Behind the Lens: Challenges Faced by Spotters at NTM 2024

This year's NTM was organized by the TaktLwG 51/1 of the German Air Force (Image credit: Author)

Limited Angles and Obstructed Views Leave Spotters Disappointed.

NATO Tiger Meet 2024 took place at Schleswig Air Base, Germany, home of the TaktLwG 51/1 of the German Air Force between Jun. 3 and 13, 2024. Two much anticipated spotter days were arranged to allow several hundreds photographers to take shots of the aircraft taking part in the exercise. The first one was on June 7 and the second on Monday June 10, 2024.

The Aviationist’s David Parody attended the first of these on Friday June 7, 2024. Here are his impressions and photographs.

(All images, credit: DM Parody photos.dotcom.gi 2024)

Registration and arrival

Registration for both Spotter’s Days was mandatory and both days were fully subscribed fairly quickly with 1,500 spotters being allowed on each of the day although it felt that there were a few more than that on the Friday. Organisation for the event was very slick and soon QR codes to successful applicants were received in the inbox.

Arrival at the event was smooth with plenty of parking available upon arrival and even though we arrived at 6:30AM there was already a large queue in front of us. The queue moved very quickly due to the QR scanning process and soon we were bused to the spotters area.  Here there were plenty of food and drink options as well as the much desired merchandising!

Organisers had been keen to stress that small step ladders would be permitted and that the crowd line would not permit all spotters to have a front line view. Here is where it went wrong….

Obstructed view

A crowd line of 200m was set up behind the second runway. Aircraft using the active runway would barely be seen due to the geography (and tall grass) until they had taken off. It was impossible to photograph landings. This was compounded by the selfishness of many spotters who despite being at the front or second row, were insistent on using stools or small step ladders to obstruct the view of anyone beyond that point.

Worse still, larger step ladders (2m tall) were permitted in the grounds and placed fairly towards the front obstructing views.

The location of the spotter’s area itself was not good with a 45-degree angle between the crowd line and active runway. It didn’t make for many opportunities or variety of shots especially as the flight line was way away, not even permitting taxiing shots.

The aircraft were varied in airframes with Typhoons, F-16s, Gripen, Rafales, F-35 and Tornado aircraft from a variety of air forces present for the exercise. Helos were also represented by Sea Lynx, NH90, Tigre and Gazelles as well as a couple of visiting SH-60 from the US Navy.

As is common for NTM, many had special liveries on them to make them quite a sight to behold.

The lack of any fly pasts of the participating aircraft upon return made it impossible to photograph anything but the same angle over and over again. It was only at the very end that there was a taxiing run of some of the painted tails in front of the spotters.  By this time many had already left to photograph the arrivals from outside the fence.

The weather held up better than expected with at least the spotters being spared the rain. The best thing of the day was probably the excellent burgers on sale!

Lessons learned

It looks like NTM 2024’s Spotters Days were not planned with photographers in mind and this was a missed opportunity.

Some lessons appear to have been learnt during the Spotter Day on Monday Jun. 10, with clear demarkation for step ladders, better take offs, taxiing in front of spotters, etc. Still, the photographers were all relegated to a relatively small area and many, in the end, chose to go outside the base for the afternoon wave’s landings.

Let’s hope that next year the Portuguese Air Force takes on the learning from this year (good registration, transportation and fixes, crowd line and positioning) and will arrange a great “spotter-friendly” event in 2025.

About David Parody
David Parody is a freelance photojournalist with a specialisation on military photography. His work has been widely published internationally, as well as in his home city of Gibraltar, in magazines, books and on-line. David is a frequent contributor of photos and articles on TheAviationist.com