UPDATED 1 SEPTEMBER 2014 | With the flight of a German C.160 Transall from Penzing in Southern Germany with cargo to Ämari in Estonia, the Luftwaffe has begun its contribution to the Baltic Air Policing mission. This NATO air defence umbrella of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is the coming four months done together with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF/KLu) and the Força Aérea Portuguesa (FAP).
The new rotation will provide air cover, interception and deterrence from September till December 2014. Although the Baltic Air Policing has operated from Šiauliai since March 2004, the German EF2000s are only the second rotation in total operating from Ämari. This second base in Estonia was added after persuasive offerings from the Estonian government at a time that Russia was taking over the Crimean peninsula and displayed its force towards Eastern Ukraine.
Source: Luftwaffe / RCAF / Ministerie van Defensie / FAP
At first sight, the flat countryside in the northern Dutch province of Friesland doesn’t offer a lot. It takes closer inspection to find the hidden gems in the shape of charming small villages or the large, typical farm houses. If the pilots participating in flying exercise Frisian Flag 2014 have eyes for them, it will have to be from up high. For the next two weeks, they will fly daily missions in complex scenarios designed to strengthen international co-operation and air-to-air and air-to-ground tactics.
It’s about 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Monday as the first of many of F-16s, F-18s and Eurofighters turns onto runway 05 at Leeuwarden’s airbase, which as always is center stage for Frisian Flag. The pilot wastes no time and quickly advances the throttle in full military power. The nozzle of the Pratt & Whitney F-100 PW220 turbofan produces the familiar whistling sound, but it is immediately drowned by the sound of afterburner after afterburner. For about an hour, the Leeuwarden runway is occupied by aircraft taking off. Earplugs will probably soon sell out at drugstores in the city of Leeuwarden, which is very close to the airfield.
Taking part in Frisian Flag 2014 are Dutch, Belgian, Norwegian, Danish and Portuguese Lockheed Martin F-16AMs, German and Spanish Eurofighter Typhoons and Boeing F/A-18 Hornets from Finland. Also taking part but operating elsewhere are Boeing E-3 AWACS aircraft, and a Dutch KDC-10 and a German A310 MRTT tanker aircraft. An Italian KC-767 is to join Frisian Flag as well.
Two large scale missions a day are planned, with up to 45 aircraft taking off from Leeuwarden. Most missions take place in reserved airspace of the North Sea, only a couple of minutes flying time from Leeuwarden. Some missions take place over coastal area Marnewaard, with ground forces and realistic surface-to-air threats also doing their bit.
The location near the reserved airspaces, with only relatively limited commercial air traffic, makes Leeuwarden the ideal location for an aerial exercise such as Frisian Flag. The first Frisian Flag exercise dates back to 1999. Since that first edition, many NATO-partners took part in Frisian Flag. It’s no surprise the exercise was modelled after the Red Flag exercises at Nellis air force base, Nevada. Frisian Flag is supposedly every bit as good as the famous Red Flag, albeit a bit more modest in size.
Nevertheless, the small armada of aircraft at Leeuwarden attracts another, even bigger armada; that of countless aviation enthusiast, for whom Leeuwarden is the place to be these first weeks of April. They are armed only with Nikons and Canons and they naturally couldn’t care less about any charming small villages or the large, typical farm houses. The flat countryside of Friesland just got a little bit more exiting: Frisian Flag 2014 is in theater now.
It’s extraordinary to think that back in the early seventies, an average computer was the size of an average refrigerator. But that probably wasn’t what was going on in the mind of test pilot Phil Oestricher when he – albeit unintended – took the YF-16 to the air for the first time forty years ago, on 20 January 1974. It was the soon to be first large scale mass produced fighter jet flying with microchips and fly-by-wire, and boy did it almost end in disaster. Eventually of course, it came out a winner – and the flying proof of a digital, computerized future.
