The four Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM/BM fighter jets deployed to Jordan to bomb the so-called Islamic State forces in Syria, have only done that four times this year.
The information is included in a letter of Dutch minister of Defence Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert to the Dutch parliament in The Hague.
Communication limits have made the RNLAF jets less useful to international community fighting ISIS / ISIL / Daesh and the United States, which is leading the operations. Since February, when the F-16s were cleared for the Syrian operations, the aircraft only flew seven mission in total in the skies of that nation.
Jordan is offering fifteen used but serviceable F-16A/B Midlife Update (MLU) models in a move that seems strange in the light of the pending arrival of… fifteen very similar F-16 MLU models previously operated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF). The Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) aircraft are offered on the air force’s website.
The Jordanian offer comes complete with a list of the actual aircraft for sale. They are all jets that orginally flew with the US Air Force in the eighties an nineties and were delivered to Jordan under the Peace Falcon II contract from 2003 onwards. Prior to 2009, all were updated to MLU standard in Turkey.
Airframe hours range from 4,600 to 6,000 hours and some phase inspections were completed as late as December 2015 and even January 2016. The jets underwent the Falcon UP and Falcon STAR structural upgrades as well, extending projected service lifes to about 8,000 hours.
Jordan has a habit of purchasing used F-16s while at the same time selling aircraft of the same type. Pakistan received a batch of former RJAF F-16s, the first of which arrived in Pakistan in April 2014. In turn, disused Belgian and Dutch F-16s found their ways to Jordan before, some of which were used for Jordan’s contribution in the fight against so-called Islamic State in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.
It would be no surprise if Pakistan snatches up Jordan’s latest F-16 offer as well, although Islamabad also eyes a small batch of brand new and more advanced F-16C/D jets from Lockheed Martin.
The current Jordanian F-16 fleet is estimated to be around 64 aircraft-strong. The second batch of used Dutch aircraft should find its way to the Middle Eastern country soon. The aircraft are currently being prepared for transfer in the Netherlands.
According to the technician, whose job apparently was to check the aircraft before clearing them for flight, to EenVandaag he was pressured to sign off while planned replacement of the landing gear of the wide-body airliner was postponed three times.
Wind shear crash cause
On 21 December 1992 the DC-10 crash-landed at Faro, killing 56 people on board and severely wounding at another 106. Wind shear is commonly blamed of having caused the crash, while other say pilot errors may have contributed or caused the crash. The news item puts the safety of the plane in doubt and puts new fuel in a public debate that has lasted more than two decades.
Parts of the investigation documents have been classified by the Netherlands and will first be open to the public by the year 2073.
A farewell fitting to royalty, that was what happened at Gilze Rijen airbase in the Netherlands on Tuesday 15 December, as the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) said goodbye to its final four Alouette helicopters. Never the most exciting piece of aviation kit, they in fact proved very reliable in over 51 years of RNLAF service. Good enough also for the Dutch royal family.
A flight of two Alouettes, known for their pristine blue paint scheme and characteristic engine sound, saluted those present at Gilze Rijen airbase, home to most of the RNLAF helicopter fleet. Four Alouettes remained in service here for years, serving as flying taxis for the Dutch royal family or as a liaison capability for Dutch forces.
These four were the last of 77 French-designed Alouette IIIs that served in the low lands, supporting ground forces in an airborne observation role and performing search and rescue duties. “My first and eldest love”, says former Alouette- and now KLM-pilot Willem Boiten. “Perfectly suited for its observation role because of all the glass surrounding the cabin, which could seat seven.”
It was, of course, as simple as a design should be. Like a Volkswagen Beetle. “Not much avionics in there, attitude and speed indicator, altimeter and a compass and that was about it. Flying was a basic, hands on job and navigation I did using the map on my lap. Max speed was 113 knots, which isn’t a lot but it is quite a lot when flying at 20 ft over terrain, hugging the ground. You were really flying in that thing, shaking all around the place. If the shaking got too bad, maintenance would adjust the rotor blades. The small diameter of those meant we could land just about anywhere. Some of my best flights were Search and Rescue (SAR) flights, either in a storm over some ship in the North Sea or airlifting wounded to a hospital.”
Above all, the Alouette scored big on reliability. “It never failed me, even when I was sent to Cambodia on a peace keeping mission. The Alouette was chosen over the Westland Lynx operated by the Dutch navy. I remember those flights in Cambodia very well.” Other foreign missions sent Dutch Alouettes on their way to Tunisia in the early seventies and Turkey and Iraq in the early nineties.
