Text: Serge Van Heertum & Pictures: Jacques Vincent, Philippe Decock & Laurent Vlieghe - Translation: David Niemegeerts  © sbap 2016
  

" Tiger Meet ", the mythical name of an extraordinary NATO exercise that started 55 years ago. It was in 1961 that it would become the key gathering of fighter planes.
This year, the important NATO exercise was held from May 16th through 27th, on the base of Zaragoza in Spain. Nearly a hundred military aircraft and roughly 1,300 people had traveled to Zaragoza to participate in, or witness this exercise. The 2016 edition of the "Tiger Meet" will remain the largest exercise of NATO air forces of the year, and also the largest gathering of squadrons under the emblem of the "Tiger", ever held on the continent. The gigantic size of the base of Zaragoza is one of the main reasons.
Complete and complex exercises:
Besides the festive and folkloric aspect of "Tiger Meet", it remains a very complete air exercise that puts pressure on all crews with complex scenarios, that are as close as possible to the reality of current military operations. The crews must first carefully prepare each flight, taking into account the operational side, air traffic control and logistics. An exercise during a "Tiger Meet" day is divided into two phases, the first taking place in the morning and consisting of smaller trainings, and to prepare work between the different aircraft types. Then the afternoon is reserved for complex missions (COMAO) involving a larger number of planes, in a very realistic environment.
The exercise provides an opportunity to train against, or with foreign participants in the field of air defense, interoperability, ground attack, support of ground troops, etc ...

 

Zaragoza Air Base

This is a base of the Spanish Air Force located near Zaragoza and located 16 kilometers west of Zaragoza city. The Air Base is 270 km west of Barcelona and 262 km northeast of Madrid.
Zaragoza is a major base for the Spanish Air Force. The Ala 15 (15 Wing) flies two squadrons with eighteen McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets each. Today it also functions as Zaragoza Airport. The U.S. Air Force left, after it had been asked to move out, in April 1992.
The construction work on Zaragoza Airport began in September 1954 with the enlargement and improvement of the existing Spanish Air Force Base located there. United States Navy engineers upgraded the facility for temporary or intermediate use as a standby war base. The first U.S. construction project included strengthening the existing 3,024 m runway and adding 304 m overruns at each end. Work on a new concrete runway, 61 by 3,718 meters, with 61 m overruns at each end, began in 1956 and was completed in 1958.

  

3794th Air Base Group
Zaragoza Air Base was transferred from the control of the Joint United States Military Group, Air Administration (Spain), Sixteenth Air Force, to the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command on 1 July 1957, with the facility providing operational support for SAC Boeing B-47 Stratojet alert force dispersal. Zaragoza was under SAC's 65th Air Division. Support continued for B-47 operations until 1 July 1964, when Zaragoza AB was placed on standby status with the withdrawal of the B-47 from active service.
Zaragoza AB was further reduced to modified caretaker status on 1 January 1966 when Sixteenth Air Force was reassigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe. USAFE assigned the 7472d Air Base Group as a caretaker organization to the facility.

431st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
In 1958, the 431st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron moved from Wheelus Air Base, Libya, arriving at Zaragoza in September with North American F-86D Sabre and an Air Defense mission.
On 28 September 1960 the 431st transitioned to the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and was transferred to the USAFE 86th Air Division (Defense) at Ramstein Air Base, West Germany on 1 July 1960. This transfer was made in order that all USAF fighter assets in Europe could be concentrated in one command. The 431st FIS operated the F-102s until 23 April 1965 when it transferred to the 8th TFW at George Air Force Base, California, transitioned to the F-4C and was reflagged as the 431st Tactical Fighter Squadron.

874th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron
Was assigned to the USAFE Seventeenth Air Force, 65th Air Division. Provided general radar surveillance over Spain. The squadron was headquartered at Zaragoza AB beginning in January 1959. The squadron operated a site near Elizondo, Spain, one of seven Radar sites in Spain operated by the 65th Air Division which provided early warning of unidentified aircraft and controlled NATO airspace over the region. the 874th AC&W and other geographically separated radar squadrons in Spain was supported logistically by the host units at Zaragoza.

