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The NATO Tiger Meet 2016; Zaragoza, May 20, 2016

NATO Tigers, Hard To Be Humble; Text and Photograph's by door Alex van Noye

In the period from Monday, May 16 until Friday, May 27, 2016, the NATO Tiger Meet took place on the Spanish airbase Zaragoza. Zaragoza is home to Ala 15, which is a full member of the NATO Tiger Association. Ala 15 is one of the three Spanish McDonnel Douglas EF-18 Hornet units and consists in total of three squadrons.

Zaragoza was originally an American airbase in northeastern Spain and has several gigantic platforms. Therefore many fighter planes could participate in the Tiger Meet. The Tiger Meet is an annual event of several European units where aircraft are painted in the colors of tigers or other cats. An important part of the meeting is of a social nature with the aim of improving cooperation between the different countries. Besides this social part, there is also a two week COMAO (Combined Military Air Operations) exercise linked to the Tiger Meet. This exercise has everything except a social character and is flown very seriously by the Tiger Meet participants. During the exercise warplanes from fifteen different countries were flying daily training missions during various war scenarios. During this exercise, nothing is left to the coincidence, because realistic crises situations were practiced which are based on the current conditions in the world. The number of participating aircraft indicated how large the structure of this year’s exercise was. Nearly 100 combat aircraft and helicopters flew along during the COMAO exercise; the aircraft were from more than 24 squadrons from fifteen countries. The NATO Tiger Meet 2016 was therefore one of the largest Tiger Meets since the founding of exercise more than 55 years ago. During the missions, AWACS radar aircraft were airborne to guide the missions during the scenarios. The participants of the missions were in the air refueled by tankers.

In addition to the missions which are flown during the Tiger Meet, the Tiger Meet is also a very important event for all aviation enthusiasts in Europe. Many aircraft spotters show up annually at the Tiger Meet; they all want to make their series with spectacular action shots. The exercise has a large attraction for aviation fans, because some of the aircraft which participate are painted in the colors of tigers and other cats. Each participating unit will bring at least one aircraft to the Tiger Meet which is sprayed in the colors of the own unit and its tigers and of its country of origin. During the Tiger

Meet at Zaragoza two public events were held around this exercise. On Friday, May 20 a spotter’s day was organized; spotters from all over Europe were present during this day. The participants of this spotter’s day had to register themselves in advance. During this day the photographers from all over Europe were placed on good photo locations along the runway; the spotters were there able to shoot action shots of the participating aircraft and helicopters. In total, there were over 1,500 spotters who participated during this photo day. Traditionally the aircraft which were painted in tiger colors would take-off with full afterburner. The aircraft would also make at least one low approach in front of the public at the end of their mission. The helicopters would extensively pose after their mission in front of the present photographers. An open house was also organized for the Spanish public in addition to the spotter’s day on Saturday, May 21. All the participating aircraft were presented on a large static show during this day. In total there were more than 50,000 people present during this event.

The personnel of the different units worked hard during the various scenarios of the exercise. In total more than 1,000 missions were flown during the COMAO exercises. The Tiger Meet 2016 which was organized was one of the largest Tiger Meets ever. This size of the exercise will not quickly be met in the future, because many airbases in other countries do not have such a large capacity like Zaragoza. Between the COMAO exercises the traditional Tiger Games were also this year organized. During these games some trophies are annually awarded in several categories. The most important trophy is the Silver Trophy which is also known as the silver tiger. The first category was comprised of the best looking uniform. This trophy was won during this Tiger Meet by the crew of the Italian 21° Gruppo of the Italian Air Force. The Czechs of the 221LtBvr of the Czech Air Force won the prize for the most beautiful tiger painted aircraft. The prize for the best parody was won by the Norwegians of the 338 Skv. The contestant who had the best performance during the COMAO exercise was the French 11F with their Rafales of the French Navy. The famous sports and games which are known as the Tiger Games, was won by Belgians of the 31 Squadron. By winning the Tiger Games, the Belgians managed to win the Silver Tiger Trophy for the 9th time. Officially it was for the 8,5th time, because the unit had to share it once with a different unit. The 31 Squadron is the oldest member of the NATO Tiger Association.

Since this year there was also a new trophy presented. This trophy is the Special Tiger Spirit Award and can be awarded to a single tiger or a group of tigers who are openly exhaling the spirit of the tiger. This award is granted by a number of advisors of the Tiger Association. This year the trophy was awarded to the Italian 12° Gruppo. This unit has every year a struggle to get permission from their headquarters to participate in the Tiger Meet. Last year, the unit was allowed for the first time to fly two aircraft to Konya in Turkey for a weekend visit. All other members of the 12° Gruppo came to Turkey at their own expense to attend the Tiger Meet. This year the unit received permission to come to Zaragoza with six aircraft for the airshow weekend. This time also many other pilots of the unit came to Spain at their own expense during the Tiger Meet. For this reason, the Italians show they possess the true tiger spirit by their efforts. This trophy was therefore for the 12° Gruppo during this Tiger Meet. At the meeting of the detachment commanders on Tuesday, May 17, it was decided to allow JG-74 from Germany as a full member of the NATO Tiger Association. JG-74 is known to the other tiger units as the Bavarian Tigers. The unit flies the Eurofighter EF2000 and is stationed at Neuburg in southern Germany. The Tiger Meet 2017 will take place in Ladivisiau. On this air base the Tiger Meet will be hosted by the 11 Flotille.

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