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May 2005, Archive Story

 

NATO TIGER MEET - LEUCHARS 1966

Many Lightning Review readers will be of such tender years that they will be unaware of the background to Tiger Meet. For those who were still twinkles in their fathers' eyes when the Lightning entered squadron service, the Meet is an annual event, first held in 1961, at which an increasing number of squadrons from NATO countries who have the common bond of the tiger as their squad­ron emblem, have assembled and worked together for a period of about a week. The object of the Meet is to further the mutual understanding of roles, aircraft and operational procedures both on the ground and in the air by communal, professional and social liaison. To this end, the Meet has gone from strength to strength since in 1961 three squadrons met: the 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron (USAFE), No 74 (Fighter) Squadron (RAF) and 1/12 Escadron de Chasse (l'Armée de I'Air); but in 1966, eight squadrons assembled at Royal Air Force, Leuchars for the 6th NATO Tiger Meet, hosted by No 74 Squadron.

Following months of preliminary organisation, in which not only 74 Squadron but all sections at Leuchars were involved, the participants began to arrive on Tuesday 5 July, and the Meet was on. As the transport aircraft came in carrying technical support personnel and equipment, the nominated team liaison officers, SNCO's and airmen of 74 Squadron began their first task of clearing the visitors through Customs, allocating them to their respective technical areas and helping them to prepare for the arrival of their fighter aircraft. This phase was not without its problems and amusements. The French Noratlas crew, for example, arrived determined to stay the week and see the fun, in spite of prior arrangements to the contrary! So, accommodation had to be found for them.

Then in came the fighters. From the 31st Smaldeel of the Belgian Air Force stationed at Kleine Brogel came three F-104s; from the 1/12 Escadron de Chasse of the French Air Force at Cambrai came three Super Mystères; No 439 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, based at Marville in France, flew in two RF-104s and the two-seat RF-104D; from Bitburg in Germany came two Phantoms of the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron of the United States Air Force Europe, and from Woodbridge, Suffolk, came their compatriots, the 79th TFS, in three F-100Ds; from Leck came the first of the German Air Force representatives, the 52nd Aufklärungsgeschwader, unfortunately unable to bring the new aircraft to which they were currently converting, the Fiat G91. Instead, determined not to miss the Meet, they flew two T-33s. The other German Tiger Squadron of the 43rd Jagdbomber Wing from Oldenburg were also converting to a new aircraft, the F-104G, but they, too, were determined to be present, and arrived later in the week in four F-86s.

Throughout that first afternoon in the midst of parking, refuelling and servicing the visiting aircraft, and accommodating the visitors themselves, the spirit of the Tiger Meet blossomed again as many old friendships were renewed and many new ones begun. This spirit was further fostered that evening when, after the initial welcome addresses and briefings, officers, SNCOs and airmen met again in their respective messes.

Wednesday began with a simple inaugural ceremony, at which the national flags of the participating squad­rons were hoisted and Group Captain A S R Strudwick, DFC, Officer Commanding RAF Leuchars, welcomed the visitors to his station. Then came the beginning of the operational aspect of the Meet. After a full briefing on local meteorology, Air Traffic proced­ures, danger areas, low flying routes and our operational organisation, the Tiger Squadrons were quickly airborne on sector reconnaissance and familiarisation sorties. One of the most impressive aspects of the Meet was immediately apparent. This was the ease with which all units merged into RAF procedures, and the complete absence of operational difficulties. This was due in no small part to Air Traffic Control at Leuchars, and the SATCO and his staff well deserved their congratulations.

In the afternoon, we began to fly in each other's dual aircraft and in consequence to appreciate some of the problems and techniques peculiar to each unit's operational role. Pilots from most other units sampled the low-level photo-reconnaissance task of No 439 Squadron by flying with them in their RF-104D. The 53rd TFS, too, flew many eager aviators in their Phantoms, including aspirants from the RAF. The Phantom was of particular interest to us, of course, for one was able to make a direct comparison between it and the Lightning F.3, from the viewpoint of perform­ance, handling characteristics and weapons systems. In addition, 74 Squadron flew pilots from the visiting squadrons in the Lightning T.5, and we were gratified by their enthusiasm for the performance and handling of our aircraft.

The social liaison continued on Wednesday evening, when the visiting pilots were entertained to dinner in the homes of officers of 74 Squadron, and the evening wound up with an all-ranks' ten-pin bowling session at Glenrothes. Furthermore, during the day, coach trips to centres of local industrial interest were organised. Those who went pronounced the standard of Scottish beer and hospitality excellent.

On Thursday, the flying of each other's aircraft continued, and the operational liaison took the further form of combined fighter-versus-fighter sorties. Two Lightning F.3s were launched to intercept the three Super Mystères, who were rather surprised by the Lightning's ability to accelerate and climb into the attack. The roles were then reversed and the Mystères attempted to intercept the Lightnings. In spite of the Lightning's advantage of airborne radar, the Mystères made a most respectable attempted interception, and it was again the performance superiority of the Lightning which saved its day.

In the meantime, the Canadians, when they weren't adding to their already rich haul of ground-won souvenirs, were busily continuing their photo-recon­naissance training. As a result of this, some excellent photographs of Scottish beauty spots and the Open Golf Championship were soon on display! Throughout the Meet, the Canadian RF-104s photographed the various aircraft types in flight and on the ground, and these excellent photographs were on display in crew­rooms and messes. The Belgian F-104s and the American F-100s, meantime, were engaged on low-level exercises in the Scottish Highlands, and the pilots were most impressed with the interest and beauty of the topography.

