Tag Archives: F-18

A look inside Frisian Flag 2018

Fighter jets all around. That simply was the case during April’s excerise Frisian Flag 2018 at Leeuwarden airbase in the  Netherlands. This time, Airheadsfly.com along with our partner Imagingthelight.com, got access to virtually all areas during this increasingly popular and important flying exercise. Enjoy the results with us, starting with a jaw  dropping movie.

For two weeks,  sunrise signalled a hive of activity at Leeuwarden. Over 70 fighter jets from the Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany, Poland and the US took to the air twice a day, practicing complex military scenarios based on recent experiences in global hotspots. Most of these scenarios played over the North Sea, just a few minutes’ flying time from Leeuwarden.

With its realistic wargames and readily available airspace, Frisian Flag remains one of the most prominent combat aviation exercises in Western Europe, says Frisian Flag supervisor Ronald van der Jagt. “The flying part is of course the most visible part of Frisian Flag, but it’s important to recognize that most training actually takes place on the ground. The most important lessons are learned during the debrief after each mission.”

Situational awareness

In the air, situational awareness is what it’s all about. “The challenge is to always know what’s going on and who is doing what. As a pilot, you have to manage all the information from radar, threat warnings, datalinks and your wingmen. It’s a skill that requires practice and you’ll get better at it each time. But it’s only after you land when you get the complete picture of all that went good or bad. That’s where value is added.”

Participants

To no surprise, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is the main player in Frisian Flag, sending 16 F-16s from both Leeuwarden and Volkel airbase. In a repeat of previous years, the US Air National Guard sent 12 F-15 Eagles as part of a wider military presence in Europe. France deployed 8 Dassault Rafales and 4 Mirage 2000D’s, while Germany’s contribution consisted of 7 Eurofighters. Perhaps the most welcome participants were 3 MiG-29 Fulcrums from the Polish, who also sent 5 F-16s to Leeuwarden.

F-35 in Frisian Flag

The RNLAF continues to use ageing F-16’s. Van der Jagt: “We are able to keep up, but the fact is that there are other players now with more capable assets. We are looking forward to receiving our first F-35’s here at Leeuwarden next year.” In the meantime, Van der Jagt aims to invite Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35s for the 2019 edition of Frisian Flag. The Norwegian started flying their new jets from home soil late last year.

Of note this year was the unprecedented transparency offered by the RNLAF. Yes, Frisian Flag is know for it’s abudance of noise pollution to coal communities, but the idea to in return offer all sorts of hospitality to those communicties plus other stakeholders, is simply a great one. Out hats are off to that!

© 2018 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

Sunrise starts a hive of activities during Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Eight French Rafales in early morning light. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Spain provided F-18 Hornets. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Most training is done on the ground, and that includes training for ground crews. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
French Mirage crews check their  cockpit before strapping in. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Anticipation mounts…. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
… as engines are started. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Taxi time! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
One of 12 Air National Guard F-15 Eagles. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
No words needed! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
RNLAF F-16s are ageing, but they can keep up. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Burners alight! (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Polish Fulcrums were perhaps the most interesting participants. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Skywards in a Mirage. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish F-16 takes to the skies. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing time for this  Rafale. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Not much flare for this Spanish F-18 Hornet. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Thumbs up to Frisian Flag! (Image © Elmer van Hest)

 

The F-35 takes a hit – from Canada

The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II on Tuesday 22 November took a major hit. Not in any mock 1 vs 1 dog fight or any large scale military exercise, but in the political arena. By choosing the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as an interim solution to its immediate fighter jet needs, Canada is signalling that the F-35’s development takes to long and its price tag is to high.

Canada is looking to buy 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as  immediate replacements of ageing ‘legacy’ model F-18 Hornets. If a deal with Boeing is finalized, delivery of new jets should take no more than two or three years.

With the F-35, that would take considerably longer, not to mention the fact that development and testing of this 5th generation fighter jet – and its software along with it – may not even be finished by then. Recent progress in the program still doesn’t mean the jet is capable of firing its internal gun, for example.

Later purchase

Canada has pondered and postponed an F-35 purchase for many years. Today’s selection of the Super Hornet does not exclude the possibility that the Canadian government in Ottawa may still purchase the F-35 at a later stage. However, the 400 billion USD weapons program has been the subject of much criticism in Canada, especially its 100 million USD per piece price tag.

A RAAF F-18 in flight (Image © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Partner nation

Nevertheless, Canada’s choice is remarkable and concerning for Lockheed Martin and the F-35’s Joint Program Office (JPO) in Washington, since the country is a level 3 partner in the program. Other level 3 partners are Australia, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, all of which have selected the F-35 as their new fighter jet.

