In May 2016 MAR visited its first ever annual NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) that took place between the 16th until the 27th May at Zaragoza Air Base in Spain, located half way between the Spanish capital Madrid and Barcelona. The military air base is home to the Ala 31 operating the C-130H/KC-130H Hercules and the Ala 15 with EF-18M/EF-18BM Hornet. This military exercise is famous amongst aviation enthusiasts as many squadrons choose to paint their aircraft in stunning colour schemes in honour of the NATO Tiger Association (NTA).
The NTM is organized by the NATO Tiger Association (NTA)/Association of Tiger Squadrons which was established in 1961. Promoted by French Defense minister Pierre Messmer, its role is to promote solidarity between NATO air forces. It is not, though, part of the formal NATO structure. In order to become a member of the NTA NATO squadrons need to have a Tiger’s head in the squadron crest. The newest member of NTA is the German Air Force TaktLwG 74 (Tactical Fighter Wing 74), flying the EF2000 Eurofighter. They were accepted into the community on May 17th, 2016. Currently the NTA has 24 active squadrons from 17 countries.
The NTM encompasses a wide variety of missions. Usually two waves – shadow and COMAO – are flown daily, practicing multi-national and multi-aircraft operations, which reflect real world scenarios. The “shadow wave” is not as complex as the COMAO (combined air operations) wave and usually involves less aircraft than the COMAO wave.
Fifteen different types of aircraft from 23 units out of 15 countries with a total of 97 aircraft took part in the NTM. Almost 1000 sorties were flown during the twelve days. The 2016 NTM was the biggest Tiger Meet in its 55 year history. MAR is delighted and lucky to have chosen to attend this event when participation by aircraft was at its highest!
The countries involved included Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg (NATO), Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
Apart from being a military exercise, this event is in itself also a competition, where squadrons may receive various awards during the event. In 2016, the Belgian 31st Smaldeel was awarded the Silver Trophy for best overall performance; the Best Painted Tiger Aircraft was a Czech Air Force Mi-24 Hind from the 221 LtBVr. The winner of the Best Flying Unit was the French Navy Flottille 11F with Rafale M.
Besides the spotters day organised by the NTA, the Spanish Air Force also hosted a small airshow for the general public on the following day, that was mainly composed of some elements that took part in the NATO tiger meet, as well as some local assets in the flying display such as the Patrulla Aguila, The Patrulla Aspa, the Spanish F-18 hornet demo and the Spanish EF2000 demo. Foreign Participants included the French Navy Rafale Demo composed of two rafales, and the Belgian Air Force F-16 demo. All in all it was a very enjoyable event with great weather as the pictures below suggest!