NATO Tigermeet 2015 - Konya Air Base, Turkey
After hearing so many good things over the years about NATO Tigermeet and the Spotters days usually combined with the exercise, 2015 was the first time Aviation in Action officially attended one of the notorious events. The host unit for Tigermeet 2015 was 192 Filo; a long standing member of the NATO Tiger Association who currently operate F-16’s based at Balikesir Air Base, Turkey. The destination for the exercise was not however at their home base, with Konya Air Base in Southern Turkey the preferred location.
During the months leading up to the event, it became apparent that a number of Squadrons would not be able to attend as a result of real world operations. Many ongoing situations in the world with the fight against militants and terror meant that the participation list was heavily hindered. With that, only 7 Squadrons were able to attend committing a total of 25 aircraft. The final list of Tigermeet participants were:
Despite many squadrons not being able to participate with aircraft directly, some of those squadrons did send along personnel to observe the exercise; namely 12o Gruppo (Italian Air Force), 1JTS (Austrian Air Force), 335 Mira (Hellenic Air Force), 221 LtBVr (Czech Air Force), 313 Squadron (Royal Netherlands Air Force) and TakLwG 51 (German Air Force). In addition to the official Tiger members above, some non-tiger units participated to support the exercise which were:
After a long connecting flight through Istanbul, Aviation in Action arrived at the civilian terminal within Konya Air Base greeted with beautiful blue skies and fantastic scenery. Following passing through airport security, we had to make our way to the military gate further along the base perimeter where further security screenings awaited. The Turkish Authorities were very welcoming and processed the spotters very quickly, getting us aboard the buses which would transport us to the designated spotting area for the day.
Exiting the buses put all spotters onto a HAS complex situated just down from the main operational pan for the exercise. What better sight than seeing a line-up of F-16s, Rafale’s and F18s under the gorgeous Anatolian sun. Within the complex was one of 192 Filo’s F-16 Tiger Specials, specifically an F-16D twin seater painted in a striking red and black scheme. After capturing a few images of static aircraft and visiting the squadrons on their merchandise stands, spotters took up their positions as the action for the day begun.
With sun positioned behind us until later in the afternoon the conditions for photography were excellent, as was our location close to the taxi way. Kicking things off was a very spirited rehearsal from Solo Turk, the Turkish Air Force F-16 Demo Team. This was followed by the arrival of a very welcome pair of F-4E Phantom`s who obliged the crowd with a couple of flypast’s before landing, taxiing past and parking in the HAS complex for the spotters. Seeing the F-4s was a very nice treat as their days are unfortunately numbered. Operating from its home base, we were also treated to an appearance from the newly acquired Boeing 737 AEW&C Peace Eagle, Turkey’s new Airborne Early Warning and Control platform.
After a hive of activity, the first wave of Tigermeet aircraft begun heading out for the runway led by F-16’s from 131 Filo who were assigned as red air, shortly followed by the main contingent of Tigermeet aircraft. The usual process for exercises of this nature result in red air assets getting airborne before the mass launch which allows all aircraft to set themselves up for the complex mission ahead. Typical sorties will last between 60-120 minutes optimising a range of operations including Air-to-Air Refuelling, air combat, low flying and the use of weapons ranges. The pilots will then recover their aircraft allowing a debrief session before heading out for an afternoon sortie. Between the two waves we were treated to another rehearsal from Solo Turk and a very impressive display from the Turkish Stars who also happen to reside at Konya. Once the second wave of the day had recovered, the Turkish Authorities began ushering us back to the bus taking spotters off the base by 6pm.
Day two’s weather forecast was unfortunately a stark contrast to the day before, with local thunderstorms due during the first wave of the day. Upon arriving at the base and making way out to the taxiway, fears soon become reality when big formations of angry clouds begun closing in from the East, rolling over the beautiful mountain tops and descending towards Konya Air Base. A positive side to this presented some really dramatic skies whilst some aircraft were on the taxiway, but this was short lived when the weather finally closed in. In the time the weather cleared the mountains, the days flying was understandably cancelled, with the aircraft darting for a hangar on the North side of the airfield to take shelter from any possible storm damage. Luckily the two F-4’s managed to depart once an opening in the weather presented itself, but soon after the Turkish Military decided our time on base and subsequently, the Tigermeet Spottersdays were over.
We would like to thank the Turkish Air Force for allowing us on their establishment at Konya and to all of the personnel who gave their time to cater for the spotters, especially when considering the nature of viewing aircraft in Turkey, the hospitality shown was second to none. Thanks also to the Turkish Stars and Solo Turk for their very welcome entertainment in low activity periods. We would like to send our thanks to all the squadrons who participated in the exercise, taking the time to meet us on their stands and to show off their stunning aircraft in the skies above. The last thanks goes to the NATO Tiger Association, for their hard work in organising the exercise and continuing some long standing tiger traditions – Konya was an absolute pleasure.
Credits: Article and photography by Darren Willmin, additional imagery by Aaron Paxton