At first sight, the flat countryside in the northern Dutch province of Friesland doesn’t offer a lot. It takes closer inspection to find the hidden gems in the shape of charming small villages or the large, typical farm houses. If the pilots participating in flying exercise Frisian Flag 2014 have eyes for them, it will have to be from up high. For the next two weeks, they will fly daily missions in complex scenarios designed to strengthen international co-operation and air-to-air and air-to-ground tactics.
It’s about 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Monday as the first of many of F-16s, F-18s and Eurofighters turns onto runway 05 at Leeuwarden’s airbase, which as always is center stage for Frisian Flag. The pilot wastes no time and quickly advances the throttle in full military power. The nozzle of the Pratt & Whitney F-100 PW220 turbofan produces the familiar whistling sound, but it is immediately drowned by the sound of afterburner after afterburner. For about an hour, the Leeuwarden runway is occupied by aircraft taking off. Earplugs will probably soon sell out at drugstores in the city of Leeuwarden, which is very close to the airfield.
Taking part in Frisian Flag 2014 are Dutch, Belgian, Norwegian, Danish and Portuguese Lockheed Martin F-16AMs, German and Spanish Eurofighter Typhoons and Boeing F/A-18 Hornets from Finland. Also taking part but operating elsewhere are Boeing E-3 AWACS aircraft, and a Dutch KDC-10 and a German A310 MRTT tanker aircraft. An Italian KC-767 is to join Frisian Flag as well.
Two large scale missions a day are planned, with up to 45 aircraft taking off from Leeuwarden. Most missions take place in reserved airspace of the North Sea, only a couple of minutes flying time from Leeuwarden. Some missions take place over coastal area Marnewaard, with ground forces and realistic surface-to-air threats also doing their bit.
The location near the reserved airspaces, with only relatively limited commercial air traffic, makes Leeuwarden the ideal location for an aerial exercise such as Frisian Flag. The first Frisian Flag exercise dates back to 1999. Since that first edition, many NATO-partners took part in Frisian Flag. It’s no surprise the exercise was modelled after the Red Flag exercises at Nellis air force base, Nevada. Frisian Flag is supposedly every bit as good as the famous Red Flag, albeit a bit more modest in size.
Nevertheless, the small armada of aircraft at Leeuwarden attracts another, even bigger armada; that of countless aviation enthusiast, for whom Leeuwarden is the place to be these first weeks of April. They are armed only with Nikons and Canons and they naturally couldn’t care less about any charming small villages or the large, typical farm houses. The flat countryside of Friesland just got a little bit more exiting: Frisian Flag 2014 is in theater now.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Elmer van Hest