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The F-35 is Exploring the Netherlands; Leeuwarden, June 10, 2016

De Luchtmachtdagen 2016, part 2; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

After many political discussions the two Dutch F-35s had finally landed on Dutch soil were in May 2016. The Royal Netherlands Air Force flew a Campagne in the Netherlands to get the people familiarized with this new type of aircraft. The perception flights were flown and the F-35s participated in Dutch Air Force Days.

On Thursday, June 2nd there was an introductory flight on the program for the F-35. The purpose of this flight was to introduce the F-35 to residents of the Netherlands. This entire operation would manifest as a genius PR stunt of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The F-35s would make an extensive sightseeing tour along typical Dutch landscapes, famous buildings and the main air force locations in the country. The new fighter would visit the Delta Works in Zeeland, the windmills of Kinderdijk and the city center of Amsterdam. Above all these locations the combat aircraft was guided by an F-16 with a photographer on board. The flight was also the first opportunity for the general public to see the F-35 over their country. The aircraft flew over the country at an altitude of 1,200 feet (400 m). At military airfields in the Netherlands, the F-35 would fly a lot lower. The flight of June 2 was finally officially canceled due to the weather in the Netherlands. However, the two F-35s visited Woensdrecht Air Base and Gilze-Rijen Air base on this day. Eventually the flight has been carried out on Tuesday, June 7th in the late afternoon. The weather in the Netherlands was improved and the flight was eventually flown on this day. One of the F-35s took off from Leeuwarden together with the F-16 to fly the route through the Netherlands.

During the Dutch Air Force Open House (Luchtmachtdagen) the two Dutch F-35s would be the absolute stars of the show. Partly due to the appearance of these two aircraft, the number of spectators which visited the airshow had broken all records. In total, more than 280,000 visitors saw several demonstrations in the air and on the ground. The number of visitors in 2016 surpassed the peak year 2014 (245,000 interested). Friday was a very busy day with more than 110,000 visitors. At noon the request was given via the Dutch radio to not come by car to Leeuwarden, because the parking lots were full. On Saturday morning at 10.00 am the request to not come to the Luchtmachtdagen was given again due to the huge amount of people. Eventually more

than 170,000 visitors enjoyed the many exhibitions, static shows and the airshow. The two F-35s were flying during the airshow. The Netherlands was the world's first country which showed the aircraft as the partner of the USA to the general public. The two F-35s would fly along during the famous Air Power Demo which is annually flown during these days. During this demonstration the Royal Netherlands Air Force shows with great power how the different defense components work together in a crisis situation. The two F-35s first taxied along the public over the entire length of the runway. After their take-off they would carry out a simulated base attack together with ten F-16s; the F-35 really showed what it could do. It was immediately clear that the F-35 is a very powerful aircraft. During the start the afterburner is automatically disabled because otherwise the aircraft accelerates too quickly and the main landing gear will be ripped off from the aircraft.

In addition to the introduction of the F-35 in the Netherlands, more happened in this program. Norway and the Netherlands decided to create a weapons instructor course for the F-35 development as a successor to the existing FWIT (F-16 Weapon Instructor Training) program. At the beginning of May this was noted in a mutual agreement. Weapons instructor schools are extremely important for pilots and are a heritage from the early days of aviation. Quality, knowledge and skills in tactics, weapons deployment and aircraft technology are part of the course material. Pilots who will fly during this training will become the best in their profession. As weapons instructor they learn their knowledge and skills to colleagues within their own squadron. This not only increases the quality of these pilots, but also the foundation in made for a unique way of standardization. A Norwegian and Dutch F-35 weapons instructor course is not very surprising. Both countries have since more than 30 years combined experience of a similar FWIT training. The weapons instructor course for the F-35 is built on a new generation of high-quality pilots for 5th generation fighters. After several very successful test weeks in the Netherlands and this agreement with Norway, the two F-35s would leave the country again on June 14, 2016. Both planes departed on Tuesday shortly after the Open Days from Leeuwarden Air Base around 10 am. The two test aircraft flew back to the United States to their current home Edwards AFB.

The three-week stay in the Netherlands did not pass unnoticed. And that was the idea, because the Royal Netherlands Air Force conducted a brilliant PR campaign in the country. The two aircraft made on May 26, the so-called perception flights for the residents of Leeuwarden and Volkel to experience the sound of the new warplane. Also the successor to the F-16 flew different training flights above the Netherlands. Most controversial was the PR sightseeing flight over the Netherlands on June 7. This flight moved thousands of people across the country to catch a sight on the new aircraft. On June 9 and 10, were more than 280,000 visitors present during the Open House of the air force when the F-35s participated in a spectacular simulated attack at Leeuwarden Air Base. All in all it was a successful operation for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The perception flights and the introduction to the Netherlands went well. Also on logistics and operational level, the Royal Netherlands Air Force has learned a lot from the temporary relocation of the two F-35s to the Netherlands. During the return flight to the United States, the two F-35s were accompanied by two Dutch KDC-10 tanker aircraft. What remains in the Netherlands is the memory of a special visit and a lot of experience with the new Dutch fighter. In the United States the F-35 test and evaluation phase will continue. The first F-35s which will be based in the Netherlands will be stationed at Leeuwarden Air Base in 2019. Volkel Air Base will follow later in the program. Eventually Volkel will be the largest F-35 airbase.

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