TLP at Florennes has come to an end. For me this was the last time I visited the TLP at this great base in the south of Belgium. When I look back to the past, I can conclude that an era will end for me up here, because I was a regular visitor of this great exercise. I can also guarantee that I will miss this exercise because it was a structural part of my passion for military aviation. I went home with some mixed feelings with lots of nice photos on my digital cards. Perhaps someday I will visit the TLP again on its new home base in Spain.

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