Trip Report: Holland 2016

The Dutch are famed for their love of aviation and Luchtmachtdagen (Air Force Day) is a great way to see the Royal Netherlands Air Force in action. Two members of the South West Aviation Photographers team flew out from Bristol to Amsterdam-Schiphol to attend the event at the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) base at Leeuwarden, and take in a few other aviation related visits as well.

The flight out on the Thursday with KLM Cityhopper gave us both our first trip in the Embraer 195, which was a great aircraft. Once we’d landed and gone through customs etc our first stop on our journey north was the Luchtvaart Hobby Shop. Inside this ‘aviation megastore’ we found the cockpit of a Douglas C-47A, a Dutch registered flexwing hanging from the ceiling and an immaculate PZL TS-11 Iskra, a Polish jet trainer,  in Indian Air Force markings. Also, in the car park of an industrial unit around the corner, we also found the nose section of a Fokker F28-1000 Fellowship.

Next up was the Luchtvaartmuseum Aviodrome at Lelystad. This museum is a must for any aviation enthusiast traveling in the area. Centering on Dutch aviation right through the ages, highlights of the museum include an ex KLM Boing 747-206B(M)(SUD), one of a small number of preserved Jumbo’s within Europe, and a Beech 18 which featured in the James Bond Film Octopussy.

After stopping off to see a few more wrecks and relics whilst heading to Groningen we checked into our hotel, ready for the main event the next day.

Friday saw the first of two days spent at Leeuwarden and the first encounter with the main reason for our visit, the RNLAF’s Lockheed Martin F-35A. Two F-35s were over from Edwards Air Force Base in the USA to conduct operational test and evaluation, including environmental noise testing at both Leeuwarden and Volkel Air Bases, the proposed future home of the F-16 replacement. During the three week stay the RNLAF also made the most of the publicity opportunity, with Luchtmachtdagen being the highlight. In keeping with any military airshow across the globe Luchtmachtdagen is a key recruiting tool for the Dutch military, with every aircraft type operated by the home nation featured apart from the Gulfstream 4. With no less than twenty-two different F-16 airframes being present including J-066, known as ‘Orange Jumper’ from the test and evaluation unit on static display. Highlight of any Luchtmachtdagen is the role power demonstration. Featuring no less than ten F-16s the role demonstrations were certainly kinetic, with multiple low fast passes and plenty of flares. With this being the European debut of the F-35 the gathered crowds were waiting in anticipation to see how they would perform and they wouldn’t be disappointed. The two F-35A’s were on a par with the F-16s in every sense: noise, agility, energy and even launching a few flares. The role demo on the Friday varied slightly to Saturday’s in that it incorporated the hand over from the outgoing Chief of Air Staff to the incoming Chief of Air Staff for the RNLAF. Saturday’s role demo included a ground element similiar to that expected of Yeovilton’s Commando Assault Finale. As well as the role demonstration the F-35s also took part in formation flypasts with no less than seven F-16s and later in the day with a Spitfire and F-16.

Saturday we returned to Leeuwarden for much of the same. However, the weather was slightly wetter than the Friday. With clouds and rain showers rolling in off the North Sea it certainly made for challenging conditions, both photographically and for the pilots. For what was in all intents and purposes a Dutch Air Force PR and recruitment event it had a very strong international presence, with participants from as far away as the United States of America and Turkey. Of note were a pair of Italian Air Force M346 trainers on static display and the Austrian Air Force PC-7 display. A plethora of national display teams were also present at Luchtmachtdagen with the Royal Air Force Aerobatics Team, The Red Arrows, the French Air Force Patrouille Acrobatique de France, the Italian Air Force 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico, Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (PAN) Frecce Tricolori all in attendance for at least one of the two days. Also present was the Turkish Air Force’s Turkish Stars who have a connection with the RNLAF in that all of their F-5s were actually purchased from the Dutch military. The Swiss Air Force Patrouille Suisse were also present with their F-5s but sadly due to an incident during a display practice on the Thursday leading up to the airshow they were unable to take part.

Sunday we headed home, but not before ticking off some more wrecks and relics and a visit to the excellent Nationaal Militair Museum at Soesterberg. The museum has recently undergone a major renovation with plenty of interactive exhibits and aircraft hung from the ceiling, the whole museum had a similar feeling to the RAF Museum at Cosford’s Cold War Museum.

After check-in at Schiphol we even managed to get a bit of time up on the roof terrace where a number of airlines and aircraft that wouldn’t be easily seen in the UK were sighted. In fact it’s worth mentioning that on our arrival four days earlier the Air Atlanta Icelandic Boeing 747-428 (registration TF-AAK and better known as Ed Force One) was present; this is the aircraft charted by UK rock group Iron Maiden and routinely flown by front man Bruce Dickinson, a qualified airline pilot, as the band were playing in Arnhem during our stay.

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at the Royal Netherlands Air Force for making this article possible.

Report by Matt Sudol & Gary Morris

© South West Aviation Photographers 2016