Tag Archives: Frisian Flag

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)

 

‘Bigger and better airpower’ with Frisian Flag

Bigger and better airpower. That’s what  Frisian Flag 2017 is all about, according to Denny Traas, commander of Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands and therefore host of this multinational military flying exercise. And if one thing becomes crystal clear on this early Spring-day in leeuwarden, it’s that learning how to fly alongside each other and getting to know each other, is the path towards ‘bigger and better’.

Frisian Flag 2017 takes in the strategic perspective of continued conflicts and increasing threats. “One of those threats is the posture of Russia”, says Traas. “And of course we see the conflict and the use of coalition airpower over Syria and Iraq. The need for coalition airpower will not change in the forseeable future, and that includes coalitions with non-NATO members.  It’s a script that we’ll be using for quite a while.”

In many cases, these coalitions while have to form quickly and operate effectively. Resources however, are greatly reduced while on the other hand, the pressure is on. Collateral damage or other costly mistakes are of course heavily frowned upon in Western societies. Coalition airpower requires preparation and aircrews that know how to fly together in packages of up to dozens of fighter jets. It requires understanding.

Do you see me?

That’s what exactly shows when standing next to Leeuwarden’s runway as 44 jets take off. Prior to each take off and from under the dark visors of their flying helmets, pilots clearly seek mutual understanding by looking directly at each other. ‘Do you see me, everything ok, ready to go?’ After a nod or a thumbs up, the air each time fills with the sound of jet engines at ‘maximum noise’ setting.

Seeing mutual understanding – part 1. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Seeking mutual understanding – part 2. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Everything ok, ready to go? (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French Mirage pilot rest his head  against his ejection seat before giving the nod that says ‘go’! (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Training area

After take off, all participants head to a temporary training area over the North Sea, where a different scenario is played out each time. Dynamic ground targets are set up in northern Germany for the bombers to strike, while ‘enemy’ air defenses in shape of SA-6 and Patriot ground-to-air missile systems await them.

Home team

Leeuwarden airbase for 20 years has been home to Frisian Flag, one of the largests exercises of its kind in Europe. For the hometeam – the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) – this year’s exercise is another change to polish up skills. After decades of operations over Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – where air-to-ground was the skill most usable – extra attention is now paid to air-to-air engagements. Recent exercises in the US where also aimed at making RNLAF F-16 pilot full ‘warriors’ again in all aspects of airpower.

A US F-15 thunders down the runway. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Full noise mode for a Mirage. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Players

Other players during Frisian Flag 2017 are US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles, Royal Air Force Tornados,  Portuguese and Belgian F-16s, plus French Mirage 2000Ds and German Eurofighters. The latter make their debut in the air-to ground role during the exercise. Various tanker aircraft and a NATO E-3 AWACS support Frisian Flag.

Future

Future editions of Frisian Flag may well see participation of MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, plus interaction between current 4th generation fighter jets and 5th generation fighters suchs as the F-35. However, according to base commander Traas, the latter will probably sooner be US or UK F-35s instead of RNLAF jets. “In 2019 we’ll start receiving our own F-35s and then first work up to Initial Operational Capability in 2021. That could mean we will take break in organising Frisian Flag in 2020 and 2021.”

In 2018 and 2019 however, Frisian Flag is likely to be ‘on’. And with participation of other coalition partners and perhaps even the F-35 Lightning II, it will definitely be ‘bigger and better’.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming & editing by Vincent Kok – www.imagingthelight.com

A Portuguese F-16 against the backdrop of a typically Frisian farmer’s house. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Panning shot of a US Air National Guard F-15.  (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Another panning shot, a RNLAF F-16 this time. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A French Mirage over Leeuwarden’s runway.(Image © Elmer van Hest)
A US F-15 actually on Leeuwarden’s runway. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Royal Air Force Tornado’s will see their final landing in two years. They will be replaced by F-35s, which perhaps will be future Frisian Flag participants. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
German Eurofighters acted in an air-to-ground role for the first time during the current Frisian Flag. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

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)