We have been to Gioia del Colle for NATO Tiger Meet 2023.
The NATO Tiger Meet 2023 is underway at Gioia del Colle Air Base, alternating high-level tactical training missions with various traditional social events. On Oct. 6, 2023, the 36° Stormo (Wing) hosted a Spotters Day which was attended by more than 800 people, confirming the Tiger Meet as one of the most famous and loved multinational exercises in Europe, at least among the aviation enthusiasts’ community.
As happened during previous editions, the exercise included also an Open Day and a Media Day. We have the chance to visit Gioia del Colle during a normal day of operations as well as during the Spotters Day, which featured the mass launch and recovery for a COMAO mission over the Ionian Sea and an Elephant Walk with all the assets taking part to NTM 2023.
On Oct. 4, we also had a chance to fly aboard an Italian Air Force HH101A Caesar part of a 2-ship formation involved in a simulated special operation mission.
Needless to say, one of the highlights of the exercise was the presence of many Special Color aircraft. In fact, as explained in the past, the main difference between NTM and many other “traditional” exercises is that many aircraft taking part in the drills, at least one (but usually more than one) per participating unit, sport Tiger markings, Special Tails or flamboyant tiger-themed paint schemes.
As we mentioned in a previous story, Tiger Meet returned to Italy for the first time after 35 years, with around 70 fixed-wing and 10 rotary-wing aircraft from 13 nations are taking part to the exercise together with the home unit, the 36° Stormo. Each nation deployed a Special Tail or a Special Color aircraft to the exercise, except for Turkey that sent two Special Color aircraft.
After all the spotters were transported by bus to the designated area near the main runway, the flight operations started few minutes after 10 AM.
As usually happens during complex COMAO (Composite Air Operations) missions, support aircraft are the first to launch, with an Italian G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) aircraft from Pratica di Mare taking position over the Apulian skies while a French E-2C Hawkeye took off from Gioia del Colle. A GFD Learjet also took off to take position over Calabria.
With one of the Tiger Meet’s objectives being maximizing integration and interoperability with NATO members, it was interesting to see mixed formations launching for the training missions, such as a two-ship flight with an Italian and a German Eurofighter 2000. Another example was a four-ship with two Belgian and two Polish F-16s that launched separately but returned together at the end of the training mission.
In rapid succession, almost all the aircraft deployed for the exercise were launched for the COMAO mission, a standard script for NTM. About an hour later, the first aircraft appeared at the horizon heading for the overhead break before landing. One after another, all the aircraft returned to the ground to prepare for the next event while the CAEW returned to its base. Interestingly, after the return of the main wave, an Elephant Walk with 41 aircraft took place following a quick turnaround at the end of their training mission.
One of the participating units, French Air Force ECE 01-030 Côte d’Argent, has posted on their Facebook page, a series of photographs featuring all the special colored aircraft on display during the Sunday’s Open Day. Take a look at the interesting close up images.