Trip Report: France 2019

2019 saw NATO Tiger Meet head to the French airfield BA 118 Mont-de-Marsan the home of the EC 3/30 of the Armée de l’Air and their Rafale multi role combat aircraft. For the second year in a row South West Aviation Photographers were present for the Spotter’s Day.

Arriving on the Wednesday afternoon, before the traditional Friday spotter’s day, we had a few hours to kill up on the famous hill at Toulouse Blagnac airport. The afternoons are certainly favourable for photography, as is a long lens, something in the 100-400mm range should be enough, especially if Runway 14 Left is in use. One thing that I was hoping to shoot having already shot its successor earlier in the year, was the Airbus A300-600ST Beluga. We would not be disappointed on that front that is for sure. With the sun behind us we certainly made the most of the aircraft operating off Runway 32. It was not until we arrived and went for a drive around the airfield that we got a real sense of the scale of the aerospace industry at Toulouse Blagnac, it is massive!

The day before spotter’s day at Mont De Marsan we visited the Airbus A350 production line on one of the extremely popular guided tours. Although the tour was sold as an A350 tour we were able to see a large proportion of both the Airbus and ATR facilities at Toulouse. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted during this tour, however it was still very much worthwhile and we’d recommend it to anyone going to Toulouse. As well as the factory tour we also visited the excellent Aeroscopia Musée Aéronautique and Ailes Anciennes Toulouse. Aeroscopia does strike a very similar feel to the airspace hall at Duxford and is home to a wide range of aircraft that can trace its heritage back through the Airbus lineage including two Concorde’s, an Airbus A400m, Airbus A300 and a Falcon 10, as well as some that you wouldn’t necessarily think of Airbus being involved with such as the MBB-104 Starfighter. Ailes Anciennes Toulouse on the other hand was quite different, more comparable to something like the Midland Air Museum at Coventry with a wide range of French developed aircraft as well as others.

Waking to a wet and windy morning we stopped off at a very French Boulangerie for breakfast before heading to NATO Tiger Meet Spotter’s Day where the organisation was much better than the previous year in Poznan, Poland. On arrival at the main gate we were quickly checked off, a visitor badge handed out to us and directed to park up on the parade ground which was surrounded by gate guards such as Fouga Magister and Dassault Mirage IVa. Following a short while queuing up before the enclosure was open, and with a bag search on entry, we were free to enjoy the rest of the day. Hats off must go to the French Air Force for their hospitality, not only was a very substantial packed lunch included in the ticket price but plenty of large military tents were erected for spectators to shelter in. Spotter’s Day itself was a very wet one with heavy rain throughout the morning and light drizzle in the afternoon. This didn’t stop the flying though, with two sorties being flown either side of lunch. With the station’s families day the following day a number of French Air Force assets were due to arrive during the course of Friday, however due to the weather the only aircraft that did manage to make it in was the brand new French Air Force Pilatus PC-21. Two other visitors for the day arrived in the form of TBM-700s.

Participating nations were certainly down compared to previous years with the Hellenic Air Force, French Navy, Turkish Air Force, Czech Air Force, Royal Netherlands Air Force, Hungarian Air Force, and Polish Air Force all missing. Although many of these nations did send personnel in a observer capacity. Aircraft numbers were still high with the host nation providing over 30 airframes. Another highlight was the Portuguese Air Force F-16s something we don’t see that often now in the UK. As is tradition with the NATO Tiger Meets decorating aircraft in an appropriate big cat themed livery is always popular with an award each year being award for the best painted tiger aircraft. This year wasn’t to disappoint with most air forces bringing a special scheme aircraft.

The layout of the spotter’s enclosure meant for excellent access to the fast jets as they taxied out. With shooting into the sun sadly not an issue due to the wet weather, many photographers were seen rushing backwards and forwards between the parallel taxiway and the active runway in order to capture all of the action. It also kept us warm in the damp conditions! The multi engines and the helicopters operated off of a different pan in order to de-conflict the traffic, however unlike the previous year in Poznan they did put on a good show in the afternoon with almost all of the rotary assets using the active runway and keeping low well past the enclosure. Talking of shows, the French Air Force went all out with both of their tier one display teams displaying over the course of the day. The first during a break in the operational flying was the 2019 Rafale display, providing its standard very punchy display. Closing the day’s activities was the French Air Force National Display Team the Patroullie de France. Arriving in formation with French Rafale, Spanish Hornet and Italian Typhoon, they then carried out their display in front of the gathered crowds.

The next day we made our way back to Toulouse via various small airfields and some wrecks and relics, but the most impressive place of the day had to be Tarbes Ossun Lourdes which can only be described as Kemble on steroids, with four A380s and an A350 amongst various other airliners all in storage. Very bizarrely at the Biz Jet ramp was a United States Air Force C-21 and Hungarian Air Force Falcon 7X.

Our final day in Toulouse consisted of visits to a number of General Aviation airfields within the area and some more time again spent up on the hill at Blagnac, before departing back to Bristol in the evening.

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at The NATO Tiger Association for making this article possible.

Report by Matt Sudol and Gary Morris

© South West Aviation Photographers 2019