The first Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) squadron to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, was officially formed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Tuesday 4 November 2014, Dutch MoD reports. The squadron in question is 323 Tactical Training, Evaluation and Standardisation Squadron (TACTESS), which last week stopped flying the F-16 at Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands.
The Dutch squadron, nicknamed after hunting goddess Diana, will fly the only two F-35As that have thusfar been delivered to the RNLAF, out of an order for 37 aircraft. For the remainder of 2014, the squadron will stay at Eglin learning everything there is to know about the 5th generation fighter aircraft. The first Dutch pilot to fly the F-35 did so on Wednesday 18 December 2013, with the second following in his footsteps on 8 April this year and the third on 1 October this year.
Next year, 323 squadron moves to Edwards Air Force Base, California, as part of the Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) phase, a move in sync with the Royal Air Force, that will also transfer its three F-35Bs from Eglin to Edwards in the near future. The first RNLAF aircraft will arive in the Netherlands in 2019.
For over 30 years, 323 squadron flew the F-16 from Leeuwarden airbase in the northern part of the Netherlands, being declared operational in 1982. Earlier, the squadron flew the F-104G Starfighter. The unit was known for adorning aircraft with images of Diana, some more ‘dirty’ than others. The squadron also built a name for itself by regularly hosting large scale air warfare exercise Frisian Flag at Leeuwarden. The airbase will have to brace itself for more noise in the future, as an official report last week found the F-35 to be considerably noisier than the current F-16.
The TACTESS part of 323 squadron will transfer to 322 squadron, also based at Leeuwarden.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest