For two weeks in August 2020 a historic feat took place over the skies over Germany. The German Air Force and Israeli Air Force trained together on German soil for the first time. Six F-16C/D “Barak” fighter jets and two Gulfstream G-550 "Nachshon-Eitam" CAEW jets formed the main Israeli aircraft used for what was named exercise “Blue Wings 2020”.
In the second week another exercise was coupled to this under the name “MAGDAYS” and saw the addition of two Boeing 707 "Re'em" tanker aircraft. Many aviation enthusiasts flocked to Nörvenich Air Base, close to Cologne. As did I on two mornings in the first week. Besides being exotic guests for this part of the world those F-16’s come in a desert camo livery. Something that really appealed to those capturing images and are used to seeing mainly grey-on-grey liveries…
On August 17th, 2020, the IAF deployed six F-16s „Barak“ fighter jets from Hatzor to Nörvenich Air Base, consisting of three single-seat F-16C of 101 „First Fighter“ Squadron and three twin-seat F-16D of 105 “Scorpion” Squadron.
The deployment was complemented by one Gulfstream G550 „Eitam“ Airborne Early Warning (AEW) platform. Two Boeing 707 „Re’em“ transport and air-air refuelling jets supported the transfer flight from Israel. They took the formation via Italy and France to Germany, Several additional C-130 Hercules support flights came in the week before.
The deployment is strategically significant and greatly influences the IAF and the entire state of Israel. The Israeli and German cooperation and the arrival of IAF aircraft on German soil is a historic event in aviation history.
The Israeli Air Force jets stayed at Nörvenich for two weeks. The first week of flying was within the frame of the “Blue Wings” exercise, the second week saw the participations of the IAF F-16s in the Luftwaffe’s “Multinational Air Group Days” (MAG Days).
During the exercise, the participants practiced dogfights, air to ground combat, handling surface-to-air missile threats and other combat scenarios in enemy territory. The exercise was an opportunity to fly tactically and face a wide variety of threats using advanced technology. The flights were carried out by both using NATO's and Israeli combat ethos and tactics.
On Tuesday, August 18, 2020, a Memory for the Future flyby took take place. A joint flyby, led by an IAF Gulfstream G550 and F-16s alongside with two German Eurofighters. The flyby along the Dachau concentration camp was organized to remember the Holocaust victims. The flyby above Fürstenfeldbruck Airport close to Munich was in memory of the 11 Israeli Olympic delegation members that were murdered during the Olympics terrorist attack in 1972.
After the flyby, an official memorial ceremony was held at the Dachau concentration camp. The ceremony was attended by the German Federal Minister of Defense, Mrs. Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer, the Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Jeremy Issacharoff, the Commanders of both Air Forces and other dignitaries.
I made arrangements with good friend and fellow photographer Mariska to make the drive as soon as word got out about the exercise. This I had to cover!
My personal history visiting Nörvenich goes as far back as 2001 and I’ve visited multiple times since. During those visits I came to know a few local spotters/photographers who I contacted about the ins and outs. Especially about visiting outside the base regarding not only CoVID-19 restrictions but also heightened base security.
There were rumours about parking the car very far away, no stepladders allowed and the Mossad (Israeli Intelligence Service) together with a large local police force on patrol. Not all proved to be true as stepladders were fine to use so long as one would set up about a meter from the base fence. Good thing because that fence had a thick and high hedge right behind it, blocking the view from ground-level. Also looking the other way from the small road along the base a very high cornfield blocked the view of the approach.
An early rise for a car ride well before the sun came up I bought me my favourite breakfast in the form of big baked pretzels. We arrived bright and early with no roadblock from the main road yet. We parked a short walk away where more cars already stood. A local policeman assured we wouldn’t have to expect a ticket so that was sorted. I met up with some familiar fellow photographers along the fence. Something I had really missed a lot since the outbreak of the CoVID-19 pandemic.
The day before saw all aircraft arriving along with two 707 “Re’em” tankers and a CH-130H Hercules as support aircraft. Sadly for me and Mariska they’d already left. But we were treated with the departure of a GAF A-400M Atlas, one of the Gulfstreams, all six of the F-16’s, a bunch of Eurofighters and oh yeah, a SAR AB.212 ‘Huey’! The latter is based here and flew unrelated to the exercise. But since the GAF only has some fourteen left it made me happy to get her in front of my lens.
That afternoon saw a weather cancel for the planned flights so we decided to leave for the small airport of Bonn-Hangelar. A lot of SAR and police helicopters were based there and perhaps we could catch some action. We did but not after traversing a few thunderstorms… Hence the weather cancel we figured! On the way back we ‘dined in style’ for such a road trip through Germany: a schnitzel meal along the autobahn.
I got a text message from my friend Erik who would go to Nörvenich the next day and had a spot left in the car. So, well, why not go again? Another early rise at about 3am that Wednesday morning, this time along with Erik and a friend of his. It proved to be pretty much more of the same for me (more pretzels for breakfast!). Although I gambled on the wrong location along the fence during take-off. Four of the F-16’s lined up and taxied at the north end the other day. I had hoped for them doing that again and aimed for some head-on shots. But alas. That one spot only provided that one single view so nothing on the runway. It’s good cardio though, running with all my gear..!
I still managed to get some good shots of the morning flights. That afternoon again seemed to get another weather cancel and planned take offs were scheduled at 3pm. Something my fellow travel companions rather not wait for. So we went back via NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, which was inactive when we got there and onto Baarlo. A town along the Meuse river were a car dealer has an extensive collection of old aircraft they restore. But that’s another story!