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The NATO Tiger Meet 2009; Kleine-Brogel September 18, 2009

NATO Tigers, Ready for Action; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The NATO Tiger Meet took place from September 14 until September 25 at the Belgian airbase of Kleine-Brogel. This exercise is always held in combination with a spotter's day and I was able to join this edition. All the participants of this exercise wear a cat or a tiger in its squadron badge.

The NATO Tiger Meet is an annual operational exercise which will be held this year at the airbase of Kleine-Brogel in Belgium. The exercise is organized by the NATO Tiger Association. This organization was founded in 1961 by the French Minister of Defense Pierre Messmer. The goal of the exercise was to create solidarity among various squadrons within the NATO. The NATO Tiger Association is composed of many units from all NATO countries with in their squadron badge a drawing of a tiger or another big cat. The Tiger Meet is not a structural part of the NATO, but especially a big social happening within the air forces of all NATO countries. The 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) of the United States Air Force Europe (USAFE) was the first unit that took the initiative to organize a Tiger Meet in 1961. RAF Woodbridge in Great Britain was the home base of this unit and they invited no 74 squadron of the RAF and the EC01.012 of the French Air Force. This was the first edition of the NATO Tiger Meet. France was still a member of the NATO at that time.

At this moment in September 2009, the NATO Tiger Association consists of nineteen full members from all kind of operational NATO squadrons. The subject of their badges is common; it is the tiger which is a symbol for strength, unity and a hunting instinct. The main purpose of this social event is to exchange in an informal way ideas and experiences which all members suffer in their daily lives. The subjects which are discussed and shared with each other are battle tactics, procedures and international partnerships. This international exercise is also been used for PR goals of the NATO in general. This last mentioned reason is why it is common to paint all the participating aircraft partly or fully in tiger colors. It is also common to organize a spotter's day during this exercise. Each host will open its doors for one day to share the tiger feeling with everyone who is interested. This years host will be no 31 squadron of the Belgian Air Force which is based at Kleine-Brogel airbase.

The spotter's day will take place on Friday September 18, 2009. At Kleine-Brogel it is already normal to open the doors for the general public every two years in the form of a spotter's day. Usually, they will show what the Belgian air force is doing in daily life. The Belgians made therefore the decision to combine the normal spotter's day with the NATO Tiger Meet. Kleine-Brogel has already the necessary experience to organize a day like this and it always was a perfect organized day in the past.

Today the weather was great. When I arrived at Kleine-Brogel I saw that it would be a nice and warm summer day with a clear blue sky. It promised to be a beautiful day with much flying activity. After a while I managed to get a spot next to the main runway; it was quite crowded over here. I stood at the point where the aircraft would touch down during their landing. This is also the same area on the runway where the aircraft would line up before take-off. This nice spot could be spectacular for a few action shots. The first flight movement was immediately a nice one; a French Mirage 2000C from Cambrai in France was taxiing to the runway. The light on the aircraft was perfect and there was no heat haze above the runway. It is important not to have heat haze, because this phenomenon can cause blurry photos. Soon, the entire flight would come out for take-off. A pair of Gripens of the Hungarian air force appeared, followed by the Belgian and Dutch Vipers right behind the first Mirage. Even more French Mirages and a few Rafales appeared behind these aircraft; the French showed a few beautiful painted aircraft, this was clearly visible. Both types of aircraft were painted in beautiful tiger colors. The Tiger Meet spirit came even more alive when a spectacular painted Mirage F-1 of the Spanish Air Force appeared.

The first Tiger Meet participants came back for the landing after about one hour of waiting. The organization had a nice surprise for us as a bonus. All aircraft which were painted in tiger colors flew low over twice in a large tiger formation. All the aircraft landed safely after their missions within a time window of one hour and then the morning mission was over. Each landed aircraft was forced by the organization to taxi along the public. They all used the taxi track which was positioned right in front of us. The helicopters were preparing themselves for a flight in the meanwhile on the platform next to us. Two Czech Mi-24 Hinds, two Belgian A-109s and one Italian AB-212 were starting up. I was served very well by the organization of the Tiger Meet as a real helicopter fanatic because these helicopter types are quite extraordinary. This whole flight of helicopters would give us a spectacular airpower demo and they all landed right in front of me in the grass. So I stood at the right time at the right place. The brand new painted Belgian Tiger F-16 flew his demo right after the helicopter demo. This aircraft was painted in a color scheme which was typical Belgian.

The afternoon flight of the Tiger Meet was starting up at one o'clock pm. The only drawback we had for the afternoon flight was the heat haze which was over the runway. This heat haze gave us more problems with photography over the long distance. It was not longer possible to shoot the aircraft on the runway because of the heat. Fortunately we shot them already during the morning hours. Again it took one complete hour before all the aircraft were airborne. Most aircraft took off with full afterburner; it really was a spectacular sight. All the participating aircraft came back for landing one hour after they started with basically the same ritual as in the morning. The last aircraft landed in at five pm and for us the 2009 Tiger Meet was over. Again it was a perfect organized event by the Belgians with many beautiful moments in it. I wasn't bored for a moment, so I could go home with a satisfied feeling. Next year we can go out again for a Tiger Meet, because the Tiger Meet will be held at Volkel Airbase in the Netherlands.

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