From 21 February to 4 March, Portugal was the stage of Real Thaw, the annual exercise that provides special training to NATO units most likely to participate in military operations within international cooperative frame works. And if Portugal was the stage, Beja airbase was the dressing room. Fighter aircraft, transporters and helos all played their part.
Other than delivering jet noise over large parts of Portugal, the main goal of Real Thaw 2016 was to provide tough tactical training with participation of air, land and sea forces and focusing on the execution phase. Participating forces were confronted with an operating environment as realistic as possible and typical of current operations, according to the Portuguese Air Force, organizer of Real Thaw.
The Portuguese sent all their assets to join Real Thaw, including F-16s, Alfa Jets, C-130 Hercules plus P-3 and C295 maritime patrol aircraft. Forces from other countries were invited to participate in Real Thaw 2016 in order to create a joint-operational environment.
Participation also came from the US (F-15, MV-22 and C-130), Norway (F-16), the Netherlands (C-130), Belgium (C-130), Denmark (AS550 support helicopters), Spain (C-212 light transport aircraft) and the UK. Also, a NATO E-3A Awacs was involved.
Day and night
Missions took place at both day and night times environments and included the use of para jumpers, forward air controllers and other ground forces. The coordination of Real Thaw 2016 was run from Beja Air Base in central Portugal. In order to give support to air and ground missions that took place further north in the areas of Guarda and Pinhel, a tactical air base was temporarily set up near the town of Seia.
Real Thaw 2016 was the eighth exercise in a series conducted by the Portuguese Air Force since 2009.
In the week that Discovery Air Defence Services (DA Defence) announced its 50,000th hour of air combat training for the Canadian Armed Forces and allies, word on the street is that soon the private contracter will add Lockheed Martin F-16s to its fleet of 160 aircraft, to fly aggressor missions.
The company has been providing the Royal Canadian Air Force with adversary training since 2005, flying Breguet/Dornier Alpha Jets, then still under the former name of Top Aces. Moreover, the German Air Force trains against Discovery’s A-4 Skyhawks flying from Wittmund Airbase in the north. Mesa in Arizona (USA) stays to be the main operating base for the mother company, Discovery Air.
Watch the then still called Top Aces Alpha Jets taking off
5th generation fighter
A change in the air fleet to a fourth generation fighter such as the F-16 is logic. As Garry Venman, VP of Business Development and Government Relations at DA Defence puts it: “Canadian and international air forces recognize our value proposition as they move towards 5th generation fighter aircraft. They need a proven adversary service to train for tomorrow’s threats, preserve valuable fleet life and save defence budget dollars.”
Discovery Air has about 850 people at work. Apart from flying military missions as part of DA Defence they fly air ambulance services, airborne fire services, provide helicopter operations of varios sorts, do fixed-wing air charter services plus giving their partners support, maintenance, overhaul, modification and more.
Upon the sad loss of life of the two crew on board the Greek fighter jet and the nine French service men/woman on the ground, the material toll for France has been high. Two Mirage 2000Ds and two Alpha Jets have been written off. Moreover, two Dassault Rafale Bs have been severely damaged by the fire that was caused by the crashing Greek fighter jet.
Italian AMX light attack aircraft were damaged and will be possible written off as well. The official assessment for one or two US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles near the crash site is not in yet.
The cause of the tragedy is still being determined.
In an update on Monday’s tragic F-16 crash at Albacete in Spain, authorities have said that the Greek crew did in fact try to use their ejection seats immediately after take off. Their attempt ended fatal however, while the F-16 carried on to the ramp where other aircraft were preparing for take-off. Nine French military were killed as the steerless F-16 struck parked aircraft. The accident left 29 people wounded.
French Air Force chief of staff Denis Mercier stated that a technical failure seems to have led to the tragedy, which happened Monday at around 15:30 local time. The failure caused the F-16 to steer off course, with the crew initiating ejection. The Spanish Ministry of Defense confirmed the aircraft’s canopy was in fact jettisoned, and other sources suggest the crew did actually eject, but fatally hit the ground because of the aircraft’s attitude.
The F-16 is said to have come down on the ramp inverted. Pictures taken afterwards, show that at least one French Alpha Jet was destroyed by the crashing F-16 and that a French Mirage 2000D and an Italian AMX were severely damaged – and likely written off – by the fire that followed. All were taking part in a Tactical Leadership Program (TLP).
