Tag Archives: Frisian Flag

Frisian Flag doesn’t mind some Raptors

A knowing smile. During multinational military exercise Frisian Flag at Leeuwarden airbase, that’s all US Air National Guard general Eric Vollmecke has to offer about this week’s surprise deployment of US F-22 Raptors to the UK. This year’s edition of Frisian Flag will have to make do with the Raptor’s predecessor, the F-15C Eagle.

Last year’s participation left US Eagle drivers wanting more. No surprise for the exercise that has earned it’s credits in the world of military air combat. It’s something to be proud of, says airbase commander Denny Traas. And yes, he doesn’t mind playing host to some Raptors at some time in the future.

Whereas terms like coalition, leadership and multinational cooperation are usually the talk of the town during Frisian Flag, this Tuesday it’s Raptors what it’s all about. Sure, Leeuwarden is filled to the brim with advanced warplanes, but none quite so advanced as the F-22s currently in the UK, merely 30 minutes flying time away. Traas: “We are always looking for new aircraft types to bring to Frisian Flag, each with its own capabilities and its own limitations.”

The goal of Frisian Flag is to make participating air crews aware of each aircraft type’s characteristics. That knowledge enables pilots to put together large and mixed formations of military aircraft in an effective way. It turns pilots into leaders and single nations into a partner in today’s multinational military coalitions.

The home team. Dutch F-16s are out in force during the current Frisian Flag, which runs until Friday 22 April. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The home team. Dutch F-16s are out in force during the current Frisian Flag, which runs until Friday 22 April. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Noise

At Leeuwarden, that coalition consists of the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, the US, the UK, Finland and Poland, each sending warplanes to Leeuwarden. Their jet noise shakes the airbase twice each day for two weeks. It’s when the aircraft take off and head to the training areas over the North Sea. The impressive stream of fighter aircraft easily attracts hundreds of aviation enthusiasts – plus as many noise complaints from the neighbouring town.

Once in the training areas, the participants engage threats in the air and on the ground. It offers a welcome change to refresh skills that perhaps are dormant in current live operations over Syria and Iraq, where air-to-air combat is non-exsistent. Base commander Traas: “Frisian Flag fills that gap and results in pilots that are ready for any scenario at any time, with no lead times needed. We train any scenario here at Leeuwarden, not just those modeled after current campaigns.” Given recent events, has a scenario featuring a large scale conflict involving Russia maybe been taking out of the drawer after resting there for two decades? Another knowing but silent smile, from Traas this time.

An F-15C Eagle lights the afterburners. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
An F-15C Eagle lights the afterburners. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Belgian Air Component F-16 follows the above example. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Frisian Flag is about international military cooperation, which is nicely demonstrated by this German Air Force Eurofighter and Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 in the background. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Benefit

Both Finland and Poland would benefit from such a scenario. At the same time, neither country has taken part in recent ops over the Middle East, although Poland ponders to do so. “This is one of the most imporant exercises for us each year, along with the Tiger Meet”, says a Polish Air Force F-16 pilot. Despite not having actual combat experience, the Polish Air Force – celebrating ten years of F-16 operations later this year – bring something valuable to Leeuwarden. Traas: “They are the only ones bringing advanced F-16Cs, just like the Finnish are the only ones bringing F-18 Hornets. Again, the more aircraft types, the better.”

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Hi speed landing, slow speed shutter. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Finnish Hornet pilot checks out the crowd. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French Air Force Mirage 2000D from Nancy. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Proven Eagle

As far as US Air National Guard pilot David ‘Moon’ Halasi-Kun is concerned, there’s still not much better than the F-15C Eagle behind him. “It is still the most highly capable and proven air superiority fighter in existence. The F-15 with its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar brings very unique capabilities, just as the F-22 with its stealthiness brings unique capabilities.” Combined, the two deliver air dominance, says ‘Moon’.

Together with 40 or so other Eagle pilots from the Massachusetts and California Air National Guards, ‘Moon’ for the next six months augments US firepower over Europe. Frisian Flag marks the start of the deployment, which should see the aircraft and crew head further into Europe.

According to Leeuwarden base commander Denny Traas, there is a ‘fair chance’ that Frisian Flag will hosts another non-European air force in the future. Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) observers are closely watching the current exercise. Raptors or Australian F-18 Super Hornets in the future? Well, why not have both? Because yes, the more, the better in the air combat household name that now is Frisian Flag.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming, editing and © Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image (top): A German Eurofighter lands at Leeuwarden. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Focused while landing. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Smokey landing after a tiring mission. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Smokey landing after a tiring mission. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
The participating F-15 Eagles come from both the Massachusetts and California Air National Guards, with the latter shown here. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Germans are regular participants in Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Noise is an issue at Leeuwarden, and this picture clearly demonstrates why. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
Landing at the end of a day’s flying. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

 

Press Play: Riding the clouds, fighting the Eagle

Every now and then a video pops up that is worth its own space at Airheadsfly.com. On Tuesday 2 June, the Dutch ministry of Defense published gear footage of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16 pilot sharing the sky with a US Air National Guard F-15 Eagle, but also exchanging some simulated hostilities during Dissimilar air combat training (DACT).

The video was made earlier this Spring, when twelve F-15 Eagles of the Florida Air National Guard’s 159th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron deployed to Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. A story on that – also with video! – is here.

The Eagles later took part in exercise Frisian Flag (see here and here for more vids) and are currently deployed to Bulgaria.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image & video footage: Sharing the sky. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)

Rewinding Frisian Flag

Wether they involved noisy fighter jets or not, for years and years military exercises in European passed by largely unnoticed by the general public. The same can’t be said for exercises held over the last few months, which saw themselves at the focus of the new’s attention. Recent military exercises such Frisian Flag 2015 at Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands, are as much about training as about a show of force.

