2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) or Koninklijke Luchtmacht, the military aviation branch of the Netherlands Armed Forces.
It all started back on July 1st , 1913, with the founding of the Wapen der Militaire Luchtvaart (Army Aviation Group) at Soesterberg airfield with only one airplane and four pilots.
This airplane was called the “Brik” and was a rented machine built by aviation pioneer Marinus van Meel. Its design was actually based on the French Farman type. Shortly after its start, the aerial fleet is expanded with three French Farman aircraft.
With the advent of World War I, those aircraft were soon outdated and duly replaced by several Nieuport and Caudron aircraft.
In WWI the Netherlands maintained a neutral position, so the Army Aviation Group did not take part in any military actions but instead chose to further develop the force's capabilities. As a result, several new airfields were established, such as Arnhem, Gilze-Rijen, Venlo and Vlissingen.
The Army Aviation Group almost met its end in the interbellum period as the Dutch government cut the defense budget. With political tensions increasing in the late 1930s however, the government desperately tried to rebuild the armed forces once more, but faced a major shortage in pilot instructors, navigators and pilots to fly the new aircraft.
In July of 1939 the Army Aviation Group was renamed the Army Aviation Brigade and the following month, the Netherlands government mobilized its armed forces. The AAB only operated 176 combat aircraft at that time:
With this arsenal the AAB stood no chance against the invading German force and its more modern Luftwaffe. Within five days they were annihilated. All of it bombers, along with 47 fighters were shot down and 10 aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Almost 95% of its pilots were lost.
They did not let down however and some aircrews managed to escape to England where, on June 1st , 1940, No. 320 Squadron and 321 Squadron were established under RAF command. In 1941 the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School was established at Jackson field in the US, operating several lend-lease aircraft and training all of the military crews for the Netherlands. A complete Dutch piloted Squadron, No. 167 Sqn, was also established which was transformed into the No. 322 Squadron on June 12th , 1943, the very first Dutch Fighter Squadron.
Left: ground crew service a Spitfire LF Mark VB of No. 322 Dutch Squadron RAF at Hawkinge February 1st, 1944
Top: Prince Bernard of the Nether-lands in his Spitfire
No. 322 Squadron was equip-ped with the Supermarine Spitfire Mk V and they were co-ded VL (changed later in the war to 3W), stationed at Woodvale. It started flying ope-rational missions on January 4th , 1944, primarily escort flights.
Later on, it was successfully deployed against incoming V-1 flying bombs and, after D-Day, started flying ground attack missions over France and Belgium.
One of the most notable airmen in that period is Prince Bernhard.
In February of 1944 the Squadron was stationed back on Dutch soil and also received its first official crest.
On April 4th , 1949, a new organization known as NATO was formed. The Netherlands were one of the founding countries. Others were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US.
On March 27th , 1953, the Royal Netherlands Air Force officially became an independent part of the Dutch Armed Forces, next to the Army and Navy. This was also the time where the first jets started being used: the Gloster Meteor F Mk. IV and VIII. Other jets which were flown by the RNLAF were the F-84G Thunderjet, Hawker Hunter F Mk. 4 & Mk. 6, F-86 Sabre, F-84F Thunderstreak and RF-84F Thunderflash.
With the threat of the Cold War five Squadrons (No. 306, 311, 312, 322 and 323) were re-equiped with the dual role F-104 Starfighter. The remaining Squadrons (313, 314, 315 and 316) switched to the NF-5 Freedom Fighter.
Since 1979 all RNLAF fighter squadrons started operating the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which is still used today.
At the time of this article, the RNLAF inventory of operating aircraft includes:
Through the NATO Strategic Airlift Capability, the RNLAF also has access to three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III large transport aircraft.
The future also looks set for the RNLAF. For fighter-bomber roles, between 52 and 68 Lockheed F-35A Lightning II aircraft are expected to replace the F-16 fleet. Two have already been delivered for testing and training purposes on July 25th , 2013, at Fort Worth.
