The Hellenic Air Force ran its annual exercise this year from March 28th to April 8th at Andravida Air Base, Greece. I booked a photographer slot with the COAP group, who had arranged for us to attend the airbase on the 30th and a few days' travel itinerary, all based around maximising the potential to photograph and attend as many aviation-related events as possible in our short stay.
Representing the HAF at the exercise were: throaty F-4Es, Mirage 2000-5s and F-16Cs and the wonderful new Rafales. Other participating nations included: French Rafales, Italian Air Force Tornados, Israeli Air Force F-16I Sufas, USAF F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath and PC-9Ms from Slovenia and a Cypriot AW-139.
The airbase is stunningly nestled to the northwest of the Peloponnese in the plains of Achaea, shadowed by the rippling voluminous landscape of the surrounding mountain ranges. Perfect for low-level and flybys.
We settled ourselves along the flight line and didn't have long to wait for the action to kick off. The F-4E's unmistakable sound of their twin J79s howling to life in the revetments. F-16s taxiing past us throwing up the odd shaka in salute. The mammoth Lakenheath F-15Es on their way to the holding point, Pilot and WSO busy pre-flighting for the hop ahead of them.
The day continued with outgoing and incoming sorties between two major exercise launches. It was hard to pull myself away from the viewfinder, but it's important to also be in the moment and witness the action unfold. I often find it makes you see compositions afresh which you don't get when locked in behind the lens.
The weather was fairly overcast and a sleepy haze hung around, sometimes lifting slightly and the changing light made it challenging but fun. Telephotos were the lens of choice as you'd guess and it was sometimes a dance to get the balance right in camera.
As for the noise levels, it was insane to witness the raw power of the aircraft as they took off, burners lit, climbing greedily into the air, in particular with the HAF Mirages, which was a first for me, along with the Rafales which I find a remarkable looking aircraft. I reckon Zeus approved of the thunderous display.
The F-15Es were truly incredible to photograph and watch as they made their way down the taxiway, those enormous vertical stabs and the exposed Pratt & Whitney engine frames, not to mention the addition of the conformal tanks on the side, adding wonderful lines to the plane.
The highlight for all was the F-4Es. A phirm phavourite (yes adding ph in any phantom text is a must apparently ;) ) A remarkable aircraft in so many aspects, from the twin engines, canted horizontal stabilisers, the bend up to the intakes. It's the muscle military plane without a doubt. A legend and also a plane that is slowly bowing out from service, so a real treat to get to witness.
All in, a hugely memorable trip. The highlight would be a coin toss between the Mirages which I didn't expect to be as impressive as they were and naturally, the Phantoms. There are so many nice angles to the plane, it is a dream to photograph. I can't also forget to mention the crew I was with, some interesting car rides through spectacular scenery and questionable music choices on the radio, excellent food and drink and a nice comradeship amongst us all.
In particular, I would like to thank, Rich Cooper and Alec Walker from COAP for organising, The HAF spokesman for granting access, notably Babis Kakoulidis, and Flight Commander Karachalios for their company with us over a few beers and everyone else I crossed paths with, nodded to, chatted aviation with and said hello. See you soon...