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The Atlantic Tigers in Action; Landivisiau, June 8, 2017

The NATO Tiger Meet 2017, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

Every year, the NATO Tiger Meet is one of the exercises in Europe that is widely visited by plane spotters from all over the world. During this traditional exercise, a spotter day is usually organized by the NATO Tiger Association. All kinds of aircraft are painted in tiger schemes and will appear in front of the aircraft spotters.

The NATO Tiger Meet 2017 would be organized by the French Navy and especially by the 11 Flottille. This unit of the French navy is based at Naval Air Base Landivisiau in the westernmost tip of Brittany in western France. The exercise would take place from Monday June 5th until Friday June 16th. The Tiger Meet is an exercise which also has a social character in addition to the training of pilots. Therefore, traditionally there is always a spotter day organized during this meeting. However, the French Navy has decided to organize as much as two different spotter days during this year’s edition. The first spotter day would take place on Thursday, June 8th and the second on Wednesday, June 14th. On both days, more than 500 aircraft fans were allowed to enter the airbase to photograph the participants of the exercise. Every unit which is participating has the tradition to spray at least one of their aircraft in the colors of a tiger. The theme of this year is very typical the “Atlantic Tiger” which is a symbol of the 11 Flottille. During this Tiger Meet, the 11 Flottille would also celebrate its 50th anniversary. The unit would fly with six Rafale M fighter aircraft during the exercises. The Rafale M is a fighter plane deployed by the French navy from the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. Especially for this occasion, the French host of the meeting has sprayed a Rafale M in a white and black tiger scheme. This aircraft was therefore the symbol for the colored aircraft participating in this year’s Tiger Meet.

In addition to the fact that the Tiger Meet has a social character, also a very serious COMAO (COmbined Military Air Operations) exercise would take place during the meeting. The exercise was this year attended by a total of eleven NATO and partner member states. In total, 53 aircraft and 15 helicopters would participate in the different scenarios. During this 15 days exercise more than 800 missions would be flown and more than 1200 flying hours would be completed. In total, 800 pilots and technicians are involved in the exercise. A large part of the missions are performed in parallel.

Large-scale exercises of this format are extraordinary in Europe despite the fact that they are very important. Fighter aircraft operate almost always in an international context. Think of the international missions in the fight against terrorist organization IS in Syria and Iraq. In order to perform these types of operations, realistic training with partners remains necessary. For fighter pilots, it is important to plan, execute and evaluate complex flight assignments. The assignments distributed to the individual groups, eventually come together in a complex scenario in which everyone has his own role. The fighter planes participating in the Tiger Meet will mainly practice aspects such as air defense, escorting and air attacks.

The field of participants of the NATO Tiger Meet was this year again very varied. In total, there were participants from eight countries which were participating in the COMAO exercise; all these countries were members of the NATO Tiger Association. In addition to the French Navy, the French participation would also consist of seven air force Rafales from Mont-de-Marsan. These aircraft are assigned to EC01.030 and EC03.030. Also, four French Gazelles of the ALAT flew along. These helicopters were from Etain-Rouvres. The Swiss Air Force would fly along with five F/A-18 Hornets from Meiringen. The Austrian participation consisted of three Saab 105Ö light aircraft from Linz-Horsching. The Italian Air Force participated in the training with four EF2000s from Gioia del Colle and with two AB-212ICO helicopters from Grazzanise. The Belgians which participated came from Kleine-Brogel and they flew along with five F-16s of the 31 Squadron. The Royal Netherlands Air Force participated with many aircraft during this year’s Tiger Meet, because the no 313 Squadron from Volkel flew along with as many as eight F-16s. The last participant which participated with fighter aircraft were the Czechs. In total, four JAS-39 Gripens of the 211 TL from Cáslav participated. Finally, the British RAF participated with a Puma HC2 from RAF Benson. In support of the exercise, a Sea King AEW of the British Navy, a French Navy E-2C Hawkeye and two EC665 HAP Tigre helicopters of the French ALAT flew along during the scenarios. Poland and Greece sent only observers to this exercise. The exercise would be coordinated by an E-3 Sentry. This aircraft would fly during its operations from Geilenkirchen in Germany.

Traditionally, the Tiger Meet is also every year a social event. During the Tiger Meet, a number of prizes are each year awarded in different categories. Also during the edition of 2017, these prizes were once again divided among the participants of the NATO Tiger Association. The first trophy which was awarded was for the unit which had the best results during the CAMAO exercise. This prize is very important for the participants, as it shows how well trained the unit is while performing its core tasks. The trophy for best flying unit was this year won by the Belgian no 31 Squadron. Also, the Tiger Meet is accompanied by a plane or helicopter with a painted tail or fuselage. The award for the most beautiful painted aircraft was won by the 11 Flottille of the French Navy. The trophy for the most beautiful uniform which the staff is wearing was, like the best flying unit, been won by the Belgian no 31 Squadron. During the Tiger Meet, also a game is held, usually on the weekends. These so-called Tiger Games should connect the different units together on the social aspects. The trophy for the Tiger Games was this year won by French Air Force EC01.030. The prize for the best sketch or skit contains a show with a lot of humor. This award was this time won by the British RAF no 230 Squadron. Finally, the prize, known as the Silver Tiger Trophy, was won by the Belgian no 31 Squadron. This award represents the best all-round performance throughout the entire Tiger Meet and is therefore the most important prize to be won.

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