As far as helicopters are concerned: 20 NH-90 helicopters (12 NFH and 8 TTH) have replaced the former Lynx helicopters and all existing CH-47D Chinooks will be replaced with new-built CH-47F models. Six are already on order with an option for two more.
The buildup to the show in the months preceding it proved very promising with many exciting participants giving their okays to participate in either a static or display role.
To help celebrate the RNLAF's 100th anniversary, the four largest demonstration teams in Europe were going to show their stunning routines at the event: the British RAF Red Arrows, the French Patrouille de France, the Italian Frecce Tricolori and the Swiss Patrouille Suisse.
As is usual for the Luchtmachtdagen, there are two show days: one on Friday and one on Saturday. We attended the nicely organized Spotterday on Thursday and the Friday show day as this promised to be the better of both days weather-wise. The Luchtmachtdagen also alternates between three operational airfields each year: Leeuwarden, Gilze-Rijen and Volkel. This year the baton was passed on to Volkel, near Uden in the province of Noord-Brabant, and its resident 312 th and 313 th Fighter Squadrons.
The organizational staff of the Luchtmachtdagen really succeeded in grasping a selection of aircraft present which were at one time or another part of the RNLAF, which was sort of a red line through the show days.
Static wise the most special aircraft was recently restored Lockheed F-104G Starfighter D-8114. This Starfighter is maintained by the group Historische Vliegtuigen Volkel or HVV (Historic Aircraft Volkel) which consists of ex-employees of the Air Force. This particular aircraft was license built by Fokker at Schiphol and made its first flight on July 17th , 1963. Three months later it was delivered to the Operational Conversion Unit at Twenthe air base. After a short stay at Leeuwarden air base, the aircraft was converted to a fighter-bomber configuration and went on to serve with 311 Squadron at Volkel in 1967. There it remained until the entire fleet was replace with the more modern F-16 Fighting Falcon.
D-8114 was the last operational Starfighter in the inventory and made its last flight on June 18th , 1984. The airframe then went on to the Air and Space Technics faculty at Delft and in 2008 to the Military Aviation Museum at Soesterberg. The jet was given a complete refurbishment when it was transferred to Volkel on April 5th , 2012, when HVV began restoration work. The airframe will be kept in perfect static condition and will be stored in hangar 1 at Volkel air base.
Another hard-to-miss visitor in the static park was a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. As mentioned above, the RNLAF does not own any C-17s, but is allowed to fly them as part of the Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC). It is a consortium of 12 nations, 10 of which are members of NATO (Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania , Slovenia and the US) and 2 of which are Partners For Peace (Finland and Sweden)
The SAC fulfills the need for strategic air transport within the NATO and the EU as the number of heavy transport aircraft owned in Europe is relatively scarce. All members have pooled resources to purchase and operate three C-17 Globemaster III heavy transport aircraft. Each of the participating countries can annually “buy” a number of flight hours in the aircraft owned by the SAC. Flight hours and mission assignments are determined by a steering committee chaired by a general officer of the USAF.
The Heavy Airlift Program (HAW) operates the three C-17s from Papa air base in central Hungary.
The Netherlands annually participate in 500 flight hours. At the Luchtmachtdagen the static C-17 was operated by an entirely Dutch aircrew. HAW is a relatively young organization (started in 2006), but has already participated in a large number of foreign military operations such as Afghanistan, Irak, Mali, Libya and Bosnia.
Other static ex or current RNLAF operated aircraft types included a Douglas DC-3, McDonnell-Douglas KDC-10, Dornier DO 228, Gulfstream IV, Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Boeing CH-47D Chinook, Agusta AB-412, NH-90 NFH, JSF 35 mock-up and off-course several F-16s including F-16BM Orange Jumper test aircraft.
The Orange Jumper is part of a test group for F-16s with the intent of testing new systems, weapon systems, sensors and avionics. The F-16 Test group is not an actual squadron. All squadrons within the RNLAF are tasked with flying test missions with F-16 fighters. Over the years a total of 4 airframes have undergone the conversion to testing airframe. Latest is J-066, an F-16B operated by 323 Squadron. The name “Orange Jumper” originates from the orange color all the test wiring had, in order to prevent mixing it up with the regular F-16 wiring).
