NATO Tiger Meet 2003
J. Heard / Focal Plane reports from France on the annual
Tiger Meet held at Base Aérienne 103 - Cambrai between the 2nd
and 8th of June. Photography by the author unless stated otherwise.
Participants from both NATO and non-aligned squadrons flew into Cambrai on 2 June (experiencing some very poor arrival weather), for a week of activities involving combat training, socialising and of course the unashamed parading of some of their 'purr-fectly' painted mounts. NTM 03 saw several attractive colour schemes but the 'show stopper' this year was undoubtedly resident EC 01.012 Mirage 2000C No.83/12-YL in its amazing 'Tiger Eyed' scheme.
This year's event did however sadly lack some of the regular units, with USAFE's 494th FS, the Italian Air Force's 155° Gruppo and the Netherlands Air Force's 313 Squadron all being notable omissions from the flightline (although the latter did attend the Air Show on 8 June). However there were some very welcome returns to NTM 03 including a pair of F-16Cs from the Turkish Air Force's 192 Filo, complete with Tiger marked tails.
Cambrésis 03 - After arrival and briefings, the official opening ceremony took place on Monday evening and the following day all participants got down to the serious work of training, which this year was conducted under the heading of Exercise - "Cambresis 03". Again poor weather affected missions on Tuesday but as the week progressed the weather gradually improved.
The integration of combat training into the NTM has become an increasingly important part of the event and is now often incorporated into much larger scale exercises. This has included involvement in AIRNORTH's exercises "Clean Hunter" and "Daring Eagle" in more recent years. This years "Cambrésis 03" operation involved largely COMOA (COmbined Military Air Operations) and DACT training, supported by L'Armee de L'Air HQ and the CAOC, (Combined Air Operations Centre).
Spotters Day - After a week of combined operations a 'Spotters day' was held on 6 June for aviation photographers. This was held between 09:00 and 14:00 where access was permitted to photograph the 'Tiger' flight line at close quarters and view a live morning launch on what was the final active mission of NTM 03. A hot French summer's day helped the event along as photographers tried to keep up with the action along the fence line - a great shame it all had to end at 14:00 hours but the French Air Force are to be commended for organising a special event, set aside from the usual frustration that photographers experience on airshow days!
Airshow - The finalé to the week's events was an Airshow for the general public held on 8 June, with entrance for the modest sum of 5 Euros per adult (UK MoD please take note!). Unfortunately the glorious weather of the previous few days chose its moment to break down - the heavens opened and the the roar of thunder surrounded the field as the gates opened at 09:00. Sadly the show was marred as rain continued to come and go during the day, but undeterred the French public and Tiger Fans alike continued to poor into the base well into the late afternoon. The weather was a great shame as one static line was reasonably well placed for photography with only a tree lined back drop for the most part - some ems in the line included a nice pair of Singapore 'Scooters' from their Cazaux detachment.
Other interesting visitors for the show included a pair of Spangdhalem F-16Cs, one of which was the Commanders Aircraft bearing "Lets Roll" artwork and mission markings. The German Air Force also supplied a trio of 'Rhinos' and the Italians brought an MB-339.
The flying display, although affected by the weather, was however varied. This included a shelter launch of a Spanish AF Mirage F-1, the pilot cutting short his display after an apparent transgression soon after take-off. Other more unusual items included a spirited Bronco performance and a nice pair of ex-Swiss Vampires in French AF markings. As one would expect French AF participation in the show was strong with, amongst others, a Jaguar, Mirage, E-3F and the Patrouille de France.
Tiger tail end - During Sunday evening the event was wound up with the an award ceremony. Of these Major Paul Desair, Commander of 31 Squadron, Belgian AF, won the Silver Tiger Trophy, whilst the best flying trophy went to 230 Squadron from the Royal Air Force. In addition AG 51 of the Luftwaffe were declared official winners of the 'Tiger Games'.
Participants departed for home on 9 June after another successful gathering and a hectic week of activities for aircrew and ground crew alike. For the outsider it is obvious that the NTM is a very special event in both its spirit and humour. Its initial inception in 1959 to improve relations between NATO squadrons, promote solidarity, camaraderie and to exchange experience in combat operations, still hold good to this day and the spirit of the Tiger, a symbol of strength, power and hunting prowess, reflects well in the men and machines of the Tiger Association.
* This list does not include based Mirages or participants for the airshow. A number of Mirages from other French units also visited the base during the week to take part in training.
Airshow reflections (from the back of the car park) - Gary Parsons reports
Although as John said the main static line was nicely positioned, the Tiger 'park' was a disaster - poorly laid out with the barriers too close, plus an ugly set of steps next to the 'Tiger Eyes' Mirage, a particular kick in the proverbials after our trials and tribulations on Friday (see sidebar to 'Spotters Day'). Sure, some will say that airshows shouldn't solely cater for photographers, but it wouldn't have made much difference to Pierre and his family if the barriers had been pulled back six feet or so and the aircraft parked in a more orderly manner - or the fact that he could have in picture taken in a plain Mirage rather than a painted one. Many enthusiasts could be heard muttering about the shambles, except those fortunate to have been on base on the Friday - gits. (I'm not bitter, really).
As much as one would like to, you can't blame the French for the weather, which really did its best to disrupt the day - "will it rain, when will it stop, by 'eck it's bl**dy pouring down!" A particularly heavy burst at 15:00 sent many people scurrying for their cars and the exit, only to be confronted with locked gates (where have I heard that before?) as the exits were still closed due to the steady influx of visitors. After a half hour of mayhem with traffic either stationary or zooming to and fro backwards and forwards the exits were opened and the flood of traffic evaporated. Meanwhile, some of the airshow acts carried on, most notably the newly-sponsored Breitling team (ex-Khalifa) with their L-39s. The flying programme had looked promising at the beginning of the day, but it was difficult to know what we were missing as the souvenir booklet was as good as useless with no running order, it just seemingly being a promotional tool for the Armee de l'Air.
It seemed as if the whole of France had turned up, as the base was absolutely heaving, although this may have had something to do with not as much space as before - security had reared its ugly head since our last visit in 1998 and the extremities of the flightline and taxiways were now out-of-bounds behind temporary fencing. Food was also in short supply with just one food tent plus a queue at least two hours long - no more complaining about the burger vans at UK shows, please! We have to admit all the adversity got to us by 16:30 and we baled out early, not really caring that the Swiss F-18C was doing his bit as we drove away - thank goodness it was only an hour to Calais!
Paw note - The next NTM will be held in 2004 at Schleswig-Jagel, hosted by the resident AG 51.