Air-to-air photo-ops report: Athens Flying Week 2022 at Tanagra Air Base
Report and Photos by Peter van den Berg
October 26, 2022
Last September the Athens Flying Week (AFW) was held for the 10th time. The event always guarantees interesting military and civilian participants from Europe and the Middle East. It provides the opportunity to see the Hellenic Armed Forces, with its great diversity, in action. And what’s better than to see the participants up close and personal during some air-to-air photo ops!?
The AFW’s open days were held on September 17 and 18. I had the opportunity to photograph most of the participants on the three days prior to the event with the support of a Skyvan for aerial photography. In addition to AFW’s participants, the Greek Air Force visited us a number of times during the air-to-air photo-flights.
Like previous events, AFW 2022 was held at the Hellenic Tanagra AFB, located about 60 miles northeast of Athens. Tanagra is home to the latest addition to the Hellenic Air Force; the Rafale EG/DG. It is assigned to the 322 Mira, now counting 6 of these Rafales stationed there. Tanagra AFB is also home the 331 Mira, stationed there with a total of 25 Mirage 2000-5BG/EGs.
T-2E Buckeye and the T-6A HAF.
160095 + 160082 T-2E Buckeye 120 PEA Kalamata Air Base
036 T-6A Texan II 361 Mira Kalamata Air Base
The first formation of aircraft coming up to our Skyvan was a formation of three, consisting of 2 Buckeye’s and a T-6A Texan II. The Buckeye has been in service with the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) since 1976. They joined the fleet as an advanced trainer and most pilots completed their training on these aircraft. The T-2E Buckeye is being phased out within the HAF, expected to be taken out of service within a year. I am extremely glad I got to see the Buckeyes one more time!
F-4E AUP Phantom HAF.
01503 + 01530 F-4E Phantom 338 Mira Andravida Air Base
At 5000ft and 160kts we me the “smoker” of the HAF. The 338 Squadron this F-4E belongs to is stationed at Andravida. The 339, which also flew the F-4, was terminated in 2017 and the remaining F-4s were transferred to the 338. Pilots of this squadron told us that the F-4 is set to fly with the HAF for another 4 to 5 years. The aircraft have been in service since 1974 and in 1998 it was decided to upgrade 39 F-4E Phantom IIs with the first “Spoke” being delivered to Andravida Air Base in December of 2002.
All upgraded F-4s were equipped with the new AN/APQ-65YG radar, similar to that of the F/A-18 Hornet, a new built-in Mission Control Computer (MCC), a head-up display and an IFF Interrogator. Its avionics were upgraded to carry a variety of advanced Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground missiles. These include the AIM-120 AMRAAM (though only the -B edition), the AIM-9M missile, the AFDS, and the entire family of the Paveway (I, II, and III) laser-guided bombs.
With replacement by F-16s and the Rafale in mind, phase-out of the F-4 units started in 2017. The aircraft are still operational as of today however, participating in multi-role missions with the 338 Mira “Ares” on Andravida. The F-4E Phantom II PI2000 (AUP) is certified to use GBU-27 Paveway III laser-guided bombs, making the aircraft an excellent and modern platform for precision strikes. During our flight, the F-4 kept up with a speed of 160kts, which is terribly slow for a Phantom…
Aegean A320 NEO.
A fun challenge with an A320 presented itself during the arrivals prior to the AFW. We joined up with an Aegean A320 in the busy Athens airspace for some aerial photography. We were not allowed to fly over the acropolis, presenting the challenge of capturing both the airliner and the acropolis in one shot. The skills and teamwork of both pilots allowed us to fly close to the acropolis several times to capture this.
Rafale EG HAF and the F-16 HAF.
410 Rafale EG 332 Mira Tanagra Air Base
On January 19, 2022, the HAF received the first of 6 Rafales. These are stationed at Tanagra Air Base. These aircraft are part of a contract for a total of 18 aircraft to be delivered no later than the summer of 2023. Pilots, mechanics, and technicians receive their training from Dassault Aviation at the Mérignac Conversion Training Center (CTC).
016 F-16C 335 Mira Araxos Air Base
This 335 Mira “Tiger” join-up with the Skyvan presented the oldest squadron of the HAF. It was founded in 1941. Until 2009 this squadron flew with the Corsair and now flies with about 30 F-16 Block 52+.
6x PLZ-130TP-II Orlik Polish Air Force 2 FTC Radom-Sadkow Air Base
Named after the aircraft they fly; the Orlik Aerobatic Team (Zespół Akrobacyjny “ORLIK”) is the aerial aerobatic team of the Polish Air Force. Their first performance dates back to 1998 at the Polish Air Force Command College and soon gained international fame by participating in the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in the same year. Although initially consisting of three formation pilots and one solo pilot, another solo pilot was added at the end of 2000. The team flies with a fleet of six to seven aircraft since 2011.
Austria & Germany.
Austria also participated with two PC-7’s, registrations 3H-FE & 3H-FG, from Zeltweg AB. They belong to the Lehrabteilung Flächenflugzeuge (LAbt FläFlz). Germany was also present with a Eurofighter and a Tornado. The latter is stationed at Schleswig Jagel with the FLG51 and made some wonderful fly-bys past us.
