Anatolian Eagle 2023
This blog is somewhat different than our other blogs. That is because this was a solo trip. I (Lars) made this trip solo because Marieke has other duties to fulfill for her employer, which meant that she could not get leave. The second thing what makes this trip different than other trips is that I joined up with the fantastic aviation tour operator 4Aviation. Not entirely, because I booked the “land only” tour, which means that one has to arrange their own flights. And that is exactly what I wanted to do!
The main objective of this tour is to attend the spotter days for the military exercise Anatolian Eagle at Konya Air Base. Next to that, I have never been to Istanbul IST Airport before, so I wanted to spend some time there to explore the airport and see lots of special aircraft as well. So I booked a 28 hour layover at IST on the journey home.. Sleeping is for softies, so I would stay up all night to get lucky (for some special planes as well). What was I thinking..?
Monday 8 May – Let’s go to Konya!
This morning I kissed Marieke goodbye and now I am too heading for the airport, but I travel with my backpack, passport and boarding pass in my hands! This is my first experience with Turkish Airlines, so I am curious to see what they are like. I prebooked my seats, so that should not be an issue. I got through security waayyy to early (as usual) so I could check on my colleagues at the ramp (love you , guys) and of course spot some planes. Since I am travelling with a group, and some other members have selected the same flights, there soon is a small bunch of avgeeks peeking through the terminal windows looking at all the jetliners passing by.
Our plane has a slight delay inbound from Istanbul, but it is on its way. Eventually, our Airbus A330-300 TC-JNP arrives on stand and the ground staff does their utmost to turn around the plane as quickly as possible. It is time for boarding, and I take my seat. I selected a window seat just over the engine. After pushback, the Rolls Royce Trent 700s howl as they spool up and we are on our way to Turkiye!
The flight is really good! I have an elderly woman sitting next me, she is so kind! She bought too many snacks and chocolate, so we end up eating them all together. The food on board is nice, really tasty beef and rice. Turkish Airlines even provides metal cutlery in economy class, I am stunned!
The A330 has inflight entertainment, so I watch some movies before we get close to Istanbul. The approach into IST is really spectacular! What a view over the metropolitan area! It is soo big! Eventually we touch down on the westernmost runway and we need to taxi back a lot. Due to our delayed inbound aircraft, we have not much time left for our transfer, so we need to make a run for the transfer desk.
This Airport is really big, and after a lot of running with all heavy gear on my back, I made it to my flight to Konya in time. The onward flight is on an Airbus A321, wearing Star Alliance livery. When we take off, I see an A330 taking off simultaeously with us, with the most beautiful sky ever. Later research revealed that this was "my" TC-JNP! The flight to Konya is short, but long enough for the sun to set so we land in the dark.. At Konya, two touring busses are waiting for the 4Aviation group, and when we are all complete, we drive to our hotel. I get a randomly selected roommate, who also happens to be a great guy. As I already had dinner on the plane, I just want to sleep so we call it a day. Tomorrow is when the magic will happen..
Tuesday 9 May – Anatolian Eagle part 1
The alarm goes of early, and after a good healthy fried breakfast the group gets ready for the bus ride to the air base. It is a short ride and in about 20 minutes we are waiting for the gates to open. When it is time, we go through a security check and receive our badges. Then, all spotters are distributed in buses to the flightline. Here we see all the fighters being prepared for the first sortie. The spotters make their way to their preferred spots alongside the taxiway or the runway. I did not expect us to be allowed so close to the active taxiways and runways.
Then, the first action starts in the form of a NATO E-3A Sentry taking off. Then, an airliner departs from the civil side of the airport. However, they use the same (single) taxiway as the fighters do, which means that the Airbus A320 almost needs to plow its way through the crowd. I am baffled by how close we are to this plane. Then, the first fighter action starts with the arrival of an F-16C showing the new digital camoflage scheme of the Turkish Air Force. What a cool scheme it is! A few moments later, an E-7 Wedgetail takes off and we hear the other fighters starting their engines. The first sortie is about to begin!
Then, the first wave of fighters departs. Really cool to see them all up close in action. Higlights for me are of course the F-4E Phantoms, the Sukhoi Su-25s and the UAE F-16E/F Desert Falcons.
