If all goes well, at least one Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35A Lightning II should touch Dutch soil for the very first time on Monday 23 May at the earliest, the Dutch Ministry of Defense said on Monday 25 April. The ferry flight from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands is a complex operation.
A lot of preparation goes into the ferry flight. The arrival of the F-35 is a major PR-moment for the RNLAF, so it leaves nothing to chance. Both KDC-10 tanker aircraft will first head to Edwards, airlifting equipment and personnel. Sources say a C-130H Hercules and a European Heavy Airlift Wing C-17 Globemaster will be used to transport additional supplies.
Next, the F-35s will fly from Edwards to Patuxent River, the same location choosen by the Italians for their East-West ferry flight in February. From Patuxent River and supported by KDC-10 tanker aircraft, the jet will fly non-stop to Leeuwarden, arriving there supposedly on the evening of 23 May. Air-to-air refuelling was succesfully tested just weeks ago.
Whereas Dutch MoD spokespersons previously and constantly mentioned only one F-35 heading for the Netherlands, the amount of support flights does not rule out both Dutch F-35s actually crossing the Atlantic. That way, the Dutch seem to make sure that at least one F-35 makes it all the way to Leeuwarden – in a best case scenario, both aircraft actually appear over the Netherlands.
The arrival at Leeuwarden would mean nothing stands in the way of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 first ever appearance at an airshow outside the US. Its presence at the Leeuwarden airshow on 10 and 11 June would beat the scheduled appearance of United States Marines Corps (USMC) and US Air Force F-35s at both the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough Airshow in the UK in July.
It is not yet confirmed if the F-35 will fly during the airshow. Preparing a full display takes time, while a display that only involves a couple of flat passes in each direction may disappoint the audience and ruin the PR-moment. The RNLAF studies its options very seriously, according to sources.
The main reason for the F-35’s visit to the Netherlands however, are the planned ‘perception flights’. The flights are aimed at familiarizing those living around airbases with the jet’s noise level – known to exceed those of the F-16. The F-35 will demonstrate its noise levels at both Leeuwarden and Volkel Airbase while joined by an F-16.
The RNLAF only recently started promoting the F-35 and using the state of the art fighter jet in its recruitment strategy. Until now, the air force operated cautiously when the F-35 was concerned. The weapons program is still scrutinized by media and opponents because of its alleged shortcomings.
In 2013, the RNLAF received its first two jets. Both were first used for training pilots and are now based at Edwards for Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E). An in-depth story on that is here and here at Airheadsfly.com.
In total, the Dutch eye 37 F-35s. A formal order for eight aircraft on top of the two already delivered was placed in March 2015.
© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): Two Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35s explore Californian skies. (Image © Frank Crébas/ Bluelifeaviation.com)