Close encounter of the fifth kind

Airheadsfly.com has reported a lot over the last few weeks about the two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-35A Lightning IIs currently deployed to the Dutch airbase of Leeuwarden. Meeting them on the ground is impressive, meeting them in the air is an encounter of another kind. A fifth generation kind, in fact.

On Wednesday 1 June, Airheadsfly.com boarded Netherlands Air Force 65,  a KDC-10 tanker aircraft. We boarded the very same aircraft earlier this year for air-to-air refuelling with F-16s, but this time something else was around, looking for fuel. Archer 1, a Lockheed Martin  F-35A, first presented itself on the KDC-10’s left wing, then refueled using the tanker’s boom system. The fifth generation fighter jet then continued to the right wing for some formation flying.

(image © Dennis Spronk)
(image © Dennis Spronk)
(image © Dennis Spronk)
(image © Dennis Spronk)

Last week, the Dutch performed so-called perception flights with their Lightning IIs, giving those living around airbasea the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the sound the F-35 produces. The flights proved to be successful, as many regarded the sound as similar to that of the F-16.

In the air and on Wednesday, F-16 joined the F-35 on the KDC-10’s wing. All jets then left for a joint exercise, which mainly involves another test for the F-35. The RNLAF sees interoperability between the fifth generation F-35 and fourth generation jets such as the F-16, as vital for the next decade or so.

(image © Dennis Spronk)
(image © Dennis Spronk)

Their stay in the Netherlands also marks the very first time the Lightning II operates from hardened, concrete aircraft shelters. Tests so far proved there are no issues with either exhaust  emissions inside the shelter or noise vibrations that could potentially damage the aircraft.

The RNLAF has also been testing ALIS, the Autonomic Logistics Information System used for mission planning, maintenance and logistical issues. The tests involve connecting to a server at Edwards Air Force Base in California and thereby communication with ALIS. So far, the system has been working fine, says Albert de Smit, reponsible for the deployed jets. “For example, after our 8 hour flight over the Atlantic last week, all data was uploaded to our server at Edwards without problem.”

(image © Dennis Spronk)
(image © Dennis Spronk)

Meanwhile, Dutch taxpayers on Thursday 2 June will have a chance to see the F-35 over various well known Dutch sights. The 100 million USD jet will overfly several airfields, but will also appear overhead Amsterdam, The Hague and a few typically Dutch landmarks.

Last but not least, the Lightning II will star at next week’s airshow at Leeuwarden airbase, where it will almost surely also perform a flight demonstration. On 14 June, the jets are scheduled to return to Edwards Air Force base to continue their Operational Test & Evaluation program.

The UK should see F-35s in July for both airshows at Fairford and at Farnborough. These jets should arrive in the UK on 27 June.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video editing – Vincent Kok Orange Avenue Filmworks

F-16_Netherlands_tanker
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
F-16_Netherlands_tanker2
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

One thought on “Close encounter of the fifth kind”

  1. “…to continue their Operational Test & Evaluation program.”
    No, the F-35 is still undergoing engineering test. The initial operational test and evaluation program won’t start for at least two years because of a series of development delays. A Memorandum of Understanding on IOT&E between the US and Australia, Netherlands and UK was signed by representatives of the four governments in July 2014.

    May 25, 2016
    Final F-35 Testing Slips To 2018
    WASHINGTON — The military’s top weapons tester has been warning for months that the F-35 will not be ready for its final major test phase until 2018 at the earliest. On Tuesday, the Pentagon officially acknowledged the schedule slip.
    “We reviewed the status of operational test planning, and there is consensus that that is likely to occur in calendar year 2018 given the realities of the schedule at this time,” said Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, during a Tuesday conference call. “The target was the middle of 2017, but it’s clear we’re not going to make that.”

Comments are closed.