The Dutch are well known for their love of aviation, so it should come as no surprise that they like a good airshow. For several decades the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu – Royal Netherlands Air Force) have held open days, now known as Luchtmachtdagen (Air Force Days), with hosting shared between their three main operational bases; Gilze-Rijen, Leeuwarden and Volkel. The last event was at Leeuwarden in 2016, which saw the first deployment of Dutch F-35A Lightning IIs to their homeland. The 2019 event took place at Volkel, home to two of the KLu’s F-16 squadrons, on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th June. Chris Wood reports for GAR.
Luchtmachtdagen is an opportunity for the Klu to showcase its capabilities to the Dutch people, and this was reflected in both the ground displays and the flying display. However it is much more than that, with the show attracting support from the air arms of a large number of countries around Europe, and some from further afield, as well as various, mostly Dutch, civilian organisations. For the aviation enthusiast, the show offered a broad spectrum of aviation, from civilian display teams, through warbirds, military helicopters, military display teams, military fast jets up to large transport aircraft.
The flying display started early and carried on all day, on both days. The highlight of the flying display occurred half way through with the Airpower Demonstration, which included most types in the KLu inventory. This was spearheaded by, what should have been, a pair of F-35As and ten F-16AMs, carrying out an airfield attack. The F-16s performed numerous passes with a prolific amount of flares.
The F-35As had arrived late in the evening of Thursday 13th, supported by a 334 Squadron KDC-10 and a USAF C-17A Globemaster III, having carried out a Global Strike mission from the Continental US (CONUS) – reportedly from NAS Patuxent River. The mission saw them deploy a number of weapons on the Cornfield Range at Vliehors. One aircraft carried special tail markings for the 70th anniversary of 323 Test and Evaluation Squadron, but unfortunately on the first show day it developed a technical problem, which numerous start attempts didn’t resolve (it eventually returned to CONUS a month later).
As well as the fighters, the Airpower Demo included a C-130H Hercules from 336 Squadron at Eindhoven, a pair of CH-47D Chinooks from 298 Squadron and a pair of AS532U2 Cougars from 300 Squadron, both based at Gilze-Rijen.
The Airpower Demonstration was followed by the Dutch equivalent of the Heritage Flight, showcasing past, present and future.
The flying display also featured a number of fast jet demonstrations, including a Spanish Eurofighter 2000, Danish and Belgian F-16s, an Italian T-346A as well as some privately owned jets: the Dutch Hawker Hunter Foundation Hunter F.6A, and the SAAB Draken and SAAB Viggen from the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight. The largest aircraft was the USAF C-17A that had supported the F-35A deployment, whilst the smallest were probably the Blackshape BS-100 Primes of Air Combat Europe.
The display featured three jet display teams; the Red Arrows, Patrouille de France and the Patrouille Suisse, which all performed their usual polished routines.
At the other end of the scale were the Belgian Air Component Red Devils with their SIAI Marchetti SF260s, the Fokker Four with their Fokker S-11 Instructors, plus the Blades with their Extra 300s and Team Raven with their Vans RV-8s.
The highlight of the static display was undoubtedly a pair of Greek F-4E (AUP) Phantoms from 338 Mira ‘Ares’ at Andravida, with one carrying special markings for Ares, the Greek god of war.
Dominating the western end of the airfield were a couple of large aircraft, notably a NATO E-3A Sentry and the first of eight Airbus A330 MRTTs for NATOs new Multi Role Tanker Transport fleet. The first five of these are planned to be based at Eindhoven and will replace the KLu’s KDC-10s.
Most of the static display aircraft were lined up along the main taxiway (which doubles as a secondary runway). Whilst this may not have been so good for the average visitor, it was a bonus for the photographer, allowing uncluttered shots of the aircraft. Most of the flying display aircraft were also parked on this taxiway, so they could easily be photographed. Aircraft were parked the full length of the taxiway, so it required a lot of walking to see everything!
As is common these days, the day before the show featured a Spotter’s Day organised by Spotting Group Volkel. This initiative was set up several years ago and achieves the double aims of preventing the area around the base becoming swamped with enthusiasts, whilst allowing the local enthusiast community a chance to get on base and watch the arrivals and practice activity close up. A win win!
On the day, in mid afternoon a large storm was approaching the area and during a lull in the activity the decision was made to finish the Spotter’s Day early. Arrangements were made with the local police to allow the enthusiasts to decamp to the outside, which proved beneficial as the sun had crossed the runway centreline!
The weather was mixed on the show days, with Friday starting cold and cloudy, then some rain before the skies cleared and the temperature soared. Saturday also saw a lot of cloud.
For a full list of participants, have a look here.
Luchtmachtdagen 2019 was an opportunity for the Dutch people to see what their Air Force does on a daily basis, with added extras, and there was plenty to see, provided you were willing to do some walking! The next Luchtmachtdagen is planned to take place at Gilze-Rijen, home of the Defence Helicopter Command, in 2021.