The visitors were further entertained on Thursday evening at an Airmen's dance on the station, an open evening in the Sergeants' Mess and an informal gathering in the Officers' Mess, where hospitality was reciprocated by the presentation of champagne and other 'giggle waters' by the visitors themselves. However, the evening saw participating pilots abed early in preparation for the planned displays and flypast on Friday.

The weather on Friday continued fine, as it had fortunately been throughout the week. In addition to limited operational flying, it was planned to hold a rehearsal in the morning for the displays and combined flypast of the afternoon. The Tiger Meet was honoured by the arrival that morning of Air Marshal Sir Frederick Rosier, KCB, CBE, DSO, RAF, Air Officer Commanding-­in-Chief of Fighter Command, General Robert M Lee, Air Deputy SACEUR, and General John S Hardy, Commander of the 3rd Air Force, USAFE, who came to meet the assembled Tigers and attend the afternoon displays and the evening Guest Night.

Unhappily, they were also present when the tragedy which shocked us all occurred just after 10 o'clock that morning. In preparation for the afternoon perform­ance, Capitaine Joel Dancel of the 1/12 Escadron de Chasse of the French Air Force took off in a Super Mystère to practise his display, as he had done many times prior to the Meet. Minutes later, he crashed into a field just outside the airfield boundary and was killed instantly. He had been with his squadron for some six years and was well known and universally liked by all who had met him at this and previous Tiger Meets. His death brought all activity to a stunned halt, but it is indicative of the regard in which he was held that it was decided at a meeting between the Station Commander and Squadron Commanders, and at the express wish of his compatriots, that the afternoon display in which he had been so eager to participate should take place as planned. To his memory, too, the flags of the participating nations were flown at half mast for the remainder of the Meet.

As the rehearsal recommenced, there was a fine example of the international co-operation of the Tiger Meet. At the time of the accident, one of the French pilots was airborne in a Phantom of the 53rd TFS, which was diverted to Lossiemouth. In order to get the French pilot back as quickly as possible, the ground crew of the 79th TFS pre-flighted a T-33 of the German 52nd Afklg, which then flew an NCO of the 53rd TFS to Lossiemouth to turn round the Phantom and brought back the French pilot.

Later that afternoon, before a large crowd of station personnel, their wives, friends and families, the finale of the Tiger Meet began in warm sunshine. Air Marshal Rosier, General Lee and General Hardy first reviewed the line-up of aircraft and spoke to the crews. Then, as they moved to the vantage point from which they were to watch the display, the participating aircraft began to start up and move out to the runway.

First to get airborne were those renowned show stealers, the Spitfire and Hurricane from the Historic Aircraft Flight at RAF Coltishall, flown by Flight Lieutenants Phil Holden-Rushworth and 'Nobby' Armstrong, who delighted everybody with their com­bined and individual sequence.

As they finished, five Lightning F.3s of 74 Squadron went near vertically upwards in a stream reheat rotation take-off, and as they cleared the circuit area the combined formation took off. Led by the Lightning T.5 flown by Captain Jim Throg­morton, USMC, who had been on exchange to 74 Squadron for the previous two years, and Captain Denny Wills of the 53rd TFS, the formation comprised a Belgian F-104, a Canadian RF-104, an American Phan­tom, a French Super Mystère, an American F-100 and a German T-33.

As the last of the formation took off, Flight Lieutenant Dave Liggitt of 74 Squadron arrived overhead to give an individual low level aerobatic dis­play in a Lightning F.3, and as he completed his show the formation of four Lightnings came in for their display. Led by Squadron Leader Bill Maish, the Officer Com­manding 74 Squadron, with Flight Lieutenants Terry Maddern, Henry Ploszek and Don Brown as 2, 3 and 4, they carried out a sequence of close formation flying in various formation patterns.

When they finished their display with a bomb-burst, the combined formation flew past, followed by the Lightnings again with a two-way break and stream landing. Then the combined formation, led this time by the Spitfire and Hurricane, ran in to break and land, and complete the show.

After the display, all the pilots crowded into 74 Squadron's crewroom and reflew the show verbally, to the congratulations of our distinguished visitors. Air Marshal Rosier then presented each squadron with a model of the Lightning F.3, generously supplied by the British Aircraft Corporation, and Squadron Leader Maish handed to his opposite numbers copies of a souvenir photograph album containing photographs taken throughout the Meet. Major Hoyt Vandenberg, the Commanding Officer of the previous year's host squadron, the 53rd TFS, then passed on to 74 Squadron the memorial album containing a group photograph of all the assembled Tigers, who added their signatures to record their participation in this Meet. In addition, there was a communal exchange of squadron plaques and mementos, all of which will serve to revive memories of the Meet and maintain inter-squadron rapport.

The evening the Tiger Meet wound up with an all-­ranks dance at a nearby hotel, and a Guest Night in the Officers' Mess. At the latter, a handsome trophy in the form of a Tiger, which was presented last year by General Lee, was passed on from the 53rd TFS to 74 Squadron for safe keeping until the next Meet, when again it will become the property of the host squadron for a year, so perpetuating the interest which the Deputy SACEUR has shown in the Tiger Meet during his term of office. General Lee retires from the United States Air Force soon, and with him go the best wishes of all Tigers.

On Saturday the final phase took place, as once again the transport aircraft flew in to collect the ground crews and equipment, and the fighter aircraft flew out, with many an 'au revoir' and 'see you next year' from the pilots. Suddenly, everything was quiet. Tiger Meet 1966 was over, and its objects achieved. We each now knew a great deal more about each others roles, methods, aircraft and problems as a result of flying and talking together. The following year we arranged to meet again in Germany, where the 52nd Aufklärungs­geschwader would be the hosts, and once again the Tiger Squadrons would work together and confirm the solid­arity of the Air Forces of the West.

Terry Maddern

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