A Spanish investigation team is trying to determine the exact sequence of events and cause of the tragedy. Meanwhile, the bodies of the nine French victims were repatriated to Nancy airbase in France by a Spanish Air Force C-130 Hercules on Thursday. A Hellenic Air Force C-27J Spartan carried the bodies of the two F-16 pilots back home to Greece.
UPDATED 31 JANUARY 2015 | In a major incident at Los Llanos/Albacete airbase in Spain, a Hellenic Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16D crashed on Monday 26 January while taking part in NATO’s Tactical Leadership Program (TLP). The crashing airplane hit aircraft that were parked on the platform, with other personnel working there. The two F-16 crew members are confirmed dead, while another eight people died on the ground, with 29 people reported wounded of which one died later in the hospital. Pictures of the aftermath are here and here.
Check here for our latest update on the Albacete crash.
The accident happened around 15:30 local time, apparently right after the F-16D took off. Eye-witnesses reported a big explosion and fire. The Spanish Ministry of Defence later confirmed the jet lost power during take-off, its crew was unable to lift the aircraft and steer it away from parked planes on the platform.
The Spanish, Greek and French governments confirmed 11 fatalities, the two Greek pilots plus nine French military personnel on the ground (three male officers, one female officer and five male non-commissioned officers). Of the 29 wounded 11 are French, 10 are Italian and 8 (minor injuries) Americans. Five French and one Italian are in pretty bad shape. About 750 people of seven nations have been deployed to Albacete for the TLP 2015-1, according to Spanish sources. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday evening the tragedy ‘affects the whole NATO family.’
Aircraft on the ground affected or even destroyed by crash are reported as French Mirage 2000Ds and Alpha Jets, with the wreckage of the latter clearly visible on various pictures. An image appeared on Tuesday, showing burn marks on an Italian AMX. Other Images also show a Lakenheath-based US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, a German Tornado, two Eurofighter Typhoons and several AV-8B Harriers on base as well. The USAF has confirmed one of their Strike Eagles to be damaged, a second “too close to the crash site to determine if it has been damaged”. The third USAFE Strike Eagle returned to its homebase RAF Lakenheath alone, on 30 January 2015, with most of the US personnel deployed for the TLP.
The Tactical Leadership Program is an intensive military flying exercise that takes places several times a year. Its purpose is to teach pilots how to lead multi-aircraft and multi-national aircraft packages in combat missions. The history of the exercise goes all the way back to the Cold War. In the eighties and nineties, TLP took place over north western Europe, with aircraft operating out of Jever in Germany or Florennes in Belgium. The exercise was moved to Spain in 2009 because of better availability of airspace.
The crashed F-16D (nr. 084) belonged to 341 Mira, a Greek F-16 squadron based at Nea Anchialos airbase. Together with other participating aircraft, the Greeks arrived in Albacete last week to start the exercise.
List of participants TLP 2015-1
3 Lockheed Martin F-16C plus the 1 F-16D that crashed, Hellenic Air Force (341 Mira from Almiros/Nea Anchialos)
4 Eurofighter EF2000s, Spanish Air Force (ALA 11 from Morón)
2 Dassault Rafales, French Air Force (EC 01.091 from BA113 Saint Dizier)
2 Dassault Mirage 2000Ds, French Air Force (ETD 02.007 from BA133 Nancy/Ochey)
2 Mirage 2000-5, French Air Force (EC 01.002 from BA116 Luxeuil/St.Sauveur)
5 McDonnell Douglas AV-8B+, Italian Naval Aviation (Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati from Grottaglie/Taranto)
3 Boeing (McDonnel Douglas) F-15E Strike Eagle, 492nd Fighter Squadron, US Air Force in Europe (from RAF Lakenheath)
2 Dornier / Dassault Alpha Jets, French Air Force (EE 02.002 from BA120 Cazaux)
2 AMX, Italian Air Force (132° Gruppo from Istrana)
4 Panavia Tornado IDSs, German Air Force (Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 33 from Büchel)
2 British Aerospace Hawk, Royal Air Force (No. 100 Squadron from RAF Leeming)
According to the Spanish ministry of Defense, damage to other aircraft is being assessed.
Over the last decade, Albacete based aircraft were involved in two other deadly incidents in the area of or near the base. On 20 January 2009 three crew members died when two fighter jets collided in mid-air during combat training. On 4 May 2004 a single pilot died as he crashed on the way home after a refuelling mission.