TLG-73S, Laage in March 2018
TLwG 73 Steinhof, March, 2018
I was very privileged to visit the Taktisches Luftwaffen Geschwader 73 ‘Steinhoff’ (TLwG 73S) again on March 29th, 2018.
The TLwG roughly translated is a Tactical Air Force Squadron, the name Steinhoff was awarded in 1997; Johannes Steinhoff is the Patron of TLwG 73.
The unit was previously called the Jagdgeschwader (JG) 73 and flew aircraft such as the Canadair Sabre, the Fiat G.91, the McDonnel Douglas F-4 Phantom II and the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29. It was in April 2004 that JG 73 first received the EuroFighter 2000T; this is the twin seat version of the EuroFighter.
In October 2013 the name Jagdgeschwader was dropped in favour of Taktisches Luftwaffen Geschwader 73 S the name it carries today. TLwG 73S is a Fighter Wing of the German Air Force (GAF). It has a dual role in that it is a Training Wing with the EuroFighter 2000T and an Air Defence role (QRA = Quick Reaction Alert) for the Northern part of Germany with the EuroFighter 2000 the single seat version of the EuroFighter. The Southern QRA is carried out by TLwG-74 based at Fliegerhorst-Neuburg, Neuburg-an-der-Donau, Bavaria.
TLwG 73 S has two Squadrons within the Wing, one is number 1 Squadron unofficially numbered 731 Squadron which is responsible for all the mission and active flying.
The other is number 2 Squadron unofficially called 732 Squadron, 2/732 is responsible for all the training and use the EuroFighter 2000T for the purpose.
The aircraft are divided into areas of what the Luftwaffe call ‘boxes’ these are the hangars where the aircraft are housed when not in use. There are twelve boxes in area Alpha and twelve in area Bravo. Alpha area is located close to the 27 end of the runway and Bravo close to 09.
TLwG-73S at Fliegerhorst Laage under normal circumstances has about thirty seven (37) EuroFighters, both the 2000 and 2000T on base. Unfortunately for one reason or another on the day of our visit there were only twenty one (21) of the aircraft on base. One more EuroFighter arrived from maintenance at Ingolstadt-Manching during our visit bringing the total on base to twenty two (22) Also overnight and rather unexpectedly there had been a fall of snow; approximately 10-12 Cm of the white stuff fell in just six hours.
Once or twice a year the Press Office at Laage have what they call a Spotters Tag (Day), this is when Aviation Enthusiasts such as me can enter the airfield. We are given a guided tour of the airfield which contains about five what we English call Wrecks & Relics. These aircraft are those no longer in service and are preserved within the confines of the base.
The day starts with a briefing usually given in the German language, but more increasingly there are translated versions in English as more and more English Enthusiast attend this day.
The first opportunity of the day was this F-104G Starfighter, German Navy serial 25-02
Having photographed the Starfighter we then all boarded the bus; next stop was the preserved Fait G.91 that also served with JG-73 as it was then. From the G.91 (nicknamed the Gino) it was onto the Canadair Sabre Mk.6 which also served with JG-73. Further down inside the base was the McDonnell-Douglas F-4F Phantom II, this too served with JG-73. Highlight for some on the trip was seeing a Sukhoi Su-22 M-4K which is undergoing restoration in one of the former East German AF (NVA) hardened aircraft shelters.
The next stop was the maintenance hangar; no member of the public is allowed into the hangar and it is strictly no photography in this area. There were seven (7) EuroFighters in this area. Outside of this hangar is a preserved Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23ML of the former East German AF (NVA) this carries its former EGAF serial of 330. This aircraft was based at Laage during the Cold War period and it is now preserved on the base.
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23ML of the former DDR / NVA AF
Moving on from the maintenance hangar we next found ourselves towards the 09 end of Laage’s runway at the Operations Block.
