2022 – Year of the Tiger

Normally, I would not mark the Lunar New Year. However, 2022 is a bit different as it is the Year of the Tiger.

Tigers are a very common motif for air force squadrons the world over. In particular is the NATO Tiger Association; a group of squadrons from the air forces of NATO nations that are bound together by having tigers in their unit heraldry.

To bring in the Lunar New Year of 2022, I’m happy to share with you a selection of pictures I’ve taken of NATO military aircraft from “Tiger” squadrons. Mostly, they are Czech air force machines, but there are also Austrian, Belgian, Hungarian and Slovak jets in the mix:

Book Review: “An Officer, Not a Gentleman”

An Officer, Not a Gentleman

By: Mandy Hickson

Mandy Hickson became only the second female fast jet pilot in Royal Air Force history when she qualified in 1999 as a pilot on the Panavia Tornado, an aircraft she would fly until 2002. Her RAF career spanned 17 years in full, the bulk of it in flying roles.

While women flying in combat roles in air arms in many nations is no longer the groundbreaking news it once was, military flying is still seen as primarily a man’s world. That goes double for the fast jet community.

“An Officer, Not a Gentleman” is an enjoyable book about one woman’s experience in the fast jet community at a time when the RAF was facing the reality of women wanting to fly combat jets and the policy and attitude changes that it needed to make to facilitate that.

What you will find in this book is memoirs rather than mantras. Hickson makes it very clear from an early point that she wanted to be a pilot since childhood; this book puts the fulfilment of her personal dream ahead of feminist rhetoric. This is a very personal story.

As expected, this book goes into good detail about the trials and tribulations the author contended with in the RAF from the time she took her entrance tests to becoming qualified in the Tornado aircraft and flying it in combat over Iraq.

While she recalls a number of more old school thinking male officers that felt women had no place flying combat jets and went to efforts to make things more diffucult for her than need be, she gives significantly more time to those men who went through training alongside her and her squadronmates that were very supportive of her from the start.

A great example of the support she received is a recollection from her training. She was experiencing troubles with some formation flying and was at risk of failing the course. One of her fellow trainees took her to the parade ground, where the rest of their training squadron was waiting, and they all practiced the formation with bicycles until she was confident with it.

Such positive stories are refreshing and contrast well against another incident where she attended a pub party night with her squadronmates. She drank some beer, danced and generally had a good time fitting in with the group and becoming a member of it. The next day, she was subjected to a double standard when her commanding officer reprimanded her for not acting enough like a lady at the event.

The book also explores adjustments and trade-offs she had to make in her RAF career to accomodate getting married and starting a family. This included the difficult decision of leaving the fast jet community for less strenuous assignments that presented her with fewer chances of promotion in rank.

The book gives as much time to experiences that are common for anyone, male or female, who goes down the route to military fast jet flying. As with many other memoirs of such pilots, this one follows an individual who was very physically active in childhood and was bitten by the aviation bug early in life. This individual also excelled in school, showed an aptitude for flying in their teens and had their flying license before they had a driving license.

Where this book really shines is in the humanity, humility and humour with which it was written. Hickson never comes across as bitter when she recalls individuals who tried to hold her back and freely concedes when a bad situation she found herself in was the result of an error on her part. She also keeps the tone of the book upbeat with a good amount of wit in the mix.

The only negative point about this book, and it’s a small one, is that it contains quite a bit of British English slang that can be confusing if you’re not familiar with it. The book has a good glossary to cover the technical jargon, it could benefit from having a glossary or footnotes to explain the British specific slang as well.

Since leaving the RAF, Mandy Hickson has been very active as a motivational speaker and business navigation consultant. This link will take you to her website, where you can find out more about her and purchase a limited edition copy of “An Officer,Not a Gentleman”

This is definitely a book you can buy with confidence.

