Flying the Frisian Flag

Large scale military flying exercise Frisian Flag 2015 is currently in full swing at Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands and Airheadsfly.com went access all areas on Tuesday 14 April. Close to 60 fighter aircraft from six different nations take part in Frisian Flag, which coincides with the European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training 2015 (EART 2015) at Eindhoven airbase, also in Netherlands.

During Frisian Flag, military jets fly in complex scenarios twice a day. The aim is to broaden the experience of fighter pilots in developing, planning and executing offensive and defensive tactics. Involved in the current Frisian Flag are F-16s from the Dutch and Polish air forces, F-18 Hornets from both Finland and Spain, Eurofighter Typhoons from Germany, plus US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles. Lots more about those Eagles is here.

Jet noise is what Leeuwarden is about these days. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Jet noise is what Leeuwarden is about these days. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two engines, even more noise. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two engines, even more noise. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Robust
Frisian Flag was first held following joint allied operations over the Balkan in the early nineties. “We train crews in missions against robust airborne and ground threats, including Roland and German SA-6 ground-to-air defence systems, inflatable targets and smokey SAMs, which simulate missiles being launched at aircraft. It provides the best training you can get,” says Dutch F-16 pilot Remco, a pilot of Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) 322 TACTES Squadron with 1,000 hours on the F-16 under his belt. Since 323 Squadron left for the US to learn to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II late last year, 322 Squadron has taken over the responsibility for organizing Frisian Flag.


(Footage © Elmer van Hest)
Leadership
Remco was mission commander on the first missions of this year’s exercise. “Frisian Flag is all about leadership and it challenges you. You have to know the capabilities of each participating asset and deploy them as best as you can. Planning of each mission takes about six hours, and we only finish after landing during a mass debrief. Those debriefs get quite heated at times about which tactics worked and which didn’t. But the proof is always there on the screens. That’s lessons learned in the end.”

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Spanish F-18 Hornets are newcomers to Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Not so much for Polish F-16s. They are regulars. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Not so much for Polish F-16s. They are regulars. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Necessity
Frisian Flag has been a familiar name among European air combat exercises for years and past editions has drew countless air crews to Leeuwarden. The airbase staff puts a lot of effort in explaining the necessity of Frisian Flag to the population of Leeuwarden. The airbase is located close to the town and noise complaints are a fact of life, with roughly 40 aircraft taking off and landing twice every day for two weeks.

Tankers
The real playground for Frisian Flag is however not Leeuwarden, but a 180nm by 322nm reserved airspace over the North Sea which extends towards Northern Germany in the East. Flying time to the area from Leeuwarden is just three minutes. However,  the use of tanker aircraft makes for more efficient missions. Frisian Flag is therefore combined with European Air-to-Air Refuelling Training 2015 (EART 2015), run by European Air Transport Command (EATC) at Eindhoven airbase. Tanker aircraft supporting the Frisian Flag participants are a Dutch KDC-10, French KC-135 Stratotanker, German A310 MRTT and Italian KC-767 tanker aircraft. More on EART 2015 next week here at Airheadsfly.com.

20150414_EHLW_USAF_F15S_TAXYING_DSC_0216
The Air National Guard F-15s make good use of thir stay at Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Close to terra firma and his fellow species, but not yet. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A German Typhoon finds runway 23. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Platform
Frisian Flag, along with similar exercises such as Red Flag and Maple Flag, serves as a constant platform for exchanging experience and ideas. The arrival of the F-35 at Leeuwarden in 2019 – and the new tactics involved with the new 5th generation fighter – means Frisian Flag will see changes in the future. “We are working on that,” says Remco. Current experiences over Iraq and earlier scenarios over Afghanistan and Libya are being incorporated into the exercise.

Both Frisian Flag and EART run until 24 April. The Air National Guard F-15s will stay at Leeuwarden for an extra week and will eventually head to Graf Ignatievo Airbase in Bulgaria as part of US operation Atlantic Resolve.

See here for a report on ↑ Last year’s Frisian Flag.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

A Dutch Viper pilot in his office. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Dutch Viper pilot in his office. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Spanish Hornet pilot looks after his wingman… (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
… while a US pilot checks his instruments. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish F-18 pilot concentrates in his cockpit. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish F-18 pilot concentrates in his cockpit. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this German pilot. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this German pilot. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
This F-15C is the most colourful os the twelve US Eagles present. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
This F-15C is the most colourful of the twelve US Eagles present. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
No less than 10 German Typhoons headed for Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Burning rubber. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Burning rubber. (Image © Elmer van Hest)