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International Exercise Frisian Flag; Leeuwarden April 9, 2008

The Annual Dutch Air Exercise; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

On Wednesday, April 9 2008 I was able to take part on the base visit around the Frisian Flag exercise. Frisian Flag is the largest annual exercise of the Dutch Air Force held at Leeuwarden Airbase. Several participants from several countries will join the exercise such as; Germany, France and Belgium.

In the period Monday, March 31 until Friday, April 11, the international exercise Frisian Flag 2008 is held at Leeuwarden Airbase. Pilots practice flights in this period for both air to air combat and close air support for ground troops. During the exercises aircraft will be launched and will land twice a day. The purpose of the exercise is to train pilots participating in the execution of complex missions in an international context. These are scenarios for future NATO Response Force (NRF) deployments and ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq as central. Frisian Flag is a similar large-scale international air combat exercise like Red Flag in the United States and Maple Flag in Canada.

In addition to the 12 Dutch participating F-16's, the German Air Force is represented with 6 F-4 phantoms, the Belgian Air Force with 8 F-16’s and the French Air Force with 5 Rafales. The Norwegian Air Force provides a Falcon DA-20; this aircraft is used for electronic warfare as part of the exercise. A Dutch KDC-10 tanker contributes to the exercise directly from Eindhoven Airbase and a C-130 Hercules transport plane joins the exercise from April 7, to April 9, from Leeuwarden Airbase. During Frisian Flag 2008, most of the missions are flown in the training areas over the North Sea where air defence missions are flown. Also they use the Vliehors Shooting Range, the military training area Marne Waard and the Zurich area at West-Friesland for attacking targets on the ground. The pilots of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and its international partners are providing support to ground forces and navy during this exercise. Therefore, during the exercise so-called "Forward Air Controllers” are used provided by the Royal Netherlands Army and ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy. Soldiers on the ground will instruct the pilots on the precise location of the targets by radio. Just fifteen minutes before the morning flight departed I arrived at Leeuwarden; which in Frisian language is called Ljouwert. As they were using runway 24; I decided to stay

on the Marsum side of the base. Standing on the small hill at the threshold 06 I had the idea to photograph departing aircraft. Just after nine o’clock they started a whole series of jet engines and the flight line came alive. First the Dutch Hercules took off followed by a whole bunch of Dutch F-16’s; those Vipers were followed by two pairs of Rafales. After that my main goal for today took off. These were the German Phantoms who flew out one by one; a total of 4 aircraft took off. Of course there was a moment on which a series of photographs could be made of the characteristic long black plumes of smoke behind those Phantoms. After the arrival of the morning flight it was time to move to the main gate of the base where already a group of people had gathered for the base visit during the afternoon flight. After filling in the administration we were moved by bus via the main gate to the threshold 24. Over there we were allowed to stay the entire afternoon between the command bunker and the taxi track. The afternoon started well. The French Alpha Jet which arrived in the morning was the first aircraft who started to taxi. The Alpha Jet which was not a participant of the exercise was a nice bonus for us. We almost missed it because it took the second taxi track instead of the first one where we were standing. Fortunately, this Frenchman's made it all up to us; after take-off he turned back to the base and made a nice low approach in front of us. You could almost say that the small thing was flown by a Belgian pilot.

After 20 to 30 minutes of waiting suddenly the flight line started to move. Just as during the morning flight the Hercules would leave first. It came from the other side of the base where normally the no 322 squadron F-16’s are based. After the departure of the Hercules, the first fighters started to taxi to the holding area which was next to us. Right in front of two French Rafales were holding; these Rafales were very photogenic at this spot. Four Belgian Vipers from Florennes airbase appeared on the same spot after the departure of the first two Rafales. The background was nice and very green. This was good for the quality of the photos. Behind the Belgian Vipers, the Phantoms came out with four aircraft. These Phantoms of JG-71 "Richthofen" were really beautiful with nice spring sunshine on it, located in front of a green background. The Phantoms were my main goal during my visit to this exercise. With much noise and black smoke, the Phantom pilots pushed their throttle sticks to the maximum and they all went airborne. After the Phantoms we again saw a pair of French Rafales followed by a Norwegian Falcon 20. Also this time the formation existed of a single seat Rafale and a dual seat Rafale. There are not many single seat Rafales in operational service with the French air force. They only received 8 aircraft of the 100 which are ordered. Finally, a whole bunch of Dutch Vipers showed up which all were very good to photograph. They came over from all sides of the field at the same time. Some Vipers had a few nice things hanging under their wings like dummy 1000 & 2000 pond bombs and AMRAAM missiles.

Before the first aircraft would return again, we went down by bus to the threshold 06 for some landing shots. The Phantoms came in with their brake parachute behind the aircraft. All the aircraft which came in for landing used the second taxi track from the end of the runway. The Phantoms were the only aircraft which taxied to the far end of the runway, because they had to drop their parachutes. Within a period of about 45 to 60 minutes after the first aircraft returned the whole mission was back at the airbase and our the visit to this magnificent base came to an end. The conclusion of this story is that we had a lovely day at Leeuwarden and that the organization was set up very well by the staff of the Dutch Air Force.

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