ASSIGNMENT No6: NATO’s Baltic Air Policing, Šiauliai, Lithuania
Søren Augustesen gets immersed on the NATO frontline during the Baltic Air Policing mission out of Lithuania
In December of 2015 I went on my first COAP Assignment to cover the Hungarian AF’s first BAP mission. Flying on my own from Denmark, I joined up with the group at Riga airport and we transferred to Šiauliai air base in Lithuania.
On 1st December we had the first of four days shooting at the base. After a short briefing from our guide, we headed straight out to the runway to capture the first QRA launch of the day. The weather was fantastic, with clear blue skies and just above freezing. Standing next to the runway we got great shots of the two JAS39C Gripen fighters as they lifted off from the runway, kicking up a mixture of water and de-icing material – a good start to the day indeed.
After the jets had returned, again with us at the runway to capture the landings, we headed down to the QRA shelters for the first of several photo ops in that location. The liberal use of de-icing had created large areas of water, which were perfect for capturing reflections of the Gripens parked in the shelters. After a lunch break at the base cafeteria, we returned to the QRA shelters to take advantage of the fact that the shelters open in both ends, and that the winter sun was setting right behind the shelters, giving the perfect back drop for an evening/night photo session.
Day two started at the NATO building housing the different nations flying the BAP mission, where we were shown around by our Hungarian hosts. One of the pilots was kind enough to go through the scramble procedure for us – including getting fully kitted up and running out the building for some awesome ‘scramble’ action shots.
After this, we headed out to the runway to capture the first QRA launch, and this was followed by another lunch at the base cafeteria – where we also warmed up, as it was another crisp and cold day! As the scheduled return time for the two QRA jets neared, we headed out the QRA shelters to capture the two jets as they taxied in. Following this, we drove around on the airfield, photographing some of the old Russian Mil Mi-8 helicopters still present on the base, as well as their brand new AS365N3 helicopters fresh from the Airbus factory. The day ended with yet another sunset/night photo shoot at the QRA shelters, this time backed up by pilots and ground crews from the Hungarian AF.
Day three started with really bad weather, as warmer weather brought thick fog with it. This meant that most of the day was spent covering the all-important ground operations and support aspects that the base offers NATO, photographing maintenance facilities and various points of interest. The day ended with a night shoot of the Lithuanian AF’s sole L-39 outside its hangar.
Our fourth and final day was another warm and foggy day. The bad weather meant that the planned air-to-air photo shoot didn’t happen, but the day was saved when we, during a visit to the control tower, were told that two USAF A-10s would arrive later in the day. These would be the first A-10s to ever touch down in Lithuania. The two American pilots looked a bit surprised to find their welcoming party were six photographers and their guide! But shortly after the base commander arrived and made the official welcome.
Following this we headed back to Riga airport and said our goodbyes and headed home after a very interesting visit to see the importance of this mission.