Oestricher and the people at General Dynamics must have watched in horror as the prototype YF-16, stuffed with micro computer technology that was basically unheard of in those days, accidentally got airborne during a fast taxi test at Edwards Air Force Base. What followed was an almost comical struggle between a pilot – wanting not to fly – and his aircraft wanting to fly. In the end, Oestricher (read his story here) decided to take the aircraft up. He landed back at Edwards immediately after, safely ending what later became known as ‘flight zero’. Two weeks later, he took the YF-16 up for the official ‘first’ flight.
That wobbly ‘flight zero’ in no way illustrates the phenomenal success the General Dynamics F-16 Fighter Falcon – or Electric Jet or Viper – became soon afterwards. As small as the aircraft is – 14.8 meters long and 9.8 meters wide – as big was and still is its commercial success. The USAF was of course the first user, but in ‘The Sale Of The Century’ the F-16 was also sold by the hundreds to Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. The deal was signed following the 1975 Paris Le Bourget airshow, where pilot Neil Anderson demonstrated the previously unseen manoeuverability of the YF-16.
Nowadays, 24 countries use the various further developed versions of the original YF-16. The two prototypes were followed by several pre-production aircraft, after which serial production started on three lines, which eventually became five lines in as many countries. The A/B versions were followed by the C/D versions. More recently E/F and I versions entered service. More obscure Fighting Falcons are the delta winged F-16XL and the General Electric J-79 equipped F-16/79. The US Navy’s (T)F-16N aggressor aircraft were also relatively short-lived.
More than 4,540 F-16s have been produced, mostly at the Lockheed Martin production line at Fort Worth. Apart from the four first European customers, Israel, Venezuela and Pakistan were among the early adopters as well, ordering aircraft in the early eighties. More recent customers include Chile, Morocco and Iraq. Lockheed Martin took over General Dynamics in 1993 and now has 48 aircraft remaining on order, according to a statement released on Thursday. Among the remaining orders are aircraft for Oman and Iraq. When asked, the company wouldn’t comment on any special activities relating to the Vipers’ 40th birthday.
Many Vipers have changed ownership already, with the US selling or leasing lots of of their surplus aircraft to other countries. Early model F-16A and B aircraft soon found their way to Israel, and later on similar aircraft were also delivered to Jordan. A small number of US F-16Cs went to Indonesia.
Belgium and the Netherlands are also in the business of selling Vipers abroad, customers being Jordan and Chile. Some F-16s are third hand already, as Portugal sold second hand Vipers to Romania last year.
In the pocket
The whine of either the Pratt and Whitney PW220 or General Electric F110 that equips the F-16 will be heard for many years to come, as Vipers are started up at airfields around the world to fill and patrol the skies. The computerized F-16 paved the way for many military and commercial airplanes, and also for many technological applications that are now standard in every household, and possibly even in the pocket of your jeans – if that’s where you keep your cellphone.
It’s extraordinary to think what an impact this little agile fighter has had. It sure didn’t look that way on 20 January 1974. Cheers!
Twelve Portuguese Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons are on their way to Romania. The East European country signed the deal last Thursday, the Romanian Ministry of Defence confirmed.
Portugal actually bought three additional F-16s from the United States to meet the number, since it only had nine Vipers available for sale. The deal of 600 million euro will start with modernisation of the fighter jets, with first deliveries planned for 2015. The newly purchased US jets will get temporarily Força Aerea Portuguesa (FAP) serials.
By purchasing the much needed air assets second-hand from Portugal Romania has definitely killed an earlier plan to purchase up to 24 F-16s from the United States. There is much criticism to the deal within Romania, as many feel the country can’t afford to operate the new jets. Advocators point out that the F-16 has one of the lowest operating costs per flying hour compared to other modern aircraft.
Source: Romanian Ministry of Defence with additional reporting by AIRheads’ Marcel Burger
In 2011 Cambrai hosted the 50th NATO Tigermeet. Because of this anniversary and the fact that this French airbase was due to close the Tigermeet provided a last opportunity to visit Cambrai while still at operational status.