Kees van der Mark reports on the annual Royal Netherlands Air Force Open Days.
THIS YEAR’S Royal Netherlands Air Force Open Days were held at Volkel air base, one of the three current Dutch F-16 bases, on June 18 and 19. Two operational squadrons (311 and 312 Sqns) and a training unit (306 Sqn) all operate the Mid Life Update version of this versatile aircraft at Volkel.
Some enthusiasts at Volkel could be heard complaining about the lack of interesting aircraft on view. With aircraft such as Turkish NF-5s, Singaporean A-4s and Slovenian PC-9s having visited in recent years, one feels they may have become a little spoiled. Nevertheless, Volkel managed to attract several aircraft never before seen at Dutch airshows, including two Italian F-16ADFs from 37° Stormo based at Trapani, Sicily, and the Bulgarian Air Force ‘Open Skies’ Antonov An-30, based at Sofia, in the static display. Newcomers performing in the air included a Royal Air Force Hercules C.4, a Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA2 and the Swiss Air Force PC-7 Team. Apart from the Hercules and the Gulfstream, every single type in Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) service was represented in the static park. There was also a strong presence from the UK, including a Sea Harrier FA.2 and Harrier T.8 from 899 NAS, two Tornado GR.4 from 9 Sqn, a 19 Sqn Hawk T.1W and a Nimrod MR.2. A Buckeburg-based EC-135T1 helicopter from the Heeresfliegerwaffenschule (German Army Flying Training School) was among the more unusual German participants. Apart from the previously-mentioned F-16s, the Italian Air Force also sent two AMX from 51° Stormo, based at Istrana — one in anniversary colours — and a single HARM-equipped 50° Stormo Tornado from Piacenza. Aircraft from Belgium, France and the US were also among the visitors.
The RNLAF took delivery of its first F-16 in June 1979, and this year the type is celebrating 25 years in service at Volkel. Leeuwarden-based 322 and 323 Sqns were absent, but all other RNLAF units flying the F-16 — including the Kantoor Testvliegen (Test Flight Office) with its F-16BM J-066 ‘Orange Jumper’ — had at least one aircraft in the static park. In addition, F-16A J-229, which has acted as an instructional airframe since 1995, was displayed in a colour scheme very similar to that worn by the YF-16 prototype, including a serial presentation as ‘80229’ (its own US Foreign Military Sales serial being 78-0229).
Belgian and Italian F-16s also made an appearance, but it would have been nice to see F-16s from other air arms coming to Volkel to celebrate the silver jubilee. F-16s from three other nations are currently in Holland: aircraft from Norway and Portugal are currently based at Leeuwarden to participate in the Fighter Weapons Instructor Course (FWIT), while Twenthe was hosting a quartet of Greek F-16s for Exercise CLEAN HUNTER.
One of the highlights of the annual air display is the Air Power Demo, — a half-hour show in which the RNLAF displays its power projection capabilities. The display included a base attack by a dozen F-16s, a demonstration by the Air Manoeuvre Brigade – including Cougars, Chinooks, Apaches and a Hercules, plus personnel from the army’s Air Mobile Brigade – and a fly-by of all the participating aircraft, including a KDC-10. The seven-hour daily flying programme also included no fewer than five demonstration teams, most of them performing on both days: the Red Arrows, Patrouille de France, Frecce Tricolori and the Swiss PC-7 Team, as well as the civilian Breitling Apache Team, flying five L-39s. A Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA.2 and a Swiss Air Force F/A-18C also gave very impressive displays.