A MiG on the move

Kunovice Air Museum crew starting to dismantle and prepare a MiG-23 fighter in Prague for road transport to Kunovice. (Photo: Kunovice Air Museum)

Off Season Action at Kunovice

The 2021 season for outdoor museums in the Czech Republic ended on October 31, but that doesn’t mean the museums are idle.

In my 2021 update post of the Kunovice Air Museum in September, I mentioned that the museum had made an agreement to restore and display a former Czech air force MiG-23 fighter that the Prague based LOM Praha company had on display at their Prague-Malešice facility for many years.

Recently, a crew from the museum went to Prague to dismantle the aircraft and prepare it for transport to Kunovice. December 4 is the sceduled date of transport.

The following is an English translation of the museum’s press release:

Supersonic fighter with variable geometry wing “flies” from Prague to Kunovice

In a very brief period of time, a crew from the Kunovice Air Museum successfully disassembled a MiG-23 MF (NATO codename “Flogger B”) variable geometry wing, supersonic fighter which was located in the area of LOM Praha s.p. They prepared the “Twenty-three”, with hull number 7184, in a short time for land transport from Prague-Malešice to Kunovice. This was possible due to a loan agreement between LOM Praha s.p. and the Kunovice Air Museum which was recently signed by the directors of both institutions, Jiří Protiva and Martin Hrabec.

“It helped us a lot that it was not necessary to dismantle the aircraft into smaller pieces. The carrier, Universal Transport Praha, has agreed to provide us with equipment that will allow the fuselage to be transported as a whole. Thanks to them, we didn’t have to disassemble the aircraft too much.” explains museum director Martin Hrabec.

The transfer of the aircraft is planned for Saturday, December 4. Jiří Tůma describes the action plan from Universal Transport: “We still have to remove the wings and remove the plane from its pedestal before we move it to the transport vehicle. After that, we will set out on a journey to Kunovice.”

“Our thanks go out to the aircraft owner, the state-owned company LOM Praha. Big thanks also go to Universal Transport, who will take care of the transport of the aircraft. Last but not least, the company Hanyš Crane Work, who took care of loading the aircraft and its parts. Without them, this event could not take place.” adds the director of the Kunovice Air Museum.

The MiG-23 MF (fuselage number 7184) will be the first aircraft in the Kunovice Air Museum that belongs to the so-called third generation of fighters, and also the first with variable geometry wings. At the same time, it was an important type of aircraft in the inventory of the former Czechoslovak Air Force. Additionally, it will be the first in the museum to represent the Žatec air base, where the aircraft served in the 11th Fighter Air Regiment.

7184 was the last example of the MiG-23 MF delivered to Czechoslovakia. Together, with two other aircraft, it arrived from the USSR on December 3, 1979. During its active career, it served at bases in Bechyně, České Budějovice and Žatec with the 1st and 11th Fighter Air Regiments, which belonged to the PVOS (State Air Defense) units. The aircraft was retired at the end of June 1994 and has been owned by LOM Praha s.p. since 1996.

The MiG-23 was created in the late 1960s as a successor to the better known MiG-21. In the end, however, both types were produced simultaneously. In the Czech Air Force, the last MiG-21s were retired later than their “successors” due to the challenging maintenance and lower reliability of the structurally complex MiG-23.

The MF version of the MiG-23 ended its Czech Air Force service in 1994, the last MiG-23 versions in Czech service, the BN and ML, were retired from the Czech Air Force in 1998.

You can see a bit of the disassembly work in this gallery the museum posted online.

NATO Days, 2021

September 18 and 19 of 2021 saw the return of the annual NATO Days public exhibition at Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Due to COVID concerns, the 2020 edition of the event was not open to the public and was televised instead. While COVID concerns kept this year’s edition smaller than some in the past, it was great to be able to go out there again.

In the spirit of quality over quantity, the 2021 edition of the event saw some first time visitors in the form of a Lockheed F-35 Lightning II fighter, and Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi role Tanker Transport) and the DC-3 Dakota from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

I attended on the Saturday. The weather was overcast most of the day and made photography a challenge. However, I got some decent images from the day. Here’s a look: