A typically grubby Hornet undergoes its final checks before heading out for a mission
Note the targeting pod mounted on the port engine intake
As with Ala.11, Ala.14 also brought a two-seat aircraft to DACT '17
The aircraft is seen here recovering from an afternoon mission
To finish off, this Spanish Hornet gives us a perfect view of the false canopy painted on the underside of the aircraft
The purpose of it being to disorientate an opponent in close-up dogfighting
One of the 295s seen on the Gando ramp, with one of the based Casa 235MPs that provided SAR, visible in the background
Mission over, this Ala.46 FA-18 is seen crossing the 'Piano Keys' on Runway 03R at Gando
'Felon 31' returns to base following an afternoon mission. Shortly after, it made the short hop back to Lanzarote
A typical Gando backdrop as #46-17 recovers after a mission
With DACT '17 commencing on 13th January, aircraft began to arrive from the Spanish mainland the week before. As mentioned previously, all four fighter wings based on the mainland sent aircraft to DACT, to participate with the Gando-based Ala.46. With a mix of McDonnell-Douglas EF/FA-18 Hornets and Eurofighter Typhoons (known as the Tifón in Spain), they were joined by three similar aircraft from the Italian Air Force.
The Aeronautica Militare Italiana had sent four Eurofighter Typhoon jets, belonging to 18° Gruppo (Squadron), 37° Stormo (Wing), from Trapani airbase to Gando back in October 2016. As part of a pre-exercise deployment, they were supported on the 1,800 mile journey to Gando by a single Boeing KC-767A tanker from 14° Stormo based at Pratica di Mare, the KC-767 providing aerial refuelling for the Typhoons during the 4½ hour flight.
With 25 visiting fast-jets adding to the resident Ala.46 Hornets, the ramps at Gando were a constant hive of activity. Once the preliminaries had been dealt with over the first few days and the exercise commenced in earnest, missions were flown twice daily. Both morning and afternoon sorties commenced with the departure of the NATO E-3A Sentry, followed by the fighters, the SAR C.235MPA also departing with the fast-jets. The afternoon missions followed a similar pattern, other than the Lockheed KC-130H Hercules would fly in from Lanzarote, before taking-off to provide the opportunity for the fighters to practice air-to-air refuelling. The morning missions would normally start around mid-day, the afternoon ones commencing around 3pm local time.
Having just returned from a mission, Ala.46's specially painted Hornet is seen outside one of the airfield's hardened shelters
Landing at the busy civilian airport of Las Palmas on the sun-kissed island of Gran Canaria, it’s not unusual to catch a glimpse of a few Hornets. Some may be seen at the end of the runway, some sheltering from the hot sun somewhere in the distance. Only these Hornets are not of the insect variety, but McDonnell-Douglas FA-18A fighter jets belonging to the Ejército Del Aire (Spanish Air Force). The Spanish Air Force base at Gando (as the military part of the airfield is known) is located to the east of the two main runways at the international airport, opposite the civilian passenger terminal. Constructed with ten Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) on the southern end of the eastern runway, Base Aérea de Gando
Heading back to the shelter area at Gando, the in-flight refuelling probe can be seen on #46-07
Three Italian Typhoons took part in DACT 2017. The three Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) aircaft completed 38 missions during the exercise, logging more than 75 flight hours. DACT gave them the opportunity to fly air superiority sorties against the Spanish Hornets and Typhoons to validate the TTPS (Tactics and Technics Procedures). Deployed between the 17-26th January, the three aircraft were from 4°, 36° and 37° Stormos (Wing), the three units currently flying the EF2000 in the AMI inventory.
An Ala.46 FA-18A+ takes on some JP-8 jet fuel from a bowser
Based at Morón air base in southern Spain, Ala.11 was the first Ejército del Aire (EdA) unit to re-equip with the Typhoon. Having been disbanded many years ago following withdrawal of the Dassault Mirage III, 113 Escuadron formed in January 2004 as the OCU (operational Conversion Unit) for the type, with 111 Escuadron becoming the first frontline squadron within the EdA. As mentioned previously, the Wing brought three aircraft to Gando (one two-seater and two single-seaters). It is hoped that another frontline squadron will form at Morón, presumably 112 Esc.
