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A Centralized Training; Gilze-Rijen, June 18-23, 2014

Operation Air Support 2014, part 1; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

The Royal Netherlands Air Force has undergone some drastic cutbacks and reorganizations in the last twelve years. One of those cutbacks is the centralization of all the air force training facilities at Woensdrecht Air Base. The advanced training of the aspiring pilots is also conducted in a joint training in the United States.

Nowadays, the Dutch military defense is a modern organization which functions as a large modern company. This also applies to the Royal Netherlands Air Force which is continuously ready to deliver airpower wherever in the world and when needed. The military balance in Europe was changing drastically in the recent years. Drastic cutbacks in fund were made on the defense organization, because of the economic problems. Communistic regimes were overthrown in Eastern Europe and the Berlin wall fell on November 9, 1989. The Soviet Union, which was considered as the enemy fell apart. As of July 1, 1991, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved and the Cold War was ended. Many things would change after this period for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. During this power shift in the world new enemies would arise and old enemies would become allies. The change in this situation has caused a lot of material in Europe was repelled and military fleets were shrunk. The big Dutch F-16 fleet went back to a small fleet of 68 aircraft. There would change a lot in this period, also in the current transport fleet. The large amount of types was reduced to a number of basic types in order to reduce costs. There were several major cuts in the current helicopter fleet during these cutbacks. The Cougars will all be replaced by the NH90 in the coming years. These reforms make the current Air Force compact and more mobile. Today, small units must be able to move quickly to crisis areas in the world and need to be able to act quickly and accurate.

Nowadays the Training and Education Department of the Royal Netherlands Air Force consists of four squadrons which provide the training, these units are; the no 130, no 131, no 132 and no 133 squadron. The no 131 Squadron is responsible for the Elementary Military Pilot training using the Pilatus PC-7. However, the continuing of aspiring pilots takes mainly place in the United States. The Dutch Air Force is using the PC-7 since 1989 for the training of its pilots. In total, thirteen aircraft of this type

were purchased and all aircraft are stationed at Woensdrecht Air Base. These aircraft were originally painted in a bright yellow white and red color scheme, but research by TNO has shown that these planes are better seen in Dutch airspace with a dark black color scheme. Later it was decided to use this dark color scheme from safety point of view. The aspiring pilots learn with this aircraft all the basic elements of flying such as takeoff and landing, basic maneuvers, dealing with the Dutch air traffic control and flight instruments. Especially landing the aircraft is by students seen as one of the most difficult operations with an aircraft. The students make many practice landings with the PC-7 at airfields like Gilze-Rijen, Eindhoven and Volkel to train these skills. In the future, in the reformed air force structure, Woensdrecht Air Base will remain the main training base of the Dutch Air Force. The airfield is in addition to the pilot training also used for the training of ground crew.

When the aspiring pilots have passed the basic flight training, they will move to the United States to pursue their training on the F-16 or one of the of helicopter types of the air force. The advanced pilot training for the Dutch Air force was started in the nineties. The conversion training was given in Tucson Arizona. The IQT was in the Netherlands assigned to the no 313 Squadron at Twenthe Air Base and from 2001 to the no 306 Squadron at Volkel Air base. The training in Tucson was stopped in April 2007 when the no 306 Squadron moved from Volkel to Springfield Ohio. The conversion to the F-16 and the IQT training was combined into one training package at Springfield. The pilots who were assigned to the F-16 program went to Springfield Ohio between 2007 and 2010. The NDSO (Netherlands Detachment Springfield Ohio) was at that time the main F-16 training unit of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. This airbase was closed in 2010 by the American government and the unit had therefore to move to another location. Nowadays the training of the Dutch F-16 pilots is provided by the Arizona Air National Guard which operates from Tucson International Airport. The 162nd Fighter Wing is based at this ANG base which consists of the 148th FS, the 152nd FS and the 195th FS. The Dutch program is assigned to the 148th Fighter Squadron. The unit is recognizable with the badge of the former no 306 Squadron at the tails of the aircraft. There are about 70 F-16s based at Tucson. The Royal Netherlands Air Force has for the training task fourteen F-16s at this airbase.

Airmen assigned in the Netherlands to one of the helicopter types will leave to Ford Hood in Texas USA. The Dutch work at this base was started in 1996 in corporation with the 21st Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat) of the US Army. A permanent detachment of the Dutch training department is based here since 1998 to train the Dutch Apache pilots. The unit which is founded at that moment is called the Joint Netherlands Training Detachment. This combined training includes not only the training of the Apache pilots, but also that of the ground staff. The unit received eight AH-64D Apache helicopters of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. These helicopters will remain permanently in the United States. From 2013, the unit will also operate three new CH-47F Chinook transport helicopters. The unit will also provide the training for the Dutch Chinook pilots. On November 25, 2013, the Joint Netherlands Training Detachment was renumbered to the no 302 Squadron. This change of name says the unit is a part of the Dutch Air Force, because it has now a Dutch number. The new no 302 Squadron continues the tradition of the squadron which was temporarily active in Bosnia with Allouettes and which had the first AH-64D Apache helicopters operationally deployed in Djibouti. The no 302 Squadron is also part of the Defense Helicopter Command. The area around Fort Hood is many times larger compared with it in the Netherlands and the unit offers therefore unique training opportunities.

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