With the first wave gone, it is time for a short break. Not all aircraft that are present took off, so there is still something to see on base. In the meantime, we are treated by a very extreme, low and fast show by Solotürk. And, a Pakistani F-16D returned early as well.
After a short amount of time, all participants come back in for landing. Some F-16s taxi by after landing, which means that we come short of eyes! One Phantom even aborts its landing and went for a low pass instead. When all aircraft were back in, the guards guide everyone back to the bus stop, as we will be moved towards the other side of the field for the afternoon sortie. This walk to the bus gives a nice opportunity to see the flightline up close and see the crews service and prepare the jets for the next wave.
The bus takes us to the other side of the field, and just before we get out we are treated/teased by the sound of a loud low flying jet. This happened to be the E-3A which just is arriving back as well. The organisation has arranged a good spot for all photographers, however, they also installed a sound installation which plays loud music. They should not have done that, in my opinion. However, the atmosphere is good and as the first jets take off, the sound of music disappears in the rumble of afterburners.
With all the jets up and away, we are once again treated by a show with Solotürk, and this time we are also treated by a formation of all participating jets. Quite a unique formation! Then, the Turkish Stars take off with their ex-Royal Netherlands Air Force NF-5s for a training flight, no display unfortunately. After their departure, it is time for all fighters to come return to base, with some Turkish F-16s performing spectacular touch&gos! Eventually, the day ended with another unique formation of the remaining fighters combined with the Turkish Stars.
That night, I go with a small group of fellow groupmates for some dinner and some sightseeing in Konya. Eventually we get back to the hotel for a drink and a good night sleep. Let's do it all again tomorrow!
Wednesday 10 May – Anatolian Eagle part 2
After a solid night sleep I wake up for another good day of shooting fighters. With breakfast on board the group boards the busses and we are off again to the airbase. After the formalities, we are transported again to the flightline. The weather today is a little less sunny, but it is not bad either. I find myself a good spot near the apron and wait for the good stuff to happen. Today they fired Solotürk up early, as the F-16 already soars over our heads before any other jet even had started up.
With the Phantoms taxiing out to the runway, I rush to another spot to capture their take off. Unfortunately, not all fighters fly this sortie, the Sukhois and the UAE F-16s remain at base this wave.. We do see some other planes though, such as an E-7 Wedgetail and a USAF C-12 Huron. We keep entertained till the fighters return again. Then, the guards guide us back to the busses, just like yesterday.
Today however, the busses are parked on a different spot, which means that we are driven over the flightline, wich is good for different photo angles :)
Here we are again and the show starts well. The Turkish Stars also take off, and today they do perform their display. Nice to see those old Freedom Fighters in action. Luckily, with this wave, the Sukhois and the UAE F-16s do fly. However, this sortie sees a great lack of Phantoms... After a couple of hours the fighters return and like yesterday some Turkish F-16s do some nice passes. This concludes my first edition of Anatolian Eagle, and I had a blast! We get back in the busses back to our hotel. Tomorrow I will fly back to Istanbul, for a really long layover ^^
Thursday 11 May – To Istanbul in Style
With all my stuff packed again, the group meets in the lobby for the first bus towards the airport. 4Aviation has arranged two seperate flights for the group members to take, but I booked my own flight. Yet, the first leg towards IST is the same flight that the first 4Aviation group takes as well, so, I too take this bus. Just before boarding the bus, I quickly peek outside of the hotel for an incoming IL-76TD from the Azerbaijan Air Force. The bus ride to the airport takes us via the Turkish Stars park, which is located near the airport and has several aircraft on display as well as lots of artefacts concerning the Turkish demo team. During the ride, I also spot the IL-76 parked on the taxiway.
As I did not have any luggage to check in and I already had my boarding pass, I eased through security and had a good view of the apron where I could see some of the fighters take off again. Anatolian Eagle still goes on. A TUAF Casa C295 also comes in for a quick stop. Then it is time to board. Instead of the promised A320, Turkish had send a Boeng 737-800 for this trip, which got me a seat change. I did not mind, as my new seat should be the first economy seat which still has a window. However, this 737 did have the other configuration, which I discovered upon boarding. My seat, 4A, is not the first row of economy.... I'm flying businessclass baby!!!