During the mission, we also refuelled the AMI Typhoons,
illustrating the cross-fertilization between countries that DACT offers
Ala .12 is based at Torrejón air base, on the outskirts of the capital, Madrid. The wing operates the McDonnell -Douglas EF-18M Hornet fighter, primarily in the air defense role, under the operational and organizational command of Combat Air Command (MACOM). It has two subordinate squadrons; 121 and 122 Escuadron, the Hornet having been in service with the unit since 1989, and having undergone a mid-life update programme (MLU) from 2004. The wing brought six aircraft to DACT'17, including a single two-seat aircraft. Ala.12's aircraft are the only EdA Hornets capable of undertaking tactical aerial reconnaissance with the Rafael RecceLite pod.
With the latest DACT ending on 27th January, it was expected that the next exercise would be held over a similar period in 2018. However, according to the Ejército del Aire website, the next DACT is scheduled for November 2018.
Held between 13-27th January, the first DACT was first held in 2004 and is designed to hone the fighter pilots skills in the art of aerial combat. With the fighter units and airborne early warning assets based at Gando for the period of the exercise, the electronic warfare and aerial refuelling aircraft operate out of Aerodromo Militar de Lanzarote. Whilst it may seem strange to conduct such an exercise from a chain of islands located some 1,700 Km from the Spanish mainland, the Canarian archipelago provides ideal circumstances for fast-jet operations. Low commercial traffic levels at Gando, combined with a large area south of the Islands with unrestricted air space, enables the aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds, at any altitude, without the fear of incursions from civilian traffic. The Combat Air Command (El Mando Aéreo de Combate/MACOM) is responsible for the planning, direction and execution of the exercise, as well as its subsequent evaluation. The purpose of the exercise is to test the command and control structure of MACOM and the means available to NATO for the defence of the Canaries; providing advanced training in a variety of missions, with a gradual increase in both the number of participating aircraft and the difficulty of the mission, in the most realistic possible environment.
Plenty of 'jelly-air' as an Ala.12 Hornet blasts out of Gando
Typifying the standard colour scheme worn by EdA EF-18s, #15-09 is seen above
Ala.11's twin-seat Eurofighter awaits the start of the morning missions
Strangely, Ala.11 only brought three Tifóns to Gando, whilst Ala.14 brought no less than eight
An Ala.12 Hornet taxying out for a morning mission
Ala.15 also operates the McDonnell-Douglas EF-18M Hornet, with two squadrons based at Zaragoza. Delivered way back in 1986, the Hornet still provides the backbone of the Ejército del Aire, with some 60+ aircraft still in service. With introduction of the new Thales Scorpion full-colour, Helmet-Mounted-Cueing-System underway, combined with its impressive weapons fit, the EF-18M will be around for many years to come. As with Ala.12's aircraft, Ala.15's Hornets are utilised in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles.
As with the other units, Ala.15 also brought along a single twin-stick aircraft
Ready to give the sole NATO E-3A the signal to start engines,
this 'groundie' waits patiently as a Spanish Tifón taxi's out for a mission
Seen above is one of 802 Esc's AS.332 Super Pumas
The unit had until recently operated with just one such helicopter, having lost one in a crash during October 2015
A new aircraft joined the unit recently to put it back at full strength
A Casa 25MP preparing for a morning mission
Of note is that the aircraft wears its 'new' serial, D.4-02 on the nose; and its 'old' serial, T.19B-09 on the tailfin
Participants for DACT 2017 came from every Spanish Air Force fighter wing; with Ala.12 and Ala.15 each providing six EF-18M (C.15M) Hornets, Ala.11 and Ala.14 bringing three and eight Typhoons (C.16) respectively; and the Gando-based Ala.46 utilising their fleet of FA-18As (C.15A) during the exercise.