Want more Alouettes?
A nickname the Alouette never really earned, or maybe it was ‘greenhouse’. Willem: “It could get very hot in that cockpit, but then we ‘d open or remove the large sliding doors on the sides. In winter weather, gloves and a warm jacket were required, as the heating just wasn’t enough. And in rain, my right shoulder would get wet as the door never really wanted to close.
What came to a close though, was 51 years and roughly 375,000 flying hours of continued service – in the Netherlands, that it. The four surviving choppers are to be sold. The Alouette remains in military and civil service in countries around the globe and will probably do so for years to come.
Under economic pressure the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) was saying goodbye to the Cougar helicopter, but the vital function of the tactical transport helicopter saved from the axe was shown clearly this week during an airlanding exercise near Arnhem, the Netherlands.
The military training grounds of Deelen and the Ede Heath saw a lot of action in a normally quiet Autumn. A total of six RNLAF choppers were flying back and forth with military equipment, from pallets to vehicles. The double rotor choppers – aka Boeing CH-47 Chinooks – are not easy to miss, but the quieter and real stars of the show were the AS532U2 Cougars.
SFOR in Bosnia
Seventeen of these machines won over the legendary Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk when the Royal Netherlands Army was looking for a proper rotary airlift in the 1990s. Designed by Aérospatiale, built by its successor Eurocopter and currently named Airbus Helicopters, the French built machines arrived in 1996 and 1997. Their service record has not been without trouble. The machines were notorious for leaking fuel and the lack of de-icing equipment did hamper operations a bit while 5 machines operated with the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia in 2001, the RNLAF Cougars’ first operational deployment.
Neither fond of heat the Cougars also had some issues while flying from Tallil Airbase in Iraq in 2004. Operation in 2006 to 2010 as part of the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces Task Force Uruzgan in Afghanistan were limited by Cougars not only having to combat heat but also high altitude operations, flying from inside the Uruzgan province and Kandahar.
But the choppers were still able to perform important tasks in support of the Royal Netherlands Army, as Search-and-Rescue or medevac asset, as shipborne troop transport helicopter for the amphibian forces of the Marine Corps of the Royal Netherlands Navy embarked on landing transport docks, and as fire fighter with the so-called bambibucket both at home and abroad.
Flying up to 500 miles (800 km) – further with additional fuel tanks – the Cougar operates normally with a crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, loadmaster and door gunner on a 7.62 mm machine gun. The cargo hold has room for 10 fully equipped troops or 14 without equipment. In the medevac role a doctor/anesthetist and a nurse are on board to take car of up to six patients, three sitting up and three lying down.
Gilze Rijen Airbase
All Cougars fly with 300 Squadron, operating from Gilze Rijen Airbase. The unit’s personnel were shocked to learn in 2011 that their job was about to disappear when the Ministry of Defence in the Hague announced another round of downsizing. But even with the awaited beefing up of the Boeing CH-47F Chinook fleet to 20 machines, having the NH90 choppers on strength at 18 the military and defence policital leadership say they have noticed a lack of rotary wing capacity if there would no longer be any Cougars.
Cougar service life
So the French design from 1965 will stay part of the fleet until at least 2023, Defence minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert recently wrote to the parliament in the Hague. Currently down to 12 operational machines a even smaller number of Cougars will keep on flying till the end of their new decided service life until the leadership is confident the Foxtrot Chinooks and NH90s can do the job together.
11th Airborne Brigade
As illustrated again at the Ede Heath and Deelen training grounds this week, the Cougars and Chinooks often operate closely together with the 11th Airborne Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army. That capacity – although not fully used since 2013 as the red berets have been deployed more conventionally – is something the Netherlands would like to keep. Possibly in light of the increased Russian activity on the borders with NATO, where the strengthened Russian Aviation Regiments are training on blitzkrieg-like offensive maneouvres by quickly moving sizable ground units through the air by Mil Mi-8/Mi-17s escored by Mi-24/35 Hind attack helicopters.
Backed by renewed trust the men and women of 300 Squadron of the RNLAF showed this week that although plagued through its service life, they are up to the challenge of airlifting combat reinforcements to airheads in the field, in the way the AS532U2 Cougar was originally purchased for.