Another eye-catcher on Friday morning was the much anticipated arrival of a German F-4 Phantom II. The Germans planned to retire their ageing Phantoms at the end of June 2013. Part of the static park at the Luchtmachtdagen, Jachtgeschwader 71 “Richthofen” sent over their F-4F Phantom II 37+01 “First in, Last out”.
In 1973, the aircraft in question was the first of 175 Phantoms to be delivered to the then West German Air Force. In its final months of active service, the airframe was given a special blue and gold color scheme which features “First in, Last out” markings. The pilots enjoyed being here as they did not seem to be eager to land the jet, optioning to please the ground with a couple of touch and go's.
The flying program also incorporated many aircraft which at one point or another served with the RNLAF.
Show opener on Friday was P-51D Mustang “Damn Yankee” owned and operated by Tom Karst van der Meulen.
The Mustang was followed by an early jet-age aircraft (and brief adversary in the Korean War): the MiG-15 owned by the Fundacja Polskie Orly or Polish Eagles Foundation which was founded in 1997. Its mission is the acquisition and renovation of historical flying machines.
Current aircraft in their possession are an Me-109, a CSS-13, a Yak-18, PZL SM-1 and -2 helicopters and a Lim-2. The Lim-2 was manufactured in Poland on license of soviet MiG-15 B jets which were the first successful jets in the Korean War.
This example was acquired by the foundation in 2001 and restoration work began in 2007. It is now beautifully restored to airworthy condition and gave away an amazing display at Volkel.
After a display of the agility of the German Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo-105 helicopter the Royal Danish Air Force presented the crowds with a breathtaking display of a Lockheed-Martin C-130J Hercules. The C-130J Super Hercules is a comprehensive update of the well-known C-130 Hercules (a design dating back to 1951!). It incorporates a new digital flight deck with HUDs and new Rolls-Royce AE 2100 D3 turboprop engines. All of the changed to the J-model result in a 40% increase in operational range, a 21% increade in maximum speed and a 41% shorter takeoff distance.
Its agility and maneuverability for such a large propeller transport aircraft always amazes the crowds. A fitting flare finale really put the cherry on the cake for their display.
A part of Swedish history was up next in the form of a Saab AJS 37 Viggen owned and operated by the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight. The association had been active since 1998 and operates eight aircraft which flew with the Swedish Air Force (a Sk 16 Nooduyn Harvard, a J 28 de Havilland Vampire, a J 29 Saab 29 Tunnan, a J 34 Hawker Hunter, a AJS 37 Saab 37 Viggen, a Sk 50 Saab 91 Safir, an Sk 60 Saab 106 and an Sk 61 Scottish Aviation Bulldog).
The Viggen was a single-seat, single-engine delta wing fighter and attack aircraft, manufactured in the late 1960s. Its engine is a Volvo RM 8 Turbofan which is essentially a license built Pratt & Whitney JT8D with an afterburner added to it. It also incorporates a thrust reverser which gives the Viggen a limited STOL-like performance.
The Viggen was also the first aircraft to feature both afterburners and thrust reversers (the only other two being the Concorde and Panavia Tornado).
This airframe (s/n 37098) went through a long period of restoration and maintenance in order to get it back to an airworthy condition. It was originally built in 1977 and served in F 15 Wing at Söderhamn. It now wears civil registration SE-DXN and undertook its first post restoration flight on March 27th , 2012. It is left unpainted in order to represent the first delivered Viggens as they looked in the early 1970s.
The organizers stuck to the same manufacturer for the following act: the Czech Air Force Saab Gripen (Griffin) JAS-39 sporting a nice tiger tail and operated by 211 Taktickã Letka (Tactical Squadron), based at Caslav air base. This fourth generation fighter serves as the replacement for the MiG-21 within the Czech Air Force. The 211 squadron has been a member of the NATO Tiger Association since 2004, hence the tiger tail.