Alongside the fighters, Ala.31 provided one KC-130H (TK.10) Hercules for aerial refuelling; Grupo 47 provided a single
Dassault Falcon 20ECM (TM.11) in the electronic countermeasures role; and 802 Esc provided a single AS.332 Super Puma (HD.21) and a Casa 235MPA (D.4) for SAR (Search and Rescue), CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue); and
Two FA-18s about to perform a 'run and break' over the airfield at Gando
This EF-18M provides us with a nice view of the 'false canopy' painted on the underside of the aircraft;
and the single drop tank on the centreline pylon
Personnel Recovery. Alongside the 'home' team were a single NATO Boeing E-3A AWACS and three Italian Air Force Typhoons; one each from 4º Stormo, 36º Stormo and 37º Stormo. The table to the right provides more detail of the participants.
A Spanish Air Force EF-18M Hornet from Ala.12 blasts out of Gando for a morning mission
With the airport terminal and control tower in the background, an Ala.14 Typhoon head's out for a mission
The 'Tiger-marked' drop tanks being akin to the fact that 142 Esc is a member of the NATO Tiger Community
Although wearing Ala.14's unit badge on the tailfin, this Typhoon lacks the familiar unit code on the fuselage
Tasked with defending the Canarian archipeligo, Ala.46 was equipped with 24 ex-US Navy FA-18A Hornets in the mid-1990s. Like the EF-18Ms, they have received a number of updates over the years, be it to a lesser degree. Of the 24 delivered, 20 remain in service with 462 Escuadron, the subordinate unit that operates the aircraft.. With the likelihood of a replacement for the EF-18M in the offing at some point in the future, it is expected that they will eventually replace the FA-18s at Gando, which are by far the oldest in the Spanish inventory.
Ala.14 was the second EdA Wing to convert to the Eurofighter Typhoon. Based at Albacete-Los Llanos air base, Ala.14 had previously operated the Dassault Mirage F.1, and converted to the Typhoon in May 2012, when 142 Escuadron became the first squadron to 'stand up'. Ala.14 operates the Typhoon primarily in the air defence role, but with the introduction of new 'Tranche 3A' aircraft, is on its way to becoming a multi-role wing. Coinciding with this is the recent forming of 141 Escuadron. Ala.14 brought a total of eight aircraft to Gando, more than any of the other visiting units.
Two Ala.14 Typhoons seen on an afternoon mission during DACT
The aircraft above is interesting in that it wears a number of 'photo reference markings' on the forward fuselage
With its undercarriage in the throes of retracting, #46-07 departs for a morning mission
Time to dispense a few flares!
36º Stormo's F2000A Typhoon formates alongside us prior to taking on fuel
DACT Exercise 2017
Gando Air Base, Gran Canaria
A single E-3A Sentry from the NATO AEW&CF attended DACT 2017
37° Stormo's checkered rudder make their aircraft easily identifiable from other AMI Typhoons
Based at Grosseto, 4° Stormo's EF.2000A about to touchdown at Gando
We would like to thank the following for their help in making this article
El Mando Aéreo de Combate, Madrid
Base Aérea de Gando
The crew of 'Felon 31'
The personnel of Ala. 11, 12, 14, 15 & 46
4°, 36° & 37° Stormos, Aeronautica Militare Italiana
NATO AEW&CF, Geilenkirchen
Providing Search & Rescue (SAR) duties during DACT was the resident 802 Escuadron, part of Ala.46. Formed in 1955, the unit works in conjunction with the El Centro Co-ordinador (RCC) and the Salvamento Maritimo (Coast Guard) in providing SAR for the Canary Islands and the surrounding area. Operating a fleet of two, Casa 235MPs and two, Aerospatiale AS.332 Super Pumas, 802 Esc utilised one of each type during the exercise. The Casa 235 was most evident, getting airborne along with the fighter element; and being on constant 'guard', whilst the Super Puma remained on readiness at Gando, prepared to launch at short notice.
