NATO Tiger Meet 2017, BAN Landivisiau, France

Wednesday 14th June 2017

Considered as a pilgrimage by many, the annual NATO Tiger Meet Spotters Day promises to provide a smorgasbord of aircraft types in a multitude of special paint schemes that would put a smile on the face of even the most seasoned enthusiast. With the 2017 Tiger Meet being hosted at BAN Landivisiau in Brittany the proximity to the United Kingdom attracted many from across the Channel. Did the event live up to the Tiger Meet legend or was the "Ocean Tiger" all roar and no claws?

Crossing the Channel for a few days of French hospitality, Andy Evans attended the second Spotters Day and reports for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the author and the UKAR team.

Home to the Aeronavale's fleet of Rafale M omnirole combat aircraft, BAN Landivisiau - located just east of Brest - is relatively easy to travel to from the British Isles via ferries into Roscoff or flights into Brest, Dinard and Rennes. Thanks to this beneficial location it became apparent that the 2017 NATO Tiger Meet might attract more British adventurers than previous events, especially with a French Tiger Meet presenting an enticing prospect of multiple Rafale and Mirage special schemes.

As time moved on and the exercise came closer, the organisers announced that there would be not one but two Spotters Days hosted on the base to cater for the significant interest received - one each week of the exercise. It initially seemed that the French were due a classic Tiger Meet however, as time passed, more and more units dropped out of this year's exercise and it became apparent that this would be one of the smallest events of recent years. Why so many units (representing entire nations) cancelled their planned attendance is unknown - however it is notable that the 2017 Tiger Meet did clash with a Tactical Weapons exercise at Florennes Air Base in Belgium.

That said, as with any NATO Tiger Meet, the members of the association are diverse and the numbers that attended the 2017 exercise would still seem impressive to a first-time visitor. As is tradition, most nations attending paint at least one aircraft in a tiger themed paint scheme. Of the main participants only two nations didn't paint at least one aircraft in a Tiger scheme: the British and Dutch, the former hardly being a surprise to many British attendees. As would be expected at a French Tiger Meet, the French schemes were the stars of the show with no less than three Rafales, including the host unit 11F's amazing White Tiger, putting on a colourful display. Joining the Air Force and Navy was the French Army who participated with Tigre attack helicopters and Gazelles - both of which included very colourful Tiger schemes. Of course, there is more to a Tiger Meet than the aircraft and that's the crews.

Part of what makes Tiger Meet Spotters Days so special is the interaction between the enthusiast and crews; 2017 was no exception with nearly all the units hosting stands to sell their unique Tiger Meet merchandise and to talk with the visitors. Perhaps the most contrasting visitors in this regard were the British. Two Royal Navy units took part this year - Tiger Association member 814 NAS with their Merlin HM2 and visitor unit 849 NAS with their Sea King ASaC7; both of these units were present to talk to people with 814NAS producing unique patches and pins to celebrate the event. In complete contrast was the RAF who attended with a Puma from member unit 230 Sqn whose crews were noticeably absent from public areas.

The first of the Spotters Days occurred in less than perfect weather which did place a dampener on proceedings; it is clear from reports on our forums that this first event did not meet up to the standards expected of Tiger Meet Spotters Days. Members reported overly difficult security checks with long wait times to get on base resulting in some missing the first launches of the days, extremely long grass making photography difficult, merchandise tents that were pitch black and host personnel who appeared to be acting as if the public were an inconvenience. Conscious of these issues at the first event, approaching the car park (even if earlier than first planned) for the second event many could be forgiven for feeling a sense of apprehension. Fortunately, it transpired that a number of the problems experienced during the first week had been rectified: security checks were quick and efficient with the vast majority of people being on base well before the first launch of the day. Couple this with friendly welcoming hosts and excellent weather and the second event promised to be much better.

While the grass remained long in the spotters area it was possible to take images on the taxi way, particularly in the corners of the (very large) enclosure. Photography of the runway itself was however virtually impossible due to the high grass although aircraft tended to rotate in an advantageous position to allow for some excellent images to be captured. Gone too was the dark merchandise tent thanks to the weather, all the units had opened the tent up and were now sitting outside in the glorious sunshine. Access was also good with plenty of areas to photograph the main participant ramps from, the exception being the visitors/helicopters ramp which was out of bounds. It has to be noted however that the layout of the event was much different to what was originally advertised and, arguably, the original proposed layout would have been much better.

Some things were in need of significant improvement. The spotters day was held on a very hot, still day and it was therefore important to ensure that everyone remained hydrated, however, the facilities provided by the hosts thereof were not suitable for those in the main enclosure. Water, food and fluids were available from just one location on the entire base for the visiting enthusiasts, and dependent on their location in the main spotters area, visitors were faced with between a one to one-and-a-half mile round trip to fetch fluids and food. There appeared to be no reason as to why fluids could not have been based closer to the main areas and this did result in many overly tired and worryingly dehydrated people towards the end of both the morning and afternoon portions of the day.

These niggles aside, spirits remained high and excitement reached fever pitch at the end of the day. After taking part in a photo flight undertaken with a visiting Draken International MB-339, all three special Tiger Rafales assembled together on the taxiway for photographs in front of the gathered crowds, pausing at both corners of the enclosure to allow everyone to get their photographs. Then in the distance appeared the shape of the three specially schemed helicopters on approach; the Aeronautica Militare AB212, the ALAT Gazelle and ALAT Tigre. These initially posed with the Rafales for an enthusiast's photoshoot then proceeded to parade up the taxiway along the entire of the spotters area. This culminated in a spirited short demonstration from the Tigre which undertook aggressive rotations and side slides at very low level in front of the crowd - there was not one person left without a smile on their face.

Was this a classic Tiger Meet photo call when compared to other recent events? No, it wasn't - but it wasn't a bad event either. Our experience at the second spotters day was of a well organised event that ran smoothly with only a few niggles (the water and toilet facilities availability being the main one). Those that attended remain convinced that the standard of what was available that day will not be surpassed during 2017.

Looking ahead, the next Tiger Meet will be held at Poznan-Krzesiny Air Base in Poland from 14th May to 25th May 2018 with 6 ELT and their F-16C/D Block 52s playing host. This event will arguably be even easier to attend from the UK thanks to three direct flights a day into less than 15 miles from the base.