Landing at Brest in the late afternoon of wednesday, watching the intense green of the french countryside, the airport’s windsock stretched and horizontal with respect to the ground, it is clear that weather will not be that of Saragoza. In Bretagne, far north of Spain, the beautiful sunshine that welcame me last year for Tiger Meet, here will be a gift every day. Moreover, I’ve know for many years of experience in England, beautiful days are rare and are always a gift. Much better because unexpected.
From 5th to 16th June, the Tigers meet on Landivisiau navy airbase for the NATO Tiger Meet: Flottille 11 has filled the role of organizing this event. I use the present tense because the exercise is still ongoing at the time of writing, maybe I should use the past, when these lines are be printed, the exercise will be shortly over. The success of this edition gives their contribution to about 800 people among pilots and ground technicians for a target of about 1200 flying hours.
There are not all the squadrons of the NATO Tiger Meet Association. The comparison with the previous edition of Zaragoza, perhaps the greatest of all, is obvious; are missing some air forces that have always offered their broad contribution, even from a choreographic point of view. There are not the Greeks and the Turks, the Spanish and the Slovaks, the Poles, among the most significant.
The Italian Air Force participates with four F-2000 Typhoon of the XII Group of Gioia del Colle and with two AB-212 ICO helicopters of the 21st Flight Group based at Grazzanise.
The aim of the exercise is to increase operational capabilities, professionalism and interoperability among NATO nations and partners by creating realistic scenarios and complex, joint and combined missions in composite air operations (COMAOs). Adding to this is the exchange of information, methods, tactics and professional experiences, the integration and international standardization of all squadrons. In these operations, HH-212 helicopters are trained in Personnel Recovery (PR) missions, such as Combat Search and Rescue and Combat Recovery, Non-combatant Evacuation Operations missions of civilian personnel abroad), support for Special Forces and tactical transport.
The helicopter used by the 21st Volo Group is the Augusta Bell 212 ICO (Operational Capability Implementation): it has a respectable career since it has been employed recently in the ISAF context in Afghanistan, carrying out a thousand missions in the areas of Herat and Kabul, totaling more than 2000 hours of flight. The AB-212 ICO is a modified version of the AB 212 AMI-SAR, which differs by the presence of two MG 42/59 cal. 7.62 machine guns, “flares” launchers for infra-red, ground-air missiles, NVG (Night Viewers) and Kevlar Armor.
One of the two 212 wore an original livery, with a sharmouth covering all over the nose. I would say that the Italian fantasy expressed itself in its best way. Captain Riga told us that this livery will be maintained for a long time in Grazzanise and we will have the chance to see it at least end this year because of a 50 yrs celebration to be held there Before winter comes.
Instead, the Austrian military aviation, the Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte, brought its long-lived Saab 105OE’s, one with “Tiger-Sonderlackierung”, replacing the former special painted bird that participated to so many meetings and exercises. Departing from Linz-Hörsching, with a flight time of less than two and a half hours and a refueling stop in Basel, the flight arrived in Bretagne as planned. Austria participates in this edition with a small contingent of 28 soldiers of which eleven pilots of the Saab 105OE and ten technicians.
From the base of Caslav, four JAS-39 Gripen came up with three dozen pilots and technicians, said Captain Thomas Caslav Maruscak, spokeswoman for the Czech group. The program planned for us is to carry out about 28 missions for a total of 36 flight hours. Our job – says engineer Jan Blažek – is to provide aerial coverage for unit disembarkation missions and land recuperation missions. For the occasion, one of our Gripen was painted with a new commemorative livery, which we christened Wildcat: inside it was depicted the face of Simona Krainová, director and top model very famous in our country that you have surely seen on prestigious magazines such as Marie Claire, Biba, Cosmopolitan and Maxim to name a few and worked with photographers such as Helmut Newton, Patrik Demarchelier, Bethina Reims; His eyes were painted on the horizontal control surfaces of our jet according to the tradition that used this area as a painting where the theme is ‘The Eyes’.
The French participate in this exercise by deploying a large number of Rafale, belonging to the Armée de l’Air and the Aeronavale, at least 10 Rafale of Aeronaval were on the first apron. As hosts they did their best to offer three original livery to the eyes of air-enthusiasts. The one painted by the Aeroavale resumes the theme of the white tiger, already seen on the Super Etendard who participated in the Ørland Tiger Meet in Norway. But my 6-year nephew told me:” uncle, this is like a Zebra!” Unfortunately, it has not been seen to fly much, some whisper that the paint used to decorate that bird is easily removed by the air sliding friction and is kept intact for the second spotterday of June 14th. These rumours were right because just that day all the French painted Rafale came out from their aprons altogether, escorted by an ex New Zealand Air Force MB-339 for an aerial photo-session in a glorious afternoon.
The NATO Tiger Association was born in 1961. This particular initiative was promoted by then French Minister of Defense Pierre Messmer when France was still part of NATO: Messmer noticed that several fighter squadrons from various countries had a feline as their emblem.
The history of the NATO Tiger Meet began in 1960 when the 79th Fighter Squadron USAFE pilots deployed at the RAF Woodbridge base (UK) with their F-100D Super Saber together with the No. 74 Squadron RAF, based in Coltishall (UK ) With their English Electric Lightning, they decided to meet at Woodbridge to party and stay in company. In 1961 the event followed, and the invitation was extended to the French of Escadron de Chasse 1/12 Cambrésis. In 1962 the turn of the year: USAF Lieutenant Mike Dugan had the idea of inviting all the flying units that had a tiger’s emblem. Many squadrons adhered to this proposal, and sent their answer through formal channels, involving the central headquarters, to the headquarters of NATO which definitively approved the “Tiger Meet”.
There are some traditions that characterize this event:
At the Opening Ceremony, the Base Commander or visiting General celebrates the beginning of the exercise using the formula recited at the opening of the Olympics, with a slight change: “I declare the NATO Tiger Meet open” and the commander of the Host squad answer with a loud “Tiger -Tiger-Tiger”
Two-seater a/c: every group must do their best to bring Tiger Meet a two-seater aircraft to offer and / or exchange a flight with colleagues from other nationalities
Exchange of gifts: exchange crest, patchwork, patch … a way to make knowledge and friendship in full Tiger spirit
Special clothing: as well as the aircraft wear a special livery, the crew and pilots also wear “tiger” flight suits (when possible), or apply a “special color” to their helmets
International Evening: a dinner is organized where each group presents the food, clothes, and customs of its country
The NATO Air Force Units, members of the NATO Tiger Association, which have a feline as emblem of the unit/squadron take part to the exercise. This particular feature presents traditionally “special color” aircraft, including this year’s 21st Group helicopter, which, on the fuselage, offers a painting symbolizing the ten years of stay at the Grazzanise air base inside the 9th Stormo – which in the past was equipped with the Starfighters.
Italy is today one of the nations with the longest tradition in the Nato Tiger Association, after England, France and the United States; in fact, the 21st Flight Group, became part of the then ” NATO Tiger Club “in 1968 and won the prestigious” Silver Tiger “trophy twice, in 1998 at Lechfeld and in 2015 at Konia in Turkey.
And now for my polish readers I offer my best wishes because it’s up to the polish Tiger Sqn. the organization of 2018 Tiger Meet in Poznan in May: I know that they will be up to the expected standards, being the Polish Air Force ready and present in the main exercises of the NATO, from Konya to Eindhoven.
Tiger Tiger Tiger!
Text by; Franco Gualdoni and Gianluca Storti