EuroFighter 2000 of TLG-73S leaves the EOR / ‘last chance’ area
We moved on to yet another part of the airfield it was located towards the 09 end of the runway and called the Operations room. There are no windows to this room and certainly no access to the public. We were allowed under escort from the Press Officers to walk on the snow covered grass over the taxi-way taking care to ensure that we had cleaned our shoes / boots etc. to prevent any FOD (Foreign Object Debris) getting onto the active taxi-ways and too shelter as much as we could from another windowless building close to the 09 end taxi-way. Three EuroFighter 2000’s moved towards the EOR also known in the UK as the last chance. This is where the aircraft are given the final ‘once over’ by the ground crews and all pins / flags that read ‘Remove before flight’ are removed. The three EuroFighters were the single seat 2000 version and were doing a sortie that would last approximately two to two and half hours. This picture shows one of the EF 2000’s leaving the EOR for the active runway which on this occasion was 09. You can also see in this photograph the vast amount of snow that had fallen in just a few hours. Credit must go to the ground teams who managed to get the airfield fully operational in such a short space of time. Fliegerhorst Laage shares the airfield with the civil operators such as Germania and the British carrier BMi Regional who fly daily to and from Bristol in the U.K.
We eagerly awaited the arrival of an aircraft due in from the maintenance facility at Ingolstadt-Manching which is the EuroFighter deep maintenance facility located in Bavaria (Bayern). However some of us were a little disappointed as in the end it turned out to be a Bombardier Learjet 36D of the GFD (Gesellschaft für Flugzieldarstellung (GFD), which translated is the Company for aircraft target presentation) In the United Kingdom this role is carried out by a company named Cobham – Aviation Services using the Dassault Falcon 20EW, the EW signifies Electronic Warfare. In both Germany and the United Kingdom the pilots are normally retired Armed Services personnel or on detachment from one of the Armed Services of their respective countries.
Having seen the Learjet arrive it was declared time for lunch; for 5€00 we all had hot food, a dessert and an ample supply of hot or cold drinks. The lunch was served in the combined ranks Mess close to the main gate. Thirty minutes later we were all back on the bus and once again bound for the Command Post area of the airfield.
We learnt that while having lunch we had missed the arrival of the twenty second EuroFighter serial 30-55 which indeed had flown in from Ingolstadt-Manching and also missed an Airbus A400M do a touch and go at the airfield. Interestingly the German Air Force chose the Airbus A400M to replace its fleet of C-160D Transall aircraft. Currently all the A400M’s are assigned to LTG-62 ( Lufttransportgeschwader 62 – Air Transport Wing) based at Wunstorf approximately 36 Kilometres west of Hannover.
After a while the EuroFighters that had taken off for the sortie returned using runway 09 with a wind of 15 Knots gusting to 25 down the runway. In human terms that was damn cold, as it was a combination of low temperatures (-0 C) and the chill from the strong westerly wind.
One of the landing aircraft experienced an in-sortie malfunction of its gun (the sortie was a live firing one). We learnt later in the afternoon that a round of ammunition had actually jammed in the barrel of the gun. The aircraft was left at the 29 EOR facing toward what is called the butts lest the round freed itself and shot out of the barrel In the picture below you can see one of the EF2000’s taxiing back to its dispersal and box.
We then witnessed the afternoon sortie take off, a pair of EuroFighter (EF) 2000’s and a lone EF 2000T. We were then taken to Area Bravo where there were six more of the based EuroFighters in their respective boxes. It was here that we were able to see the recently arrived EF 2000 serial 30-55.
Once again we were taken to area Alpha to witness the earlier sorties aircraft returning, we were able to photograph another EF 2000 that we had not been able to see earlier in the tour this being serial 30-61.
A lot of aviation enthusiasts believe that the German Cross plays a part in the serial presentation and present the serial thus, 30+61, this is not correct as it plays no part in the serial.
That effectively was the end of the tour; we were then taken back to the main gate where we all bade each other farewell until the next Spotters Tag which I understand will not be until the early part of 2019.
I’d like to sincerely thank Oberleutnant Trost, Ober Stabsfeldwebel Nitz and everyone else from the TLwG-73S Press Office for arranging and conducting the Spotters Tag.