Tag Archives: Leeuwarden

‘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)


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 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)

Another double crash for display teams

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.

Friday’s airshow at Leeuwarden marks the international airshow debut of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. On Thursday evening, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) announced the show is going ahead as planned.

The cause of the Russian crash is unknown so far.

Riding the Lightning over the Atlantic: ‘Awesome experience’

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.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

The perception flights over both Leeuwarden and Volkel airbases will start on Thursday 26 May, with other tests also to be performed over the next three weeks.

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.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming and editing © Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image: Major Pascal ‘Smiley’ Smaal. (Image © Vincent Kok)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)

Lightnings arrive in Europe

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.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

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.

Featured image: Both Dutch F-35s after their flight from the US. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

(Image © Dennis Spronk))

More details known on Dutch F-35 transatlantic flight

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.

An F-35 lights the afterburner on its Pratt and Whitney F135 engine. (Image © Frank Crébas/ Bluelifeaviation.com)
Related reading: Dutch Lightning Testers. (Image © Frank Crébas/ Bluelifeaviation.com)

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.

Next, the F-35s will fly from Edwards to Patuxent River, the same location choosen by the Italians for their East-West ferry flight in February. From Patuxent River and supported by KDC-10 tanker aircraft, the jet will fly non-stop to Leeuwarden, arriving there supposedly on the evening of 23 May. Air-to-air refuelling was succesfully tested just weeks ago.

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.

Two Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35s explore Californian skies. (Image © Frank Crébas/ Bluelifeaviation.com)
Two Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35s explore Californian skies. (Image © Frank Crébas/ Bluelifeaviation.com)

Airshow debut

The arrival at Leeuwarden would mean nothing stands in the way of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 first ever appearance at an airshow outside the US. Its presence at the Leeuwarden airshow on 10 and 11 June would beat the scheduled appearance of United States Marines Corps (USMC) and US Air Force F-35s at both the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough Airshow in the UK in July.

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.

An F-16 joins the F-35 during perception flights over the Netherlands later this year. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)
An F-16 joins the F-35 during perception flights over the Netherlands later this year. (Image © Ministerie van Defensie)


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.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): Two Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35s explore Californian skies. (Image © Frank Crébas/ Bluelifeaviation.com)