Anatolian Eagle 2016

In June 2016 we made a trip to Konya in Turkey to review one of the large exercises organized by the Turkish Air Force – Anatolian Eagle. Konya is located on more than 1.000 meters above sea level on a large open plain. More than 2 million people live here and can enjoy a more modest climate in summer, which is not as hot and humid as on the cost more in the south. I had visited Konya in the year before for the 2015 edition of the NATO Tigermeet and was thus aware regarding location and the fantastic photo opportunities. Our expectations thus were high – and completely fulfilled! The organisers of Anatolian Eagle ensured any journalist or photographer accrediting for the exercise was taken care of and organised hotel and logistics.

The exercise is held several times per year with varying guests from Europe and other countries in Asia and the Near East – thus you can always expect some interesting aircraft which you might not see otherwise. As the exercise is modelled after Red Flag, it provides deployed aircrews a very good training ground to experience operational atmosphere. Large training areas above land and sea in combination with simulated ground threats provide a very realistic training environment. 

This is further enhanced by airborne adversaries, which are provided by dedicated Turkish Air Force squadrons. These combined Red Forces are then the opponents to Blue Forces, consisting of deployed squadrons from other countries and further Turkish Air Force squadrons. All operations during the missions are controlled by White Force, the command and control element operated as well by Turkish Air Force. In terms of facilities, the base was heavily modified for those regular exercises (several times per year). Each of the three forces has own facilities and buildings, furthermore a large ramp was built on the eastern side of the base for the aircraft arriving for the exercise.

Our stay at Konya was during Ramadan, but our Turkish hosts ensured lunch was available on base for the non-Muslim guests – a very kind gesture showing again the hospitality. Looking for a dinner opportunity on one of the evenings, we stumbled across a very friendly small restaurant and were welcomed to break the fast with the other guests in the restaurant once the time had come. The restaurant owners explained the timing and the food (especially the soup at the beginning to satisfy the first hunger) and we enjoyed a lot the for us unknown atmosphere.

Based on my previous visit to the Tigermeet I was aware that the base area included next to our friendly hosts and the guests as well an enjoyable part of wildlife – everywhere you have squirrels living in holes in the ground. Thus you could see all those photographers between the flying activities standing still, looking left and right on the ground and pointing their large lenses downwards – photographing these small animals. They seemed to have adapted to the environment and the aircraft quite well.

Although I am sure everybody returned with many photos of the squirrels, we were all there for the aircraft. Next to Turkey, Italy, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia dispatched fighters, NATO an AWACS and the Netherlands a KDC-10 tanker. From the Turkish hosts, F-16 of various squadrons and F-4 Phantoms – as usual a highlight for many photographers – participated. As the media days took place at the end of the exercise, transport aircraft especially for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia arrived to lift their equipment back home. This enabled us to get pictures of such rare aircraft like the Boeing KE-3A of the Royal Saudi Air Force, a tanker version of the Boeing E-3 Sentry. Another highlight was an Il-76MF, one of very few built stretched Il-76 airframes, operating as well for Saudi Arabia but owned by Jordan. Next to these foreign transports, several C-130 Hercules and Casa CN-235 of the Turkish hosts transport equipment in and out of Konya during the photographer days.

Anatolian Eagle as an exercise is offering several benefits for a military aviation enthusiast: Very good photo opportunities along the taxiway (morning) and runway (afternoon), a variety of aircraft and chances to catch some special aircraft you might rarely see somewhere else, and kind hosts taking care of you. The 2016 edition was no exception and we look forward to attending again.