The Gripen is a lightweight single-engine multi-role fighter designed by Saab to replace the Saab 35 Draken and 37 Viggen in the Swedish Air Force. It incorporates a delta wing design and canard configuration and is capable of Mach 2. It is currently used by Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, South Africa, Thailand and one example operated by the Empire Test Pilots' School in the UK.
The Hungarian operated example would also display later in the day.
A nice treat rarely seen outside of France was the Ramex Delta. This is aFrench Armée de l'Air's Mirage-2000N duo team, kind of like the Voltige Victor flying Mirage F-1s a couple of years ago. They originate from the Southern France air base Isteres-Le Tube and operate the Mirage 2000N. The team was officially established in 2012 and fly with L'Escadron de Chasse 2/4 Lafayette which was established in 1947.
The patrouille presents the public with a duo tactical display. The Mirage 2000N is the nuclear strike variant of the popular Dassault built Mirage 2000 which is another European fourth generation delta-winged, multirole, single-engine aircraft, designed in the late 1970s.
They really battered Volkel airbase with some tight formation passes in full afterburner…
Back to the early years of jet powered aviation then in the form of a Gloster Meteor. The Meteor was the first real post WWII jet fighter destined for the RNLAF. The types operating with the RNLAF and Belgian AF were license built by Fokker at the time.
Notable is that the early variants of the Meteor did not incorporate an ejector seat. It wasn't until the F8 variant that one was installed. The Meteor operated with the RNLAF between 1948 and 1959. Only a handful of Gloster Meteors remain in the world. The example flown at the Luchtmachtdagen is owned and operated by Air Atlantique Ltd in the UK.
Some national pride is in order as we also welcomed our very own Belgian Air Component F-16 Fighting Falcon solo display. Back for his second year of display was 350th FS pilot Renaud “Grat” Thys. The 350th FS is based at Florennes.
First of the demonstration teams then: the Patrouille Suisse. The team was established in 1964 and thus celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. They first flew Hawker Hunters but made the switch to the Northrop F-5E Tiger II (an aircraft which also saw active service with the RNLAF) in 1994. The team flies a total of six F-5Es.
With the retirement of the Northrop F-5E fleet in Switzerland in 2016, the team faces an uncertain future and has a chance of being disbanded as there are no replacement aircraft available to form another display team at that time.
The next chapter in the display took the crowds back to the earlier years of aviation. The Royal Netherlands Historic Flight (Stichting Koninklijke Luchtmacht Historische Vlucht or SKHV) was one amongst others to display some vintage aircraft.
The SKHV was first started in 1969 as an aero club (Stichting Vliegsport Gilze-Rijen) by a group of former Air Force and Navy fighter pilots. The commander of the Gilze-Rijen Air Base at that time supported the renovation of a small hangar in which a Harvard and a Piper Super Cub were restored. The initial aim of this aero club was to provide private pilots with the possibility of advanced flying training. In the following years several historical aircraft were added to the fleet after having been carefully restored to an airworthy condition. From 1976 onwards the club has dedicated itself to the restoration and the maintenance of propeller-driven aircraft formerly used by the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Navy.
In 1998 the Stichting Vliegsport Gilze-Rijen and the Dutch Spitfire Flight merged to form the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historical Flight thereby bringing the only airworthy Dutch Spitfire and a Beaver into the collection. On September 24 th , 2004, during the 35th anniversary, the merge of the Duke of Brabant Air Force (DBAF) and the SKHV was announced. Since then the DBAF flag-ship, the B-25 Mitchell, has been part of the SKHV fleet.
The SKHV fleet mainly comprises aircraft formerly flying with the RNLAF or RNL Navy Air Services, with the exception of Prince Bernhard's Stinston L5B.
Currently, the SKHV fleet includes the following aircraft:
They were joined in the display by an Avro Anson.
Next, the basic training aircraft of the RNLAF, the Pilatus PC-7 was presented to the crowds in the form of a formation fly-past of four such aircraft, now operating from the Woensdrecht air base. An actual demonstration of the type would follow later on the day, but displayed by the Austrian Air Force.
