As if last week’s crash of a Blue Angel and Thunderbird on the same day wasn’t strange enough, a Patrouille Suisse F-5 Tiger and Russian Knights Su-27 Flanker crashed within hours of each other on Thursday 9 June. The Swiss pilot ejected after an apparent mid air collision over Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands, while the Russian pilot died in a crash near Moscow.
The Swiss F-5s collided while practicing their display routine prior to the Leeuwarden airshow on Friday. One aircraft came down near the town of Bitgum, north west of the airbase. Rescue service confirmed the pilot ejected. An Air Medical Services helicopter was dispatched to the crash site.
The second F-5 involved in the incident landed safely after half an hour or so, minus half of its right hand horizontal stabilizer. The trailing edge of the right wing also showed some damage from the collision.
Riding the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II all the way from the US to the Netherlands was ‘an awesome experience’, according to major Pascal ‘Smiley’ Smaal, who actually flew one of the state-of-the-art jets on Monday 23 May. Smaal is one of four Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) pilots now current on the F-35. All four have joined the aircraft for this trip home – which involves a flying airshow debut.
The Lightnings arrived in difficult weather conditions, with low clouds, cold winds and occasional showers drenching Leeuwarden during the day. The weather in Patuxent River, where the Dutch started their Transatlantic flight, wasn’t much better.
The pilots and groundcrew were a little concerned about their two ‘babies’, “But they did great”, says Smaal. An hour or so after landing at Leeuwarden, the jets were put away in hardened aircraft shelters.
On 10 and 11 June, the F-35s and their pilots will star at the Leeuwarden airshow, marking the first time the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II appears at an airshow outside the US.
While RNLAF officials keep their mouths shut about an actual appearance in the flying display, Airheadsfly.com has learned that this appearance is already being prepared and that the Lightning II will indeed present itself in the skies over Leeuwarden. Get set for a large crowd during the airshow.
Two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-35A Lightnings were the first of their kind to fly from the US to Europe on Monday 23 May, arriving at the Dutch airbase of Leeuwarden after an eight hour Transatlantic flight. The jets were warmly welcomed in cold, windy and otherwise challenging weather conditions for the two pilots.
Upon arrival, the aircraft greeted Leeuwarden in formation with a RNLAF Gulfstream with Dutch defense minister Jeanine Hennis on board. The Lightnings then landed separately just after 9pm local time, each escorted by an F-16.
Both pilots were visibly impressed by their reception on the ground, and said their aircraft behaved without problems. They had left Edwards Air Force Base in the US on Saturday and made a single stopover at Naval Air Station Patuxent River on the US East Coast.
The Lockheed Martin-made jets fly their first missions over the Netherlands on Wednesday. They will remain here for three weeks for various test purposes. One test involves the measuring of noise levels, while another involves the F-35’s criticized and vulnerable Autonomous Logistics Information System (ALIS). More on that is here.
More on the arrival – video included – follows soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.