406th Tactical Fighter Training Wing
In February 1970 Project Creek Step called for the buildup of Zaragoza AB as a USAFE weapons training site, with actual use of the Bardenas Reales Air-to-Ground Bombing and Gunnery Range (about 72 km (40 mi) northwest of the base) began in March.
With the closure of Wheelus Air Base, Zaragoza returned to active status on 19 February 1970 with the activation of the 406th Tactical Fighter Training Group. The 406th Group became the 406th Tactical Fighter Training Wing on 21 July 1972.
Although the 406th had no permanently assigned aircraft, the Wing provided support to all USAFE tactical aircraft which used the Zaragoza range, as well as deployed SAC and TAC units, as well as allied NATO units. Beginning in September 1972, the 406th also operated the USAFE Tactical Forces Employment School, and in May 1976, began operating the USAFE Instructor Pilot School. Weapons training detachments were principally F-4 aircraft, although F-111s used the wing's ranges for a short period in 1974, and U.S. Navy A-7s used range facilities in June 1974. During November 1976, the 406th TFTW began full maintenance support of an SAC KC-135 Stratotanker detachment on a permanent basis.
On 12 September 1977, another facet was added to the wing's training operations when it conducted the first Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) missions with USAF and U.S. Navy aircraft.
In 1979, two significant events took place, which had an effect on the wing's operation. The first was the closing of the Instructor Pilot School in July, due to broad changes in USAFE's mission and budget restraints. The second event took place in February when the 406th began to implement the Production Oriented Maintenance Organization (POMO) concept. Headquarters USAF designed POMO to establish a maintenance management system which would enhance sortie production by improving the utilization of maintenance personnel.
On 1 January 1980, the support mission expanded when the 406th assumed responsibility for various functional areas in support of the four USAF tropo-scatter communication sites at Humosa, Menorca, Soller, and Inoges. Foremost among the accomplishments of the 406th TFTW during 1981 was the preparation and planning for reception of the F-16 Weapons Training Detachments which began in 1982. The 313th TFS of the 50th TFW, from Hahn Air Base, Germany, flew the first European F-16C training flights, deployed to Zaragoza, to the Bardenas Reales Weapons Range, starting in late January 1982. The 512nd TFS of the 86th TFW at Ramstein AB recorded its first F-16C fighter deployment to the Bardenas Reales Range on 3 April 1986. This represented the initial use of the C-model F-16 aircraft at the range since the newer F-16s were introduced to the European theatre.
On 15 October 1986, heavy rainfall resulted in flash floods across the base causing heavy damage to facilities and base homes. As much as 15 inches (380 mm) of water and mud flooded into many facilities, causing nearly US$1 million in damage. Base personnel as well as temporarily assigned weapons training detachment personnel joined in the massive clean-up effort, and fortunately no injuries occurred. In a show of strength and comradeship in overcoming obstacles, Zaragoza also earned the prestigious USAFE Base Appearance Award during that same month.
For the rest of the 1980s, the 406th continued to provide support for USAFE crew training and range training exercises. August 1990 ushered in a period of intense activity, as the 406th and Zaragoza provided major air and ground support for Operation Desert Shield, conducted in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Thousands of military personnel and tons of equipment passed through Zaragoza en route to the crisis in the Middle East. The base and the wing continued to act as a major aerial port providing support during and after Operation Desert Storm.
Subject to the same provisions requiring the removal of other units from Spain, the 406th began efforts to end its operations and return Zaragoza to the Spanish government in 1992. The use of the training range ended in December 1991, followed by the turnover of base operations to Spain in April 1992. The 406th Tactical Fighter Training Wing was inactivated on 1 April 1994 when the U.S. Air Force ended its presence and returned control to the Spanish government.
Zaragoza Air Base was also a NASA Alternate Space Shuttle Landing Site. Typically this would be used as a Trans-atlantic Abort Landing (TAL) site, although fortunately this was never needed during the Shuttle program. To be chosen as a TAL site, an air base has to meet a number of requirements. For starters, its runway needs to be a minimum of 7,500 feet long. The weather around the base should typically be good landing conditions for the shuttle (clear, low wind speeds, etc.). The base also must have a military-grade Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) system, and be adaptable to special guidance devices NASA uses with the shuttles.

 

Ala 15 "Quien Ose Paga"

The 15th Wing (Ala 15) was created on December 16th 1985. The Wing's Tiger however dates back to September 1956, with the formation of the 2nd Fighter wing, flying the F86-F Sabrejet.
In July 1986 the first four EF-18 Hornets arrived after a direct flight from the USA. Henceforth the new 15th Wing became airborne, with, from 1995 onwards, 2 Fighter Squadrons and 1 Operational Conversion Squadron under its command.
Ala 15, together with Ala 12, had the honors to perform the longest Spanish Air Force deployment. From 1994 until 1999, the SpAF participated in the international Operations following the conflict in the former Yugoslav Republic, locally called operation 'ICARO'.
Ala 15 Hornets perform a wide variety of tasks, including Air To Air, Air To Ground and SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) missions.
The wing participated in a NATO Tiger Meet for the first time in 2006, hosted by their other SpAF Tiger Unit 142 Squadron from Albacete. During Ocean Tiger 2008 (NTM-2008) they were awarded Full NTA Membership status.

 
 
(© Jacques Vincent)
 
Participant units
 

Spanish Air Force:
Ala 15  Zaragoza EF-18+ Hormet
142 Esc  Albacete EF2000 Typhoon

Belgian Air Force:
31 smd Kleine Brogel F-16A/B MLU Fighting Falcon

Czech Air Force:
211 TL Cáslav AFB JAS-39C/D Gripen
221 LtBVr Námest Mi-24 Hind
221 LtBVr Námest Mi-17 Hip

French Air Force:
ECE 01/30  BA 118 Mont-de-Marsan Mirage 2000D

French Navy:
Flotille 11F BAN Landiviseau Rafale M
Flotille 4F BAN Lann-Bihoué E-2CHawkeye

French Army: 
3 RHC (ALAT) BA Étain-Rouvres SA 342 M Gazelle

German Air Force:
TaktLwG 74 Neuburg EF2000 Typhoon
TlG 51  Schleswig Jagel Panavia Tornado ECR

Greece Air Force:
335 Mira Araxos F-16C/D Block 52+ Fighting Falcon

Hungarian Air Force:
59/1 Sqn  Kecskemét JAS-39C/D Gripen

Italian Air Force:
21° Gruppo  Grazzanise AB-212ICO
12° Gruppo  Gioia del Colle EF2000 Typhoon (Visitor only)

Netherland Air Force:
313 sqn Vlb. Volkel F-16A/B MLU Fighting Falcon (1st week only)
334 Sqn vlb. Eindhoven KDC-10  (Flying from Eindhoven)

Norvegian Air Force:
338 Skv  MAS Ørland F-16A/B MLU Fighting Falcon

Polish Air Force:
6 ELT Poznan-Krzesiny AB F-16C/D Block 52 Fighting Falcon

Portuguese Air Force:
Esq 301 BA5 Monte Real F-16A/B MLU Fighting Falcon
(Visitor only)

Swiss Air Force:
Staffel 11 Meiringen F/A-18C/D Hornet

Turkish Air Force:
192 Filo Balikesir AB F-16C/D Block 50 Fighting Falcon

Royal Air Force:
230 Sqn  RAF Benson Puma HC.2

Nato:
1 AEW&CS (NATO)  MOB Geilenkirchen E-3A Sentry

Civilian:
GFD Hohn Gates Learjet 35A
Helisuerte Alicante Agusta Westland A109E

 
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Philippe Decock) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Laurent Vlieghe)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Laurent Vlieghe)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Philippe Decock) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Philippe Decock)
(© Laurent Vlieghe)
(© Philippe Decock) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Philippe Decock) (© Philippe Decock)
(© Laurent Vlieghe)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Laurent Vlieghe)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Philippe Decock)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Philippe Decock)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Philippe Decock)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Laurent Vlieghe) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Philippe Decock)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Philippe Decock) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Philippe Decock) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Philippe Decock)
(© Philippe Decock) (© Philippe Decock)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Philippe Decock) (© Philippe Decock)
(© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent) (© Jacques Vincent)
(© Jacques Vincent)
Other aircraft
 
Gates Learjet 35A  (D-CARL)  (© Jacques Vincent) Agusta Westland AW109 E  (EC-IJR)  (© Jacques Vincent)
Piper J-3 "Cub"  (EC-AJY)  (© Jacques Vincent) Cessna 0-1E  "Bird Dog" (EC-MAB)  (© Jacques Vincent)
Tiger ambiance
 
French Navy pilots preparing (© Jacques Vincent) French Tiger ambiance (© Jacques Vincent)
Belgian beverage ;-)  (© Jacques Vincent) The needed fuel !  (© Jacques Vincent)
Belgian vehicle... (© Jacques Vincent) ...German vehicle  (© Jacques Vincent)
 
2016 Trophies
Silver Tiger Trophy: 31 smd Belgian Air Force

Best Flying Unit: Flotille 11F French Navy

Best Painted Tiger Aircraft: 221 LtBVr Czech Air Force

Best Looking Uniform: 21° Gruppo Italian Air Force

Tiger Games: 31 smd Belgian Air Force

Best Skit: 338 Skv Norvegian Air Force

Nato Tiger Meet 2017 will be hosted by the Flotille 11F at Landiviseau Air Base

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