After a small break in the program, activities resumed with a formation flypast of the two official solo display demonstration teams of the RNLAF: the F-16 and the AH-64D Apache. It is kind of cool to see both of them hanging on in formation, the Apache flying at its top speed and the F-16 at practically its slowest possible high angle-of-attack speed.
The F-16 broke off at the end of the flypast and cleared the display ground for the Apache Solo Display Team.
The RNLAF is the only Air Force in the world with a dedicated display of the AH-64 Apache helicopter (normally Apache demonstrations are only carried out by the manufacturer, Boeing).
The team consists of members of the 301 Squadron “Redskins” of the Defence Helicopter Command stationed at Gilze-Rijen airbase.
The 2013 display is a bit more compact then the 2011 display, making it also a bit more spectacular. Like in previous show seasons, the team continues to use flares to add to the spectacle. These flares, stored in so-called AMASE pods ( Apache Modular Survivability Equipment). These pods each contain three Northrop Grumman AAAR-54 sensors and two flareboxes. The goal of these pods is protection against heat seaking missiles (flares) as well as infrared guided missiles. The pods are attached to the helicopter at the very end of both wing stubs. The flares are used at certain points during the display to add an extra dimension to it, especially at dusk.
For the display, the Hellfire racks and rocket pods are removed from the helicopter in order to save weight and as a result, enabling the Apache to speed up faster in between the individual manoeuvres.
The aircraft itself, Q-17, can be seen in its original camouflage colours, but a special printing is added to pay tribute to the 100 years of Dutch military aviation. This printing can be removed quickly, so that the helicopter can be used for operational missions when required.
Pilot in command this year is still Major Roland “Wally” Blankenspoor, who had been flying with the RNLAF since 1997. He has logged about 3300 flight hours, of which 2750 are on the Apache.
First officer is Captain Harm “Kaas” Cazemier, who has been flying the Apache since 1998. It is his first season with the Apache solo display team.
With their display over, the other aircraft of the odd formation returned for its display: the RNLAF F-16 solo demonstration. The 2012-2013 demonstration team is based at Volkel (as with the Belgian F-16 demo team, they also alternate between two airfields/squadrons, namely Volkel and Leeuwarden every two years).
The current team is comprised of personnel from both Volkel based Squadrons, the 312th and 313th. Captain Stefan “Stitch” Hutten is thus flying his last season as the display pilot. He is assigned to the 312th Squadron and has accumulated over 800 hours on the F-16.
As is the intention with most fast jet solo displays, the RNLAF F-16 Demo Team routine contains maneuvers that are common during normal operational missions. The thing which makes those displays so spectacular is that all of these combat maneuvers are smoothly choreographed together and are performed at very low altitude. Even though during the routine, the pilot's body is exposed to enormous positive and negative G forces, his goal is to give an accurate illustration of the aircraft's outstanding maneuverability and the skills required by every Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 fighter pilot.
What differentiates the Dutch team from other display teams is that all team members are current operational personnel in the Air Force. Not only do they perform daily operational tasks required for the demo team, but they also deploy to operations throughout the world during the demo season. This enables the team to be the most current operational representative of the Dutch Air Force.
The first RNLAF F-16 demonstration dates as far back as 1979. The current display aircraft is J-015, which is also painted in a special color scheme, called “the orange lion”. Former demo pilot Ralph “Sheik” Aarts now operates as team coach to the current display team.
As all of the aircraft which were to participate in the impressive air power demo took off and took up their positions, the Austrian Air Force Pilatus PC-7 was displayed in front of the crowd.
The Air Power Demo comprised no less than ten F-16s, two CH-47 Chinook heavy transport helicopters, a KDC-10 tanker, a C-130 Hercules and five AH-64D Apache helicopters. The demo is intented to show the audience how an airfield interdiction mission would happen in real life. The F-16s would come in low and fast first and bomb and strafe enemy positions at the airfield from all directions. The Chinook helicopters would come in next under Apache gunship cover to deploy ground troops and ground support equipment. The heavier ground support equipment would be flown in by the C-130 Hercules.
