Bob Archer reviews the 2006 Tiger Meet, held at Albacete, Spain. Pictures by the author and Ronald de Ruij
The annual Tiger Association's flying event, better known as the Tiger Meet, assembled for the forty-second time between 25 September and 1 October at Los Llanos Air Base near Albacete, Spain. Since its inception in 1961, the Tiger Meet has brought together squadrons with the common theme of a tiger in their unit emblem, with this being reflected in the many flamboyant colour schemes applied to participating aircraft, flying suits and several vehicles.
Twelve months of planning by the Association in conjunction with the Spanish Air Force culminated in the arrival on 25 September of the first jets, led by a pair of Dassault Mirage 2000s and two Dassault Rafale Bs of EC 05.330 from Mont de Marsan, France. Rafale B 307/330-EE was the first to land, wearing a highly original double-tiger design on the fin - a fitting debut to the Association by the latest aircraft type to join the ranks. The French contingent was joined throughout the day by additional French, as well as representatives from Belgian, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, and the UK. Glorious weather over the week enabled all of the planned Combined Air Operations (COMAO) sorties to take place as intended.
More than forty fixed and rotary winged aircraft participated, and were swelled by the Mirage F1Ms of the resident Escuadron 142, who were celebrating twenty years of membership. In addition sister Mirage F1 unit, Escuadron 141, was invited as guests, along with Escuadron 152 with the Boeing EF-18A Hornet from Zaragoza, Spain.
Collectively these aircraft completely filled the neat L-shaped apron at Los Llanos. 335 Mira, Hellenic Air Force was due to participate as observers with a pair of Vought A-7E Corsairs, as a means of re-entry to the Association - however, their tiger-scheme jet developed technical problems forcing them to cancel.
The Tiger Meet was originally little more than an opportunity for member squadrons to fly a number of simulated combat sorties, and swap experiences and tactics in the bar afterwards. In recent years, cost-consciousness has resulted in each Meet being a NATO funded and highly organised, multi-tasked event. The seven mission packages were organised, each composing of thirty to forty aircraft, with fighter bombers (F-16s and Tornados) ingressing a target area based upon a realistic, but fictitious wartime scenario. Supporting the offensive packages were interceptors (including Mirage F1s and other F-16s), while the helicopter contingent was committed to combat search and rescue. A NAEWF Boeing E-3A Sentry from 1 Squadron operated from Torrejon Air Base to provide overall command and control - the unit also being a member of the Association. Planning and executing each COMAO was switched between the various squadrons to enable commanders to derive maximum benefit from scheduling a multi-tasked exercise. A daily mass brief preceded each individual, lengthy unit briefing. Complex pre-flight requirements, including the usage of computer generated mission tapes, were used by crews operating the latest fighter types. Each package lasted about two hours from the time when the first aircraft departed, until the return of the last. The exercise took place to the north and west of Albacete above a sparsely populated area, with sorties flying at medium to high level. A post mission briefing was also held to analyse each unit's effectiveness.
Tiger colour schemes abounded, with the most spectacular being the all-over black and white candy striped pattern adopted by Mirage 2000C 115/12-YM of EC 01.012. A further nine had colourful tail schemes, including the Belgians who brought both their 2005 and 2006 'specials.' Only one of the two German units had artwork, as their commanding officer had imposed this restriction - the 2006 painted example being from AkG-51 'Recce Tigers'. Turkey had been reluctant in previous years to apply much additional embellishment, but this year completed two full-colour tiger tails. One of their jets arrived largely unmarked on 22 September, with technicians applying the white tiger scheme with tape and washable paint at Los Llanos. Portugal's 301 Escuadron had only recently exchanged the Alpha Jet for the F-16A/B and were relegated to applying a series of grey tiger paw prints to the fin of one aircraft.
The Spanish host nation applied extremely colourful artwork to the tail of a Mirage F1M, as well as decorating another with grey tiger stripes to the tail and rear fuselage. One of the Escuadron 152 EF-18s has similar tiger marks on the fin, and all four Hornets were embellished with brightly coloured yellow and black fuselage fuel tank.
The combination of the efficient, yet relaxed style of the Spanish authorities, and the highly experienced tiger organisers ensured a smooth running and thoroughly enjoyable event. Aside from the flying activities, there were the usual 'tiger games' as well as a bar located in a hangar set aside for relaxation and comradeship. The Association announced that 338 SKv at Orland, Norway will host the 2007 event for the first time. This will offer a challenge to the Norwegian Air Force, as well as the participants who will have to contend with mountainous terrain and over water missions - far removed from the dry, arid landscape of central Spain.
The following units participated in the event:
from Cambrai-Epinoy, France with the Mirage 2000C/B;