In the summer of 2013 we were so lucky to discover the announcement of the TLP (Tactical Leadership Program) Spotters' Day in Albacete, Spain on the Internet. As fanatic spotters we immediately registered and successfully had been chosen to be one of the participants on this event which had been prolonged meanwhile to two days due to the great interest. We got the opportunity for the 2nd of October 2013 to participate (for 30€ registration fee) on this program, which seemed to be promisingly interesting. We discussed several options for the travel, such as by plane to Madrid and then by rental car to Albacete or by plane to the seaside, and then by rental car to the airbase. We chose the latter, in which we've been highly motivated by the availability of Alicante by cheap flight, from where Albacete is "only" 200 km away.
As part of a thorough organization we received by e-mail in advance the detailed program and rules and regulations of the base. And it contained of course, our personal registration number as well. The arrival time was determined between 9:30 to 10:00, the address was given, but other signal or information board did not indicate that we are on the right way. At the cost of some desperate worrying, and thanks to the significant help of our GPS, we arrived in time without any problems. Our personalized entry cards on a TLP lanyard were handed over at the parking lot, and that is already contained the food, drink and gift coupons as well. We would like to emphasize the professional organization again: the 150 participants had been divided into 3 groups of 50 by the registration number, and received the passes at three counters really quickly. The entry was possible only after the well known, usual package inspection of the bomb-sniffing dog. Our photography backpacks were salivated by the Spanish dog with similar enthusiasm like it was done by the dog in Kecskemét, Hungary in August. Buses took us from the gate to the large TLP hangar where the organizers held us a briefing in Spanish and English about the security policy rules and the daily program. The commander, our host greeted every visitor on their mother tongue, and we suspect that he needed the help of a small slip of paper in his hand mainly because of the Slovak and Hungarian language which he also tried for a sentence beside to the Spanish, English, German, Dutch, and French. It was interesting that in English they summed up in 7 minutes what the snare speaking Spanish commander told in half an hour. Nevertheless, we did not feel that we missed anything, and we were listening to the speech only with half an ear because from the open hangar were could clearly see the apron nearby full with aircrafts: F-16s, Typhoons, Mirage 2000s and F-18s.
We were told that traditionally - beside Spain, - there are three TLP countries and three guest countries represented on the TLP, now they were Great-Britain, Italy, France and Poland, Turkey, Switzerland.
After the briefing everyone has received the personalized TLP visibility vest, (of course, in that size which we indicated in advance on the application form) and then divided into small groups, accompanied by a security officer we started to take photos of the airplanes lined up on the apron at around 11 o'clock. Here we faced the only rule which was incomprehensible for us: everyone had to take off their hats, at noon, in thirty degrees Celsius, in bright sunshine.
We could photo all aircrafts on the apron, without limitation, namely Italian Typhoons, Swiss F-18s Polish and Turkish F-16s, English Hawks, three Mirage 2000 versions from France, and beside the F-18s and Typhoons of our hosting country they showed us a delicate speciality, one Mirage F1. After at least one and a half hour of photography we gathered again in the hangar, and then we've been carried by bus to the canteen of the airbase for a so called campaign lunch. Several appetizers and fruits were waiting for us in the laid table, followed by paella mixta (Spanish rice with meat) with water, cola and some nice red wine. Our hosts gathered the lunch coupons at the entrance, which we really wanted to keep due to its nice decoration with a collage of the best shots of last year. We also received a statements to sign by which we accept the basic rules and regulations at the airbase. After lunch in exchange for the gift coupon and the signed statement we received the gift pack: a small TLP bag, TLP key ring with hook, and a TLP T-shirt (of course in our size indicated in advance at the registration) .
The spotters had been carried by bus to the designated spotter place alongside the runway, which has been selected carefully, so the spotters could spread, find a good place without disturbing each other, and even the sun position was taken into account, so it was not back-lighted. Perhaps this was one of reasons for the friendly atmosphere: the spotters could talk and get to know each other without scrambling for the better place or position. Half an hour after our arrival to the spotter place began the take-offs of the training-mission. Aircraft pairs took off one by one. It was impressive even to see the queue of aircrafts "lining-up" behind the hangars. Earplugs were distributed during the bus transfer to the runway and we put them with a little sceptical smile to our pocket, but later, when we heard the take off of the F-16 fighters at close quarters, we quickly admitted their necessity.
The rich program of take-offs lasted at least one hour and during the break until the return cold beverages had been served in exchange of the drink coupons. It was not more than half an hour between the last take off and the first return. The landing was as busy as the take-off, new and new pairs of aircrafts kept coming, and it compensated the slight disappointment that - except one - every airplane landed immediately without low pass or touch and go. The length of the runway allowed the aircrafts to slow down without parabrakes, with nose held high, simply by aerodynamic braking. From more than 30 aircrafts and helicopters only the last few pairs came back in filtered light of the setting sun covered partly by veil clouds, however we could not complain about the weather at all. We left the airbase richer by experiences , gifts and new friends and pleasantly tired at the scheduled time , at half past six . One thing is certain, if we get the possibility again: see you at the same time, same place, next year!
Judit Alt & Csaba M. Király
You can find our pictures in the database.
October 18, 2013