Air To Air With The Eurofighters of The Tactical Fighter Wing 74 (Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 74)
Located along the Danube in Bavaria, Neuburg is not only home to approx. 30.000 people, but as well to tigers – the Bavarian Tigers. You find their airbase in the southwest of the town, close to the village of Zell, equipped with a 2.440 meters long runway, shelter areas, hangars and QRA facility. The Tactical Fighter Wing 74 (TktLwG74), as they are known with their official name, operate since 2008 all their missions with the Eurofighter and have so far as main mission the control of airspace in the South of Germany, but are currently training for the air to ground role too.
For the TktLwG74, May 17, 2016, is remembered as an important milestone, as on that day the wing was officially accepted as full member within the NATO Tigers Association and integrated in the Tiger Spirit. Being a full member, the Bavarian Tigers are always invited to participate to the NATO Tiger Meet, one of the largest high value exercises scheduled in Europe every year. This right of participation was initially one of the key drivers and is considered as a highly important, stated by Wing Commander Gordon Schnitger in an interview: “Once per year, a big exercise is organized where you fly and train with and against each other and exchange on experiences. And all participants identify themselves with this Tiger Spirit of training together and exchanging experiences!”
As with the NATO Tigers itself, the membership of the Wing in Neuburg with the NATO Tigers started as an idea of officers within the unit. In 2012, Squadron Commander Marc ‘Turbo’ Grüne and Commander Flying Group Jan Gloystein saw an opportunity arising, as the decision had been made by the German Government in 2011 to stand down the neighbouring Fighter Bomber Wing 32 (JaBoG) at Lechfeld south of Augsburg in 2013 as part of the general military reform. The JaBoG 32 included two flying squadrons – 321 Lechfeld Tigers and 322 Flying Monsters – and the first one was a full member in the NATO Tigers Association since 1994. With the disbandment in near future, Jan Gloystein and Marc Grüne developed the idea to take over this tradition and apply for full membership, highlighting the benefits for the squadron with the regular participation to the Tiger Meet.
On Mar. 18, 2013, during a ceremony at Neuburg, the Bavarian Tigers formally took over the Tiger tradition from the Lechfeld Tigers, which disbanded at the end of that month. After this takeover, a formal request had to be launched to become full member at the NATO Tiger Association. Supported by higher echelons and to demonstrate and express their motivation, Major Rafael ‘Klax’ Klaschka led a detachment consisting of three Eurofighters and 13 pilots and soldiers to the NATO Tiger Meet in June 2013 in Orland, Norway. Underlining the engagement and interest, the tail of one of the dispatched aircraft was painted only for that weekend in a tiger design, realised within a very short timeframe by a highly motivated team at Neuburg.
During the exercise in Norway, they were welcomed as observers during the weekend while at the same time handing their formal request for probationary membership. In contrast to other members, the request listed the full wing at Neuburg, as both squadrons already inherit a tradition as 741 ‘Falcons’ and 742 ‘Zapata’. The idea in requesting membership for the whole wing was not only to create an overall tradition (next to the squadron specific ones) and benefit from the Tiger Spirit, but as well create an integrative element for the wing and its squadron itself. Wing Commander Schnitger explained: “We try to really express the Tiger Spirit, which we took over from Lechfeld. By this we generate integration, a cohesion and connection – expressed by the special painted aircraft and with the specific connection of the Tiger Spirit”. Having and supporting a tradition and fostering integration was also the rationale behind the creation of a club for the Bavarian Tigers, which is not only open to current and past members of the wing, but as well to civilians. This club is in existence and active till today and keeps growing to already more than 600 club members.
With the request for probationary membership approved, the Bavarian Tigers achieved the regular invitation to the Tiger Meets in the following years. For the annual exercise 2014 in Jagel, the Bavarian Tigers again wanted to express their commitment and interest. The fully painted Eurofighter 30+09 in bronze and gold plus eight other Eurofighters deployed to the base in Northern Germany, clearly demonstrating the motivation and at the same time winning them their first award at a Tiger Meet with the “Bronze Tiger” as best painted aircraft. This first success was followed in 2019 by another best painted aircraft award for the Ghost Tiger. Besides these award winning designs, the Tigers realised the Atlantic Tiger in 2017 for the Tiger Meet in Landivisiau, France and the Cyber Tiger in 2018 for the exercise in Saragoza, Spain.
Bearing in mind the highly visible aspects with the painted aircraft and the large high value exercise, the wing received from the NATO Tiger Association membership much more than initially expected. “Tiger Spirit are not only us, there is a community behind, other nations and countries with their wings” as explained by Wing Commander Schnitger. This was as well expressed by the second president of the Bavarian Tiger club, who highlighted next to the experience exchange and collaboration between the NATO forces as well the social aspect, the formal and informal exchange with the other nations during the exercise as something the wing didn’t know about but value today very high and likewise important as the exercise. One expression of this social part are the Tiger Games performed during the weekend at every Tiger Meet where teams from all participating wings / squadrons compete their against each other in sport and fun games. The Bavarian Tigers managed to secure the third place in 2018 and even win this competition at the XTM in Kleine Brogel in 2021, enlarging their collection of tiger trophies won in these first years of membership.
Taking in consideration all these milestones and achievements, the 5th anniversary of the full membership in coincidence with the 60th anniversary of the TktLwG74 in 2021 had to be celebrated accordingly. Both of these anniversaries are important, as Wing Commander Schnitger explained: “You get a symbolic recognition for the wing, you generate cohesion”. COVID19 left its mark and prohibited any large public events like the planned but cancelled Day of the German Military scheduled for June 2021. At least a formal roll call was performed in May with 74 members representing the whole wing and several overflights with other aircraft from the German Air Force performed, but no honourable guests or even the public could attend.
As an expression of the anniversaries, the Eurofighter with registration 31+01 received a special colour scheme integrating both milestones in a combined design. Based on the colours blue and white the fuselage depicts tiger eyes and stripes on the wings, which at the same time form a mountain with snow if looked from top. A large wing badge on the underside of the aircraft and a tiger on the tail combined with the wing badge complete the design of the ‘Bavarian Tiger’. This special coloured aircraft was scheduled for the Tiger Meet in Beja, Portugal, but COVID19 again left its mark and the Bavarian Tigers couldn’t attend there. In September, the specially painted Eurofighter was at least on display at the anniversary Tiger Meet in Kleine Brogel, Belgium.
“Especially in times of COVID, where everything is highly limited, an anniversary aircraft generates commonality and identification” as Wing Commander Schnitger confirms. Exchanging with members of the wing clearly showed this motivation and the Tiger Spirit – the Bavarian Tigers already plan for the Tiger Meet 2022 in Araxos.