We take a closer look at the special livery prepared by the XII Gruppo of the Italian Air Force for the NATO Tiger Meet.
As we reported a few days ago, on May 6, 2022, at the air base of Gioia del Colle, in southeastern Italy, headquarters of the 36° Stormo (Wing), the army of the Italian Air has unveiled a Eurofighter Typhoon in special colors which has been prepared for this year’s edition of Tiger Meet, the international exercise in which all NATO flying units that have a tiger as their emblem take part.
This Eurofighter Typhoon (F-2000A according to the Italian MOD Mission Design series) is assigned to the XII Gruppo Caccia (Fighter Squadron), which is one of the two Italian units usually participating in the NTM, the other being the 21° Gruppo ( Squadron) of 9° Stormo, based in Grazzanise, which flies HH-101 Caesar and HH-212 helicopters. However, this year, only 12° Gruppo will take part in the exercise at Araxos Air Base, Greece.
The 12° Gruppo is a special case in the NATO tiger association, because its emblem does not represent a tiger, but the famous prancing horse of Francesco Baracca. Since 1968, the only Italian unit of the NTA was the 21° Gruppo, whose emblem represents the tiger. In 2001, the squadron was disbanded and one of its subordinate units, 351^ Squadriglia (Flight) “Tigri Bianche” (White Tigers), was reassigned to 12° Gruppo which therefore received immediate member status fully owned by the NTA.
Each unit usually prepares a specially painted aircraft for the Tiger Meet. The XII Gruppo unveiled its special livery on the day the Eurofighters departed for Araxos, preceded by a test flight to check that all vinyl decals worked as intended. The Italian detachment for the exercise is made up of a total of five aircraft, four single-seaters and one two-seater (TF-2000A).
The F-2000 special color has multiple images. Starting from the foreplanes (as the Eurofighter’s canards are technically called), you can see the traditional tiger eyes, which are best viewed from above or when the foreplanes are in position ” rest” on the ground. The airbrake features the emblem of the 351^ Squadriglia with its white tiger, which is then enlarged on the tail.
The tail, in fact, shows a wide three-quarter angle of a white tiger’s head, which is superimposed on the scratches of the tiger’s claws. Near the root of the tail is the inscription with the name of the flight, 351 Sq., while in the angle of the upper tip of the tail is also the 12° Gruppo emblem, which features a bow and a red arrow and a black prancing horse.
The tail images are developed in the main design of this special color, which is made to be observed from a top view. In the centre, spanning the wings across the fuselage, there is a wide forward view of the White Tiger, while near the right wingtip is the squadron emblem again, with a more detailed bow, arrow and prancing horse.
This special color, nicknamed the “Dark Tiger”, was designed by one of the pilots, Captain Luca P., who is also a skilled static scale modeler and builds models and dioramas in his spare time. You can find some of his work on his Instagram page @italianscale. During our stay in Gioia del Colle we were able to talk to Luca and he gave us some information on the process of creating this livery.
The initial idea for the project was born in December 2021. The tiger came from a photo that was first converted to black and white and then adapted using Photoshop. Once this first adaptation was completed, the image was then converted to a vector graphic in Corel Draw and adapted as a stencil. As for the squadron emblem, the work started from a hand drawn design which was then processed exactly like the image of the tiger.
This is where the experience gained as a scale modeler came in handy, as a 1:72 scale model of a Eurofighter 2000 was used as a prototype to check and compensate for the deformation that the shape of the fuselage would cause the image of the tiger as seen from the top, so that it can be seen correctly when applied to the actual aircraft.
Once the desired visual impact was achieved, with all fuselage induced deformations taken into account and with no gaps in the final image due to the assembly process, the graphics were printed on vinyl using a local specialist company, WeMakers, and the sponsorship of Leonardo. The whole process of printing and applying on the plane took about two working days.
This year’s edition of the multinational exercise, which is being hosted by Hellenic Air Force 335 Mira (Squadron) for the first time since joining the NATO Tiger Association, is scheduled to take place from May 9-20. The live flying event will see over 60 fighter jets, helicopters, airborne early warning aircraft and 1,000 Allied and partner air forces from across Europe working together daily.
“It is an honor for 335 Squadron to host the NATO Tiger Meet for the first time,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ntanos Ioannis, 335 Squadron Commander. “Conducting high-intensity joint training with colleagues from different nations is essential to honing our skills and building a collective understanding for the execution of air operations.
Let’s not forget that this is the second multinational exercise organized by Greece in just over a month, after the Iniochos 2022 exercise which lasted from March 28 to April 7. The exercise took place at Andravida Air Base and saw, among other things, the participation of the Italian Air Force with a detachment of Tornado aircraft.
This multinational environment provides a unique opportunity for all participants, delivering high-quality operational training under the “Train While You Fight” concept, improving tactics, techniques and procedures, and taking interoperability to the next level. , while strengthening ties of friendship and promoting the long-standing traditions of the NATO Tiger Association.
The first Tiger Meet dates back to 1961, when the United States Air Force’s 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Europe, the Royal Air Force’s No.74 Squadron and the Air Force’s EC 1/12 Squadron French met in Woodbridge, England. All three squadrons had one thing in common, a tiger’s head in their squadron crest, which symbolizes strength, speed and hunting prowess.
Due to the success of this first meeting, it was decided that future meetings would take place every year. During the second Tiger Meet, the squadrons formulated three objectives which remain valid to this day: the improvement of solidarity between NATO members; creating and maintaining team spirit and camaraderie among participating members; exchange of experience and cooperation in accordance with NATO’s military objectives.
Since then, Tiger Meets has evolved into a premier military exercise where participants fly Composite Air Operations (COMAO) missions encompassing the full spectrum of military operations. Along with low-level flying, there is also a focus on air-to-air refueling, dogfighting, using ranges, and more.
The exchange of experience between crews from different nations should not be underestimated, with each squadron always trying to bring at least one two-seater aircraft to the Tiger Meet and exchanging rides aft. These rides expose crews to how things are done by different nations, showing either different ways to perform assigned missions between units flying the same aircraft or, if units are flying different aircraft, how to better integrate when joint missions.
The typical program for the 12-day NATO exercise, which generates no less than 800 aerial sorties, begins with the arrival of participants, briefings, familiarization flights and an opening ceremony where the flags of all participating nations are hoisted. As already mentioned, the exercise is also an opportunity to strengthen the social bonds between all the participating units and, at the end of the first week, the Tiger Games, mainly a mixture of fun and sport, are organized.
Usually during flight days, in the morning most of the participants carry out local missions, also called Shadow Waves, between themselves, while the afternoon is reserved for COMAOs of increasing difficulty. Composite air operations cover a wide spectrum of modern air warfare, such as defensive/offensive counter-air, air interdiction, dynamic targeting, TST targeting, suppression – destruction of enemy air defense, APCLO, APCMO.
Due to the growing strength of helicopters within NTA members and their extensive use in today’s conflicts, they are integrated into the COMAO mission as forward air controllers, ground force insertion and extraction, special operations support, combat search and rescue, etc. Among the helicopters involved in these missions are the Italian HH-212 and HH-101 and Czech Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters.
At the end of the second week of the exercise, there is the traditional farewell party during which various awards are handed out, the Silver Tiger Trophy being the most important. In last year’s edition, held at Beja Air Base in Portugal, 12° Gruppo won both the Silver Tiger Trophy and the Best Uniform Trophy, while Esq 301 Portuguese, the host unit, won the Best Tiger Aircraft and Best OPS trophies.