The HAF sent us a C-130 from Elefsis Air Base for a join-up on the second day. Greece utilizes a total of 15 C-130 Hercules.
MB-339CD & M-346A Master, Italian Air Force.
Italy attended to the AFW with 2 Aermacchi aircraft of the 212 Grupo; the MB-339CD 61-131 MM55065 and the M-346A 61-21 MM55222.
In search for a successor to the Aermacchi MB-326 and Fiat G.91T, the Italian Aeronautica Militare submitted a proposal for a new aircraft. In 1972, Aermacchi won a development contract for the MB-338, of which nine different versions were offered, mainly distinguished by their engine. Ultimately the choice was made for the MB-229 equipped with the Viper 632-43 engine, built under license by Piaggio. Although the Rolls-Royce Viper was not the most modern jet engine out there, it did have the advantage of being relatively cheap, track-record reliability and attractive performance. The new aircraft was an aerodynamic evolution of the MB-326, featuring a redesigned front fuselage to raise the rear seats. This required the addition of two belly keels and increased fin-height. Its avionics were upgraded and the maiden flight of this MB-339C, specifically developed for the Aeronautica Militare, took place in April of 1996. It featured a digital dashboard and head-up display, ensuring smooth transitioning of pilots to the most modern fighter jets out there such as the Eurofighter 2000. Fifteen examples of these were delivered between 1996 and 1998. Like its predecessor, the MB-339 had no fixed armament, but the six points under the wing of the MB-326G were retained, allowing a wide variety of external payloads to be carried, including two external tanks.
The special tail paint on the MB-339 “Gruppo Volo I Verdi”
The latest of Italian trainers is the M-346 Master. The first prototype left the factory in Venegono in 2003. Taxi tests started on April 28, 2004, soon advancing to its first flight which took place in Venegono on July 15, 2004. The pre-production aircraft made its maiden flight on July 7, 2008. Thanks to a new landing gear and different rib and frame spacing, its empty weight was reduced by 700kg compared to its prototypes.
The M-346 FA (Fighter Attack) version was presented in 2017.
Hellenic Army and Navy.
ES852 NH-90SOH 2 TEAS
ES521 OH-58D 1-2 TEEP
ES567 OH-58D 1-2 TEEP
ES1021 AH-64DHA 2 TEEP
ES1018 AH-64A+ 1 TEEP
ES672 AB-205A 1 TEAS
PN60 S-70B 2 MEN
The Hellenic Army sent a number of helicopters to the AFW. A first formation of three consisted of a Bell OH-58D Kiowa, an AH-64DHA of the 2 TEEP and an NH-90SOH of the 2 TEAS. A second formation passed by with an AH-64DHA, an AB-205A and an OH-58D. The Navy sent a Sikorsky S-70B Seahawk, of which they own 11 in total, from the unit 2 MEN.
Jordanian Falcons joined by a Swiss Hornet.
J-5023 + J-5015 F/A-18C Swiss AF
4x Extra-330LX Jordanian Falcons
A sight you don’t get to see every day! The Jordanian Falcons flew a formation sortie with a Swiss F/A-18C. The Royal Jordanian Falcons is an aerial aerobatics team established in 1976 at the initiative of His Majesty the Late King Hussein Bin Talal. They fly 5 Extra-330 LX aerobatic monoplanes and are stationed at the King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba.
The Swiss have been flying the F/A-18C Hornet since 1996, 33 of the aircraft are still in service and they’re mainly stationed at Payerne and Meiringen AB. The F/A-18C was flown by Yannick Zanata “Fonsi”
French Air Force.
136/4-GO + 350/4-FQ Rafale C ETR03.004 French Air Force
The French Air Force joined the AFW with their Rafale Solo Display Team. They’re stationed at Base Aérienne 113 Saint-Dizier. Their Dassault Rafale C received a new livery for this year and is flown by Capt. Bertrand “Bubu” Butin in 2022-2023.
C-2A US Navy.
162155/53 C-2A VRC-40 USN
A pleasant surprise was a visit by the US Navy with their C-2A Greyhound. The aircraft provided support in the Tanagra region for two MH-60Rs. Short consultation between us and the crew presented a beautiful sight half an hour later; the Greyhound flew next to us in wonderful evening light. The aircraft came from the USS George H.W. Bush supercarrier stationed in the Mediterranean at that time.
This F-15C from Saudi Arabia, a special color Eagle, was one of the highlights of my visit. At first it did not seem feasible to do an air-to-air shoot. This all changed after a good briefing, soon followed by a ‘go.’ This pilot understood very well what playtime meant and showed his flying skills at an altitude of about 5000ft. This being one of the closing acts behind our Skyvan, the applicable term here would be cherry on the pie!
The beautiful scenery combined with perfect weather conditions made for a remarkable and magnificent experience. During the 12 flights with the Skyvan I was able to photograph a great diversity of participants of the AFW. A major and heartfelt thank you goes out to all participants for making this trip, and its provided opportunities during the air-to-air time, possible.
Special thanks to Eric Coeckelberg of Aviation PhotoCrew.