With second coming of the ‘Beast from the East’ it was touch and go if I was going to make it to Andravida AB in Greece for Exercise Iniochos. Slipping and sliding through the snow I managed to get to Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport with only a short time to spare to check my bag in. My friend arrived, and we went through to security and started queuing for boarding. Looking out across the terminal gates at the British Airways fleet being de-iced, we were informed that our flight would be slightly delayed due to the weather. This was not a bad result as some of the previous days flights had been cancelled. Climbing on board the bus we seemed to drive around the entire terminal looking for a plane that had the most snow and ice on it!
After a short time, we taxied out to the to the de-icing area and the BA A320 was covered with the brightly coloured fluid that removed the ice and ensures that it cannot form whilst we were on the ground. Once completed we joined the queue for departure on runway 09R to start the 3.5hr flight to Athens.
The flight was uneventful, and we landed at Athens Airport in the early afternoon and passed through passport control quickly. We were still on time to be able to get to the Hellenic Airforce Museum at Tatoi AB. After picking up our Peugeot 308 hire car for the 4-day trip, we hit the road and headed north out of Athens. Frustratingly due to traffic and a minor diversion, due to my touching the satnav too much, the museum was closed. Now it was time to start the long haul across Greece to our hotel on the west coast. The motorways in Greece are great surfaces and the time flew by as we listened to 80s hair metal. As the sun set over the ocean we drove down small lanes lined with Olive groves and could see a large Castle on top of a hill that looked out across the large open areas of farmland in this part of the country.
Our hotel was in the throws of being renovated as we had come out of season but the staff we extremely friendly offering us dinner once we dumped all our bags in the room. A massive Greek salad hit our table with garlic bread and olive oil, pork steak and chips and some local wine. A few beers later and it was time to head to bed and see what tomorrow held.
With the media day for Exercise Iniohos being on the Tuesday, today was a day for watching some of the action from outside Andravida AB and looking for preserved aircraft. Low cloud made us feel at home and made the short journey to Andravida to view the departures for the mornings missions. After passing by one end of the runway we drove through a small village and found a well-preserved F-104 Starfighter.
As the sound of fighters departing was too much of a lure we made our way to the departure end of the runway and found a small track to park and view from the car. Wave after wave of aircraft lined up and powered into the Greek sky and it was a real good appetiser for tomorrows media day.
A short while after the last aircraft departed the first arrivals began with Hellenic Air Force F-16s heading down wind to start their approach. We manged to watch a good mix of F-16s, Mirage 2000s and F-15s land before the local police and base security arrived. After a short discussion and checks being completed on the two of us we were asked to move on from this area but during this time F-15s were flying low level over our heads which was slightly distracting.
Once back on the road we decide for the rest of the day we would take in some of the Greek history and drove south east towards Olympia. Arriving in the drizzle we soaked up some culture at this important Olympic site.
We stopped at a local super market to buy provisions for the next day and watch a fantastic thunder storm that was passing through the area, hoping that the weather would be better for the next day.
Waking early, we packed the car and headed down to the entrance to Andravida AB. The base unlike most others I have been to, was not sign posted and there was very little to advertise that this was the entrance.
Parking outside we walked through the gate to meet with security staff and collect our pass for the day and be given a number to which bus to board to take us around the base to the third runway for the first location for photos of the departing aircraft.
After a short delay, due to the Greek prime minister arriving, the bus pulled away and drove past various airfield services, hangers and HASs before crossing the end of the runway 34 to stop on the disused third runway. With the sound of jets starting up the mass of media began rushing up the runway to find the best vantage point, with the Hellenic Air Force personnel doing their best to herd the scattering group. After about 5 minutes I notice people walking across the grass between the disused and active runway and realised we were going to be able to get closer to the action. The excitement was too much and as I headed for the active runway the ground became more like a swamp with the mud and water coming up over my shoes, but undeterred I carried on.
After setting up my camera I noticed that none of the aircraft readying for departure were taxiing to the end of the runway we were situated at. This meant a quick change and I headed back towards the third runway, this time avoiding the wet ground. The mass departure began with some of the visiting Hellenic Air Force F-16s and from then there was a non-stop stream of jets powering into the sky to head towards their training area.
It wasn’t very long after the final jet had departed that a C-130H started to prepare for its departure. I wandered back to the runway edge to along a cut path and readied for the first up close take off of the day. The C-130H taxied out to the end of the runway and started smoking as it spun up its four engines. With the brakes released it gathered speed and became too big for even for the 24mm lens and rushed past feeling like it was close enough to touch the wing. Watching the smoking old Hercules disappear into the distance there was the sound of jets and turning I saw the first of them preparing to run in and break.
For the next hour I stood within 10 metres of an active runway watching the wide array of fighters return with the smell of tyre smoke and aviation fuel filling the air it created an unforgettable experience.
Before the final arrival we were ushered back onto the coaches to head to the next location near the control tower, passing the HAS areas with jets being swarmed over by the ground crews preparing them for the afternoon missions.
After an hours wait the unmistakable sound of F-16s starting up came across the airfield and this time from the direction of where the Israeli Air Force were parked. This was great as they hadn’t flown in the morning mission and their scheme was going to look great in the Greek sunshine. The four F-16s taxied past and headed to the end of the active runway as more aircraft started and the sounds of engines starting came from all directions.
Now if only the rest of the aircraft had banked as hard on departure as the Israelis then it would have been amazing. They pulled hard across the airfield not long after retracting their gear and streaked away into the blue sky.
In the late evening sun I watched the departures and arrivals of all of the participants in the late mission.
Once the last jet was back it was time to leave and head back to Athens for the flight home in the early morning. The drive back was uneventful with the talk being mainly of what had happened throughout the day, and it was great to arrive at our hotel and get some rest after a long day in the sun.
Exercise Iniochos is a great way to photograph the fighter aircraft of the Hellenic Air Force and see some interesting international participants. This exercise could become a regular on my calendar and a good way to start the aviation year. Thanks to the Hellenic Air Force and Lt Colonel Tsitoumis, Thierry for the help in organising this trip and Marcus for the laughs and driving.
All the photos can be found in the flickr album https://www.flickr.com/photos/79146942@N04/albums/72157693410704191