A KDC-10 tanker would be available (at a reasonable distance in real life obviously) to provide the F-16s with the option of aerial refueling, should this be required.
During an exhilarating 30 minute display the RNLAF showed off its power and abilities to the ground, further enhanced with ground pyrotechnics.
After the power demo there was a nice display of the Finnish Air Force F/A-18C Hornet, followed by the Italian Air Force's official demonstration team: the Frecce Tricolori. They gave the crowds quite a treat with both an amazing show and also an amazing commentator: Andrea Soro. He has some Dutch roots and now and then tried commentating in Dutch, a real crazy character!
The Frecce Tricolori are members of the 313 th Aerobatic Training Squadron since the day the team was first formed on July 1st , 1961. Back then they flew the North American F-86 Sabre. They were replaced with an Italian designed and built aircraft in December of 1963: the Fiat Aeritalia G-91.
Another aircraft change was made on March 1st , 1982, when the first Aermacchi MB339 jets arrived at Rivolto. A formation flypast of six MB339 and four G-91 aircraft officially sealed the switch between both types.
In September of 2010, the Frecce Tricolori celebrated their 50 th anniversary.
The following displays comprised of a Czech AF Mil Mi-24/35 Hind helicopter followed by another Saab JAS-39C Gripen, this time flown by the Hungarian Air Force.
Another display team followed suit, this time the representatives of the RAF: The Red Arrows, founded in 1965, who are thus now in their 49th display season! They are regular visitors at the RNLAF Open Days.
Time for some Russian action (well, Russian planes actually) in the form of a tactical display of two Polish AF Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter aircraft. The swing-wing SU-22 Fitter was once one of the primary attack aircraft of Eastern Europe. Hundreds of these aircraft were in service with Air Arms such as Eastern Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and obviously the Soviet Union.
Nowadays, only the Polish Air Force still actively flies the type, divided over four tactical Fighter Squadrons (6, 7, 8 and 40 ELT). Disbandment of the type within the Polish Air Force is already underway as the 6 ELT retired its Fitters in favor of the F-16C Block 52 Fighting Falcon.
Both Fitters flew a nice display of several slow and fast passes with both the wings in the normal and fully swept back positions. It's one of those sights soon to be never again seen in airshows…
Solo Turk was next up in the beautifully painted F-16C Block 40 demonstration aircraft, painted with a colorful and striking paint scheme of bright black, silver and gold.
Solo Türk is the official F-16 demonstration team of the Turkish Air Force and was established in 2011 in order to celebrate 100 years of the Turkish Air Force.
Like many aerobatic demonstration teams, its objective is to present the high-performance maneuvering capabilities of the aircraft and the high training and skill level of its pilots. The display featured a great number of tight turns, rolls, loops and high speed pass, ending with a landing off a loop. To complete the show aspect, a colorful brake parachute is used to slow the aircraft down after landing.
The Solo Türk carries out its activities with 3 pilots selected from the 141st Squadron Command and a support team of 12 selected from the 4th Main Jet Base Command.
The demonstration pilot for the 2013 display season is Captain S. Yalin Ahbab.
Cpt. AHBAB graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1999. After completing his flight training he was appointed to 162nd "Harpoon" Sq. / Bandirma as F-16 pilot in 2002 preceding his assignment to 142nd "Gazelle" Sq. / Ankara in 2007. He had served as Air Defense pilot for 8 years before he was selected as one of three pioneers of SOLOTURK in 2010 and appointed to 141st “Wolf” Sq. / Ankara. Cpt. AHBAB has more than 2000 hours of F-16 flight experience.
Show closers were an English Supermarine Spitfire and the French national demonstration team, the Patrouille de France.
Conditions were a bit challenging photography-wise, but the show was spot-on with a great variation of displays. The organizers certainly managed to present the crowd an overview of 100 years of military aviation in the Netherlands.
Next year, the RNLAF Open Days will be held at the Gilze-Rijen airfield.