DACT ’17 at Las Palmas – Gando

36_EF-18M_C.15-67_15-33Air to Air fights where others go on holiday!

DACT – Dissimilar Air Combat Training – is a yearly exercise of the Spanish Air Force, which took place in 2017 from 13th January to 27th January at Gando – the military part of the Las Palmas airport on the Canary Islands.  The DACT exercises of the Spanish Air Force have a long tradition, and during the past few years have usually been held in the early part of the year. The exercise focuses, like the title suggests, on Dissimilar Air Combat Training.

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Nowadays a lot of air forces use just a singletype of aircraft for air combat and most pilots have experience in fighting against aircraft of the same type they’re flying in. So it’s always a challenge to fight against a different type. Nowadays, the Spanish Air Force utilizes their EF-18 Hornets and Eurofighter Typhoons – two different types, making it easier to arrange DACT as with a single-fighter type force. However, the Spanish Air Force wants to widen its horizon, so not only does the Spanish Forces come together, foreign air arms were also invited. In the last few years, USAFE F-15s, Belgium F-16s, French Mirage 2000s and German Typhoons participated and flew into air to air combats in the Canary Islands, where others have flown into vacation to escape the cold winters in Central Europe. Not so this time. The Spanish Air Force participated with the Eurofighter Typhoon in the recent Red Flag exercise in March 2017 at Nellis Air Force Base, so this year’s edition of DACT was used to get prepared for this challenging and demanding exercise.

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During an intensive briefing, these preparations were emphasized. There were extensive theoretical lessons in the weeks before the actual exercise.

Aircraft from the following Spanish units participated in this years edition:
– Ala 11 (11th Wing) with 3 Typhoons from Moron (near Seville)
– Ala 12 (12th Wing) with 6 EF-18s from Torrejon (near Madrid)
– Ala 14 (14th Wing) with 8 Typhoons from Albacete
– Ala 15 (15th Wing) with 6 EF-18s from Zaragoza
– Ala 31 (31st Wing) with 1 KC-130 from Zaragoza
– Ala 35 (35th Wing) with 2 C.295M from Getafe (near Madrid)
– Grupo Mixto 47 (47th Mixed Group) with 1 Falcon 20ECM from Torrejon
– Gropo 74 (74th Group) with 3 C.101 trainer aircraft
These last seven aircraft flew from Lanzerote, a neighboring island closer to the training area.
– Ala 46 (46th Wing) with 6 FA-18s from Gando (Las Palmas)
– Esc 802 (802nd Squadron) with 2 AS.332s and 1 CN.235MPA from Gando

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The flying took place at two times a day; fighting was scheduled 6 vs. 4 and 4 vs. 4, meaning at least 18 fighting aircraft in the air at the same time in the large restricted area east of the island of Las Palmas.  They were monitored by ground control units, and in the second round additionally by NATO E-3A AWACS.

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As can be expected from the participants list, there was more than air-to-air fighting. Participants learn also to work in an environment with electronic disturbances, protecting slower moving aircraft and air-to-air refueling.

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The Italian Air Force participated in Red Flag last year with their Typhoons, and were invited again… and three Italian Typhoons flew with the Spanish fighters and shared their experiences with them.

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Gando offers great photo opportunities from outside of the fence, and is therefore still worth a visit if one doesn’t has access to the base. Besides the locally-based aircraft, its geographical position between Europe and Africa and South America sometimes lets exotic aircraft make fuel stops on their way to their final destination. The runway layout allows good pictures of the landing traffic in the morning and late afternoon. Only at lunchtime and in the early afternoon the light is less favorable, as the sun is on the tail of the landing aircraft.

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On 25th of January the Spanish Air Force, with the 46th Wing, organized a Photo Day for enthusiasts. In the end, 175 happy photographers were allowed to attend. After in-processing and parking on the base, we were brought to a large conference room where we received a comprehensive briefing on the exercise. Afterwards, there was a short visit to the Typhoon ramp and then we went to the balcony of a hangar next to the taxiway. From there we could take pictures of the aircraft which were taxiing to the runway. Unfortunately, the sun disappeared often behind some clouds. After the last take-off we were bussed  to a hill near the beginning of the runway. This spot allowed nice pictures of the returning aircraft, with the mountainous background of the island. From there we were able to shoot pictures of the landing fighters at the same height we were or slightly from above. Also some of the based Hornets returning to their HASs could be pictured.

The last landing of the morning exercise was at 1400 and we were brought back to our cars to leave the base. Some drove to the airport to catch their flight back home, others stayed to photograph some fighter action on this holiday island.

I like to thank the Spanish Air Force for the opportunity to visit the exercise and the members of Ala 46 for their great hospitality, patience and support during our visit.

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