Special Markings : NATO Tiger Meet 2007 - Arctic Tiger
Ramon van Opdorp (Scorpion Aviation Photography) reports on the 2007 edition of the NATO Tiger Meet named 'Arctic Tiger' at Ørland MAS, Norway.
Although the 2006 Tiger Meet was initially planned to be held at Ørland in Norway, 338 Squadron of the Norwegian Air Force had to postpone these plans to this year. The Tiger Meet in 2006 took place at Albacete in Spain instead, which made me interested in this more than special meeting and the goals and history behind it. Additionally the meeting also attracts aircraft covered in the most remarkable paint schemes and tiger coats, so again therefore reason enough for me to travel up North to the beautiful Norway.
This years NATO Tiger Meet (NTM) was named appropriately the "Arctic Tiger Meet", as the meeting was hosted at the cold Ørland MAS in the middle of Norway. The base is situated almost at the edge of Europe, and is one of the few NATO bases that can enjoy the spectacle of the breathtaking Polar light and is surrounded by the ocean and the beautiful mountainous countryside.
For the first time in history Ørland MAS was the host of the NATO Tiger Meet, offering several very unique assets for all the parcticipants. First of all is the weather in the area not the most reliable, a fact which had become evident once again during exercise "Bold Avenger" one week before the Tiger Meet. Wind directions were all over the place, hail and rain were a constant factor and a low cloud base was grounding a lot of missions. The airspace available for the exercises to the north is twice the size of Denmark, and the airspace to the south equals the size of Belgium. These two factors give parcticipants a unique opportunity to practice flying in adverse weather and in mountainous terrain in a vast area. The main operational NTM07-specific missions is full integration of helicopter, transport and fighters in a high threat environment while conducting MEDEVAC and CSAR. And as on a typical Tiger Meet flying program you will find missions like: OCA, DCA, SEAD, CSAR, Recce, Refuelling, COMAO, and so on.
During my visit on Friday, when a media day was hosted, a morning briefing was given before we drove towards the selected photography spot next to the runway. A COMAO mission was flown in combination with an air-to-air refuelling mission for most of the parcticipants, supported by a USAF 100th ARW KC-135 Stratotanker. One locally based NATO E-3A AWACS was in known territory, as Ørland is one of the NAEW Component's Forward Operating Locations for its E-3A, and was supporting the COMAO missions during the entire NTM07. Early Friday morning started with a clear blue sky and low angled sunshine, which remained the case during the whole day. The very unique light conditions at this location in Norway caused a very soft toned but deep colour effect on the photographs. This gives the name "Arctic Tiger" even more meaning, and is reflected in the photographs thanks to maybe the best and most remarkable circumstances to photograph in. A "Open Door day" was organised by the base on Saturday to welcome people that are living around the base and families of the airmen stationed here.
As in previous editions, very colourful mix of aircraft came together again, but this time all with an "arctic" influence in their paint scheme. While most aircraft were parked outside, the Belgian F-16, two Turkish F-16s, Spanish EF-18A+ Hornet and a completely "Tiger" covered F-5 from Norway parked in a dark hangar. The host of this years meeting had one F-16BM Fighting Falcon painted in a nice black/grey/white-toned tiger on the tail, and three sections of 'peeled' paint on the fuselage and the vertical lower fin revealing the tiger's skin. On both sides of the aircraft the "Arctic Tiger 2007" logo is displayed and the 338 Skv markings carried on both external fuel tanks. The German 1./JaBoG 32 Lechfeld Tigers were present with a freshly painted tiger Tornado with on either side of the tail a different tiger painting, and most important a great grey and black tiger coat all over the fuselage. The French Navy and Air Force repainted all of their official Tiger meet aircraft. With as most eye-catching aircraft two totally black and white Super Etendards from the Aeronavale's 11 Flotille, absolutely great to see against a deep blue sky.
Another French aircraft present was the Rafale B, that was put in a very nicely detailed arctic colour scheme with two different tigers on the tail section, and snow on the trailing edge of the wings & canards. The French Mirage 2000C of one of the oldest Tiger members was put in a great black/yellow/silver paint scheme, that was covering most of the fuselage. The Spanish Air Force was present with a Mirage F-1 in a grey toned tiger coat, and a EF-18A+ Hornet with a nicely painted tiger tail section. The Swiss Air Force presented the most detailed tiger head on both of the outsides of the vertical tails on another Hornet, and the Staffel 11 markings on the inside of the tail. And last but certainly not least there were the two Turkish F-16s. They had a decorated tail, which presented a tiger in full flight gear throwing a snow ball, both with a different background. On one tail the Turkish flag, while the other aircraft had the NATO flag and emblem.
After the aircraft returned from their mission, they all performed a formation break over the runway lining up to land. For the landing pictures we were positioned at the end of the runway, on a excellent position to get each parcticipant in the view finder. Every special painted aircraft was on request of the control tower holding for a few seconds in front of us with the aircraft slightly turned, so we could benefit from having the best lighting conditions for photographing. However the specially painted Tornado and the two specially painted French Super Etendards turned off the runway too early onto the first available taxi-track. But they were nicely asked to return by the control tower and show their beautiful aircraft in front of us, which was of course no problem for the crews. This showed again how all parties involved in this meeting were eagerly trying to give and show the best of their beautiful aircraft.
The German Tornados did not parcticipate in the flying missions, but the two 32 JaBoG aircraft flew a short local mission after all parcticipants had returned to base. Between the landing of the large wave and the landing of the two Tornados, two birds arrived that everybody was waiting for. Two completely black and white delta wing shaped birds were visible on the horizon, the two 11 Flotille Super Etendards. Shortly followed by the two Portuguese F-16s of the 301 Esquadra "Jaguares", from Monte Real AB, with "15133" still wearing a worn paint scheme of a Jaguar head in the tail. After all fighters returned to base, and were put to sleep in the shelters or on the flightline, all helicopters returned to base with a few low passes before landing at their landing spot.
This year the Belgian 31 Smaldeel succeeded after three years to receive the famous "Silver Tiger" Trophy again. The trophy honours the operational and social skills of the squadron, together with the organizing 338Skv squadron they also managed to win the "Best Flying Squadron" Trophy.
All taken in consideration this is one of the best meetings I have visited, with a great and flexible organisation behind it, absolutely awesome weather and colourful aircraft and most of all a very relaxed atmosphere.
Special thanks goes to the 338 Skv Public Relations and Major Øivind Wathne for their hospitality, great support, efforts and their generous help in making this feature possible.
Report and photos by Ramon van Opdorp ( view portfolio )