Ala.46's specially marked FA-18A Hornet closes in on the KC-130H tanker aircraft
Ala.46 Hornets seen departing Gando as a 2-ship
Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) Each year Gando plays host to a large number of aircraft from various Spanish Air Force units from the mainland, together with invited nations, to participate in an exercise known simply as 'DACT'. Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) is paramount in the training of air-to-air combat for Spanish fighter pilots, as it is with any nation. The ever changing weapons, tactics and defensive aids utilised by a variety of platforms and air forces means that the opportunity to train realistically against different fighter types is of unquestionable benefit to all involved. DACT initially started off as an exercise involving Spanish Air Force units only, but over the years it has seen participation from the Spanish Navy, Belgian Air Component, French Air Force, German Air Force, United States Air Force and the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force. Of course the involvement of foreign nations operating types not in the Spanish inventory means that the DACT theme becomes even more realistic. DACT 2017 saw participation from the Italian Air Force, NATO Airborne Early Warning Force and of course, Spain.
#15-33 returns from an afternoon mission. Note the IRIS-T missile on the starboard wing-tip pylon
Visible in the image above, is the rescue winch mounted over the side door of the Super Puma
Plugged into the basket, a twin-stick Tifón from Ala.14 takes on fuel from the KC-130H's refuelling boom
is home to Ala.46 (46 Wing), equipped with a single squadron of McDonnell-Douglas FA-18A+ Hornets, together with a Search and Rescue (SAR) squadron equipped with the CASA 235MPA and Eurocopter AS.332 Super Puma. The Canary Islands Air Command (Mando Aéreo de Canarias-MACAN) is based in the capital city of Las Palmas, with MACAN being the only territorial general Air Command Air Force in Spain. MACAN's mission is the maintenance, preparation and command of air units located in the Canarian archipelago.
Ala.15 had two nicely marked jets at Gando, both celebrating their membership of the NATO Tiger squadron community
Seen crossing the 'Piano Keys' of Runway 03R at Gando, #C.16-58 is one of the new Tranche 3A Typhoons
It is one of three that did not carry Ala.14's wing code, which will presumably be applied at some point
A single KC-130H Hercules from Ala.31 at Zaragoza, provided the air refuelling capabilty for the fighter aircraft
Based at Lanzarote for the exercise, it arrived at Gando each afternoon to perform a mission
During our time at Gando we had the opportunity to fly a mission with the Ala.31 KC-130H, crewed by personnel from 312 Escuadrón
Above is the flight deck of 'Felon 31' as we head out over the Alantic Ocean to meet up with the fighters
A 462 Esc FA-18A+ taxi's out for a mission
A chance to see the inner fin-tip of #15-01 as it is about to land back at Gando
The EdA Typhoons flew missions with a single IRIS-T missile, visible on the outer port wing pylon
#D.4-02 taxi's out for a mission. Note the FLIR (Forward-Looking InfraRed) mounted below the nose
An Ala.11 Typhoon recovers after a DACT mission
Missions initially commence on a 1v1 basis involving basic Air Combat Manoeuvres (ACM). As the exercise evolves, the missions become more complex, with more aircraft involved, allowing 6v6 and 6v8 scenarios, which include Offensive Counter-Air, Defensive Counter-Air and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missions involving up to 26 aircraft. The missions are also flown in conjunction with High Value Assets such as aerial refuellers, airborne early warning aircraft and other 'slow movers'. Search & Rescue (SAR) aircraft, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing also participate in the exercise; and with Gando operating two parallel runways, aircraft are able to conduct missions almost unhindered by the civilian traffic operating into and out of the airport.
The Wing's other specially marked jet is seen taxying out for a mission
The Boeing E-3A was the first aircraft out and the last to return after each set of missions
It is seen here landing just before dusk on Runway 03R
Although not technically involved in DACT, two Airbus C.295M transports flew regular missions in and out of Gando, presumably transporting supplies and personnel in support of the exercise
With a gloriously blue sky as a backdrop, this Typhoon from 36° Stormo at Gioia del Colle comes into land
Head-on shot of a Gando-based FA-18A