On the 11th and 12th of February 2019, MAR had a unique and rare opportunity to visit Ala 23 of the Spanish Air Force based at Badajoz Airport, close to the border with Portugal. Badajoz Airport (LEBZ) is an airport located 13 km of Badajoz, a city in Extremadura, Spain. The airport shares its runway and control tower with Base Aérea de Talavera la Real, an air base of the Spanish Air Force, named for the nearby municipality of Talavera la Real.
Ala 23 is equipped with the Northrop SF-5 Freedom fighter, which is rarely seen outside Spain’s borders. Being so rare to see outside of Spanish borders, MAR members did not hesitate to apply for permission and perform the necessary arrangements to spend two fabulous days at this rarely visited airbase, capturing these legendary fighter-training aircraft from every possible angle imaginable.
At first, we were quite skeptic about what we would actually see during those two days, especially since the operational days of the Spanish F-5 are diminishing, with their retirement date not yet set but impending due to the fact that the air frame is quite old and the fact that only 19 examples still serve with the Spanish Air Force.
We therefore were not expecting to see more than 4 flying examples on each day of the visits, but we were happily proven wrong when to our joy, upon entry to the base we saw not less than 9 examples on the active apron, with 7 being prepared for normal day operations and two examples that were specially configured to present to us photographers the various configurations of the F-5, one being fully loaded with weapons, and one surrounded with all types of warfare and training instrumentation that the aircraft can support.
Before we could walk out freely on the apron and take pictures of all F-5s being prepared for normal flying ops, were were briefed by the Spanish air force, who showed as a video of the history of Ala 23, as well as explained to us their role within the Spanish Air Force and also gave us an overview of what we could and could not do during those two days. We were therefore overjoyed when we got to know that the wing would be performing 3 sorties per day, with each sortie consisting of not less than 4 aircraft, with the last sortie being a night sortie thus enabling us to take night shots of the aircraft. After the briefing, we were also allowed to take some images of the gate guards at the base, which were located close by to where the briefing room was located.
Following this informative briefing, we were then allowed to stroll around the apron, taking pictures from any angle imaginable. It must be pointed out that the air force staff was extremely accommodating, even providing us with ladders to help us get perspective shots from above of the F-5s. The very accommodating hosts, coupled with the glorious weather, all helped make the first few hours of our visit already a tremendous success.
Following static shots, we witnessed the crew preparing the jets for takeoff and with the aid of specially allocated transport, we were allowed to take pictures of the aircraft being prepared for takeoff, taxi out of the stand, and taxi on the parallel taxiway. Furthermore, on request, we were also allowed to go to the threshold of the runway to see the aircraft on the piano keys just before touchdown.
Needless to say, the hosts prepared a thorough program for us spotters, as they performed several touch and go’s, high speed fly-by’s and topside passes before landing, making us take amazing shots of all aircraft that participated in the sorties. They even arranged to simulate an emergency landing, with fire engines and ambulances all rushing to the aid of the pilot and aircraft in trouble on the runway with its parachute deployed.
Each day then ended with night shots, shooting images of F-5s with the warm red sunset colours in the background and witnessing four after burning jets on takeoff in pure nighttime conditions, a sight to behold.
This brought to an end two magnificent days at the base, which in my opinion where two of the best and most organised events that I have witnessed to date, where everything fell in place, with fantastic photographic opportunities and splendid weather conditions.
A massive shout out to 4aviation who organised this unique and rare event, and a bigger shout out to Ala 23 of the Spanish air force, who were excellent hosts and showed us how every base visit or spotters day should be hosted. Kudos to all involved and I hope they host another similar event in the near future, MAR will most surely return!