Unique

In fact, Canada now is unique in being the only partner nation in the program not to actually buy the F-35 – for now. By doing so, it’s industry will benefit from taking part in the program, without tax payers having to cough up billions of dollars to actually buy the jets. For other nations however, it means that their jets will have higher price tags, since fewer jets sold means that development and production costs per aircraft remain higher than anticipated. That will cause some sour faces in other partner nations.

A CF-188 is preparing for flight at Bagotville in Quebec (Image © Corporal Marc-André Gaudreault, Canadian Forces Combat Camera / DND-MDN)
One of Canada’s ageing ‘legacy’ Hornets. (Image © Corporal Marc-André Gaudreault, Canadian Forces Combat Camera / DND-MDN)

Reputation

Yes, both Lockheed Martin and Ottawa will downplay this and probably point to a possible Canadian fighter jet competition still to be held. But the truth is, it is a major hit for the JPO’s promise of lower unit costs and the F-35’s reputation – which saw a change for the better in 2016, partly due to appearances in the Netherlands and the UK.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of other fighter jet competitions that see the F-35 and Super Hornet go head to head, such as the current ones in Belgium and Finland. The former beat the latter earlier this year in Denmark. Following today’s decision in Canada, that makes the score even.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

 

Green light voor Middle East fighter sales – but maybe too late?

After many years of hesitation, the US this week gave the green light for the sale of fighter jets to Kuwait and Qatar – although it may very well be too late. Since requesting the jets, both countries have decided to buy Eurofighter Typhoons and Dassault Rafales respectively. Their response to the green light from Washington remains unclear at this time.

Kuwait in 2015 requested to buy up at least F-18 Super Hornets to replace ageing older model F-18s, while Qatar’s request to purchase up to 72 Boeing F-15s goes even further back. Washington since has kept both countries in the dark about their request right until this week, when the White House notified US Congress that it approves the sale of the fighter jets.

Balance
The decision should be seen in light of the recent multi-billion military aid deal between the US and Israel, the biggest ever between those two countries. Probably to keep things in balance, the White House now decided to favour Kuwait’s and Qatar’s requests as well – doing the US economy a big favour on the side. Both contracts would be worth billions and billions of dollars (in fact, 20 billion in total), much of which will go into Boeing’s pocket. The aircraft manufacturer produces both the F-15 and F-18.

Inked
But no sale is final until a contract has been inked. And whether Kuwait and Qatar will actually do that, remains to be seen. Kuwait earlier this year did sign a deal for 22 Eurofighter Typhoons, worth 8 billion USD. Qatar in 2015 decided on 24 Dassault Rafales, worth 6.3 billion EUR.

That’s a lot of money to pay already. It may be the  same money that Kuwait and Qater waved in front of the US before. Time will tell if there is any money left for Washington and Boeing to grab. If not, then Washington may hope to sell brand new F-16s to Bahrain – another pending deal that was okayed this week by Washington.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest.
Featured image: A USAF F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing on 12 November 2015 over the northern Mediterranean. The unit is deployed to Incirlik AB in Turkey as part of Operation Inherent Resolve (Image © Senior Airman Kate Thornton/USAF)

Swiss F-18 Hornet found after crash

UPDATED | Rescue workers on Tuesday found the wreckage of a Swiss Air Force Boeing F-18 Hornet that went missing on Monday 29 August. The single seat aircraft disappeared near Susten in the southern part of the Alpine country. The pilot is still missing.

Update Wednesday 31 August | Authorities confirmed the pilot was killed in the crash.

The aircraft had taken off from Meiringen airbase in the company of another Hornet shortly before it went missing. Weather was challenging at that time, with lots of clouds surrounding the mountains of central Switzerland. Bad weather also hampered search efforts on Monday.

The Swiss Air Force lost no less than three two seat F-18D jets before, against no single seaters until now. A total of 25 single seat and five double seat jets remain in the fleet, according to statements made after the jet went missing on Monday.

Boeing to convert Super Hornets for Blue Angels

The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is looking to contract Boeing to modify a number of F-18 Super Hornets for use with the Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron (NFDS) Blue Angels, as announced on Monday 25 July. The Blue Angels have been flying the  F-18 Hornet for decades, but these ‘legacy’ Hornets are getting harder to come by for the team.

Modificitations to the Super Hornet should include the installation of a smoke system that releases oil into the jet’s engine exhaust. The ensuing smoke gives more depth to the team’s performance in the air. According to NAVAIR, Boeing and is ‘the only source with the knowledge, expertise and on-site personnel necessary’ to accomplish the needed modifications.

The Blue Angels started using F/A-18A and B jets in 1986, replacing those with C and D models in 2010. However, F/A-18E and F Super Hornets are now the dominant models in the US inventory.