Soon we push back and I get a glimpse of a stored F-4 Phantom relic and the parked Ilyushin. On taxi out however, we were right in the arrival peak of some fighters as I see a Sukhoi Su-25 take off and we taxi behind some Pakistani F-16s. This is one of the coolest taxi-outs I ever had, surrounded by fighters. Takeoff showed some businessjets as well as the AWACS apron, which is unfortunately empty, as the E-3A is taxiing behind us! After take off I get a final glimpse of Konya before we head towards Istanbul.
The flight is really smooth and before I know it we already line up for landing at Istanbul. We fly parallel to a Salam Air A320. Then, the great taxi to the gate begins which means that a lot of the Istanbul traffic can be seen. Some nice highlights are an Air Anka A330 and a LybianWings A320. Our plane docks in and parks at the domestic stand. After deboarding I say goodbye to the group and look for a place to sit and watch the planes. Checkin for my flight tomorrow has not opened yet.
As checkin for my flight has not opened yet, I have about 5 hours to kill before I can get my boarding pass and head for the transferdesk and the international area. The view from the domestic arrival area is not bad though and I see lots of special birds that are rarely or not to be seen anywhere else in Europe. Eventually, checkin opens and I make my way to the transfer desk to get my boarding pass.
As I am the only one transferring now, the security and passport control are completely empty with all the staff wondering what the heck I am doing here. But, all my documents are legal and valid, so I am through in no time. Tonight, I plan on spending the night at the gates with an option for the sleeping pods if I really need some sleep. The other option is the Yotelair Airside hotel, which was extremely expensive when I looked earlier.
This airport is really huge and it takes a significant amount of time to taverse between gates. Most of the traffic is Turkish Airlines, but those rare gems are really worth the walk. It is when I am photographing an Iran Airtours Airbus A310 when Marieke calls me with a suprise. She booked my a night at Yotelair with lounge access as well! She definitely is the best! That night, I eat like an emperor, take a heavenly shower and sleep like a king. Could life be any better? (Yes, if Marieke was with me it does).
Friday 12 May – A Day at the Airport
I wake up early as the nice traffic is already on its way. I have my breakfast in the lounge and after having my backpack stuffed with snacks and lunch, it is time to check out. As I now am heavily packed again, I take a trolly to take with me for the day.
The day starts with an Air Albania A320 followed by the arrival of a PIA Pakistan International Airways Boeing 777-200 in retro livery. What a stunner! I also spot two Mahan Air A340s as well as an Azerbaijan Airlines Boeing 787. Also an Azimuth Sukhoi SJ100 Superjet taxis past. Then, I move on to a next spot. IST is great for spotting, although for photography it can be quite the challende. The gates are huge with huge extensions blocking the view on the taxiway. Besides, some gates serve multiple (usually narrowbody) platforms, which means that your desired plane might be behind another plane/jetbridge. Planning is key here and the screens with departure gates are my best friends here today.
Still, I manage to spot some nice planes such as the Uzbekistan A330 operated by Heston, a Qeshm A300 and more Azimuth, Redwings and Iraero Sukhois. The most beautiful catch in my opinion is the colourful Meraj Airbus A300 with its purple tail and beautiful leopard print. I even spot three classic Boeing 737s in the form of Ghadames Air Transport, Jordan Aviation and FlyJordan. So cool to see them all out here as in Europe, the 737 Classic is a dying breed for passenger operation That is why we flew with a few months back.
Time flies by and as the hours pass, it suddenly is time to head to my own gate for my flight back. Two gates from my gate is an Iran Aseman A340 coming in, and I manage to photograph it just before boarding my flight starts.
And then it is time to board for real. Leave this stunning airport, my home for past 30 hours, behind and fly back on a Turkish Airlines A330-300 back to Amsterdam. At taxi out, I say a final farewell to the PIA retro triple, and we take off from the easternmost runway. Goodbye Turkiye! You were great! As Turkish Airlines is an airline with service, I get served a nice warm meal again. The flight is good and I watch another Hotel Transsylavia movie. After landing, Marieke is there to take me home. What an experience this was, simply AMAZING. Thanks to 4Aviation for making this possible.