In July 1961 three NATO squadrons which all had a tiger in their emblem got together at RAF Woodbridge in the United Kingdom and held the first ‘Tiger Meet’. This turned into a yearly tradition that is still going strong today. This year therefor the Tiger Meet reached the age of 60, a birthday which was celebrated well.
Location was Belgian Air Force airbase of Kleine Brogel, where hosting unit 23 smaldeel also celebrated their own 70th birthday.
The Tiger Meet is intended to promote solidarity between NATO members and to learn from each other. This is done by full-scale exercise scenarios on the one hand and all kinds of social happenings on the other hand. In the beginning years emphasis was on the social part, but later on full COMAO (Combined Air Operations), CAS (Close Air Support) and DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training) missions were integrated in the Tiger Meets.
This way these gatherings definitely have a lot of operational value. As Major General Karsten Stoye, Chief of Staff of the NATO Allied Air Command assessed: “NATO is very glad to have an exercise in Europe like the NATO Tiger Meet. It underlines its high level of operational readiness and shows its flag with different weapon platforms from many partner states”.
Starting with three participating units in 1961, the Tiger Meet Association nowadays has no less than 23 full members and two probationary members, all from Europe, plus nine honorary members from the USA, Canada and India. During the years famous aircraft like the F-4 Phantom, F-104 Starfighter and MiG-23 ‘Flogger’ were part of the Tiger elite. Currently aircraft range from fighters like the F-16 and JAS-39 Gripen to ‘heavies’ like the B-2 Spirit bomber and E-3 AWACS.
Also helicopters like the Puma, AB.212 and Mi-24 Hind show the Tiger spirit.
Participating squadrons all have a tiger in their emblem, or at least a similar kind of cat. Only exception is 11 Flotille of the French navy, flying the Rafale M, whose squadron badge displays a seahorse!
When they were admitted to the Tiger Meet Association they operated from the aircraft carrier ‘Clemenceau’ which carried a tiger crest. And although ‘Clemenceau’ has been retired years ago, the squadron was allowed to keep their tiger-status as they had shown true tiger spirit in the past years.
As the 2020 edition of the Tiger Meet had to be postponed to 2021, the scheduled edition of 2021 was called the Extra Tiger Meet or XTM21. This meeting was also meant to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Tiger Meet. Unfortunately this had to be celebrated under less than ideal circumstances.
Due to Covid-19 the exercise part of XTM21 had to be cancelled in the end. What was left was a long weekend with lots of social activities, including a formal dinner and of course the famous Tiger Games. German participant TLG 74 were the winners of this year’s edition of the games.
As always, many squadrons painted up at least one aircraft in very colourful tiger schemes. Most colourful no doubt was the ‘Bavarian Tiger’, an EF.2000 from TLG 74 based in Southern Germany.
Hosting unit 23 smaldeel also had a fully painted jet, their F-16 was named ‘The X Tiger’ based on the eXtra Tiger Meet theme. Also pilots and ground crew did their best to show the Tiger spirit, and tiger colours and markings could be seen everywhere during the weekend.
On Monday morning some participants used the opportunity to fly one operational mission together with F-16s of hosting 23 smaldeel. And that was the end of a short but intense celebration weekend. Next year hopefully a full Tiger Meet can be held again in Araxos, Greece
This article was also published in Aviation News Journal and Vayu Aerospace