The US has been eager to show its airborne teeth in Europe, sending Theater Security Packages of A-10s and F-15s to Europe – packages that were previously reserved for ‘other’ hot spots around the globe and earlier this year caught many off guard in Europe.

The F-15s took part in Frisian Flag 2015, along with Dutch and Polish F-16s, Spanish and Finnish F-18s plus German Typhoons.  A show of force as seen by many – and in these times, that’s one objective ticked off. Let’s rewind that in this quality film by professional filmer Vincent Kok of Imaging the Light.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top) A US Air National Guard F-15 at Leeuwarden.
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

Feature: Closing the tanker gap with EART

No air power without air-to-air-refueling. But also, no air-to-air refueling without certifications, clearances, bilateral agreements between countries and heaps of paperwork. The infamous European ‘tanker gap’ perhaps is not a matter of aircraft after all, but a matter of overcoming bureaucracy and inefficiency, it appears during the current European Air-to-Air Refueling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands. If anything, participating tanker crews are determined to work together as closely as possible.

The platform at Eindhoven usually houses just two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tanker aircraft, but until 24 April an Airbus A310 MRTT from Germany, an Italian Air Force KC-767 plus a French Air Force KC-135R join the two Dutch aircraft. Together with their crews, all aircraft participate in EART, an initiative started by the Eindhoven-based European Air Transport Command (EATC), which commands large parts of the military air transport and tanker fleets of the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain.

 

Libya
This exercise specifically for tanker aircraft originated from lessons learned during Operation Unified Protector over Libya in 2011, says Eric van Osch, attached to EATC and a flight engineer on the KDC-10. “During those flights all nations used the same standardized procedures, but nevertheless we noticed slight variations in planning, radio communication and other operational details. Those variations made efficient use of available tankers hard at times. This exercise here at Eindhoven is held to harmonize operations, get to know each other even better and use our joint assets more efficiently.”

The current shared feeling is that European tanker capacity is sufficient in peace times, but falling behind in major operations or during large scale conflict. Optimal use or available aircraft and purchase of new tankers should close this ‘gap’.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The German A310 MRTT and Italian KC-767 in one shot. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A shot of its own for the French KC-135. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Frisian Flag
For two weeks, the aircraft participating in EART refuel fighter aircraft that participate in Frisian Flag 2015. Today, the Dutch KDC-10 is joined in the air by four Polish F-16Cs and four Dutch F-16AMs, while the Italian KC-767 supplies fuel to other fighters. The Italians and French are able to refuel using both the boom and probe and drogue method, while the Dutch and Germans only use the boom and drogue method respectively. The US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles currently at Leeuwarden are only allowed to refuel on the French tanker. Once more, an example of clearances, certifications and other bureaucratic headaches.

The EART tankers fly twice a day, giving away precious fuel to Frisian Flag players. Air-to-air refueling allows the fighter pilots to stay close to their target area, a necessity in current operations around the globe.

Thirsty for fuel, waiting on the left wing. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Thirsty for fuel, waiting on the left wing. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
And stuffed full of fuel, waiting on the right wing for their formation to finish refueling. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
And stuffed full of fuel, waiting on the right wing for their formation to finish refueling. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Study of an F-16. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Study of an F-16. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

European pool
Modern air power requires air-to-air refueling and tankers are said to be in short supply in Europe. Several nations have joined forces and are looking to buy at least four A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft from Airbus, with a request for proposal expected soon. These aircraft will serve as a joint pool for the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Spain, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal and Norway. NATO will pay for the aircraft and they will operate from Eindhoven, with forward operating bases in Norway and Poland. Deliveries start in 2019 at the earliest. Dutch 334 squadron will likely be absorbed into the new European tanker unit.

“That means the end for the fantastic KDC-10 in our fleet”, says Van Osch, who has flown on KDC-10s since the aircraft was introduced into Dutch service twenty years ago, although both KDC-10s were actually built in the seventies and used by charter airline Martinair before. “It’s a great and fantastic, stable platform for air-to-air refueling. And of course, it has lots of character.”

Racetrack
Dutch Viper pilots flying next to us have ear nor eye for any of that. They are looking for gas and are happily supplied with exactly that by our KDC-10, which is orbiting the ‘Shell’ racetrack over the North Sea. Another five minutes and some friendly waving later, they disappear to continue their Frisian Flag mission.

 Greeting to you all! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Greeting to you all! (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flock of Vipers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flock of Vipers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Observe
During EART, air crews fly along on board each other’s aircraft to observe variations in procedures.  These variations are discussed back at Eindhoven, where academics also take place. Ground personnel is also involved, with turnaround times for aircraft during the exercise being shorter than usual. This year’s EART follows up last year’s first successful edition, which was also held at Eindhoven. Participating crews are enthusiastic about it. According to EATC there’s a lot of potential for growth, with future exercises possibly held elsewhere also.

EART allows more efficient use of European tanker aircraft, while the number of available tankers is set to grow. The European tanker gap seems to close slowly but steadily, just like another F-16 pilot who slowly but steadily approaches our KDC-10 and gets to hear the word he wants to hear at the end: contact!

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The business end of the KDC-10. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The Italian KC-767 during preparations for its next flight. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Most of the EART-flying takes place over the sea. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Most of the EART-flying takes place over the sea. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
An F-16 pilot await his turn to refuel. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
An F-16 pilot await his turn to refuel. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
View on the French KC-135. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
A flying gas station under a great looking sky. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A flying gas station under a great looking sky. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

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)