Frisian Flag, Leeuwarden AB, The Netherlands, April 2018
What is Frisian Flag and where is it held?
Frisian Flag is an exercise of NATO Nations to test their Air Combat Capabilities, to practise air tactics and procedures and improving their interoperability. It is hosted yearly, for two weeks by the Royal Netherlands Air Force (Koninklijke Luchtmacht – KLu) at their base Leeuwarden, Friesland, The Netherlands.
This year as with most years it coincides with the European Air Refuelling Training; this year Germany provided one Airbus A.310-MRTT from 1 FBS Köln, (Cologne) Germany and the United States Air Force provided KC-135 Tankers from their home base of RAF Mildenhall England. [MRTT stands for Multi-Role Tanker Transport]
2018 saw the KLu joined by the United States who sent twelve F-15C Eagles, six each from the 123rd Fighter Squadron, 142nd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard (ANG) and the 131st Fighter Squadron, 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts ANG. Germany sent eight EF2000’s (called Typhoons in the U.K.) from TLG-31 ‘Boelcke Jäger’ from Nörvenich AB and TLG-71 ‘Richthoven’ from Wittmundhafen, France five Mirage 2000D’s and eight Rafale B & C’s, Poland five F-16C and three MiG-29A’s, Spain had seven EF-18AM Hornets from their Ala (Squadron 15), the United Kingdom a lone Dassault DA-20 of Cobham Aviation Services. The KLu flew sixteen of their F-16’s from the Leeuwarden based 322 Squadron and visiting 312/313 Squadrons based at Volkel.
Also involved in the exercise would be a NATO/OTAN E-3A Sentry from the NATO air base E-3 component at Geilenkirchen in the west of Germany close to the Netherlands border.
This year together with Mark Rourke and Graham Bright we attended on week two of this exercise arriving just after lunchtime on the 17th April, Graham having driven through the night and into the new day. We arrived and in time to catch the tail end of the afternoon launch which amongst other aircraft included the French Mirage 2000D’s.
Having seen the aircraft launch we decided to switch ends of the runway to witness the recovery of all the aircraft taking part in the second part of the exercise of the day. We were not the only ones with this idea; in fact it would be safe to say that nearly ninety percent of those witnessing and photographing the afternoon launch had the same idea. Parking a car is difficult to say the least; fortunately the Dutch Police (Koninklijke Marechaussee / Politie) turn a bit of a blind eye to several ‘parking’ locations near to the base.
One of the first aircraft to land back was the Mikoyan MiG-29A’s of 23 BLT 1 elt of the Polish AF. The MiG-29A is powered by two KlimovRD-33 turbofans and is very easy to spot in the sky due to the large plume of black smoke coming from each engine exhaust.
Mikoyan MiG 29A turning a tight final approach at Leeuwarden AB
Having seen all the aircraft recover to Leeuwarden it was time for us three to head to the Hotel. We were lucky to get in to the Eurohotel www.eurohotel.nl about a ten minute drive from the air base, as you’d imagine it was very popular with Aviation Enthusiasts and Air Crew alike during the exercise period.
Day two (Wednesday) saw us up and away early to secure a parking spot in the farmers field open especially for all to view the aircraft involved in Frisian Flag. A KLu F-16C was the first up, this was the weather ship. Before anything else launches from the base a solo aircraft takes off to check the weather conditions at base, close to the base and then in the range / exercise area(s). Once that is complete the aircraft recovers to base and the exercise for the day can commence if the weather is within limits. We didn’t think there were going to be any problems as the temperature was rising, there was a crystal clear blue sky and things were looking good.
At 09:30 local time the first of the days exercise aircraft departed from Leeuwarden’s runway 23, most if not all using their afterburners to assist a smooth and safe climb to the exercise area. It took just over forty minutes to launch all the aircraft that morning and unlike a civil airfield the Military depart with only a few seconds interval between each aircraft.
Once the last aircraft had departed we once again decided to change ends of the runway to facilitate seeing the recovery of all the aircraft. This time we decided to park in the disused side of a Texaco petrol filling station on the N357 and opposite the Wok Paradijs Restaurant. Lunch was quite different for both Mark and I as we had Chicken cooked in a Satay sauce with a plate of chips each, Graham who is vegetarian had to contend with a plate of chips. Sadly not the best meal I’ve had to date.
Food done and replenished with water we walked down to the farmer’s field on the approach to runway 23. We didn’t have to wait too long before the aircraft started to once again recover to base. There were photographers everywhere you looked; in the days of 35mm roll film Kodak and other manufacturers would have had field day albeit very expensive for the photographers.
As the last aircraft landed we once again headed back to the 05 end and the farmer’s field, parking had cost us just 3€0 for all day (leave and return at will). We stayed by the car until it was time for the afternoon launch. Once again it took about forty minutes for all the aircraft to depart, then as before there was a mass exodus of enthusiasts back to the 23 end of the runway.
Mark, Graham and I headed for the purpose built “Spotters mound”. This is a large mound of earth made high enough to allow photography without getting the airfields perimeter fence in the shot. For us it was time to get a few shots of the aircraft once they had landed and were taxiing back to their relevant ramps or shelters.
EF 2000 of TLG-71 Luftwaffe
Rafale ‘C’ of EC 03.030 French AF
F-15C 123rd FS 142nd FW OR ANG F-15C 131st FS 104th FW MA ANG
After the recovery on Thursday afternoon it was time to bid farewell to Leeuwarden but not before we’d tried to find what we call a couple of Wrecks & Relics on base. From Google Earth we could ‘see’ both the MiG-21 and our goal the Su-20 which appeared to be to the side of one of the technical buildings on the airfield. Alas no matter how we tried, there was no way to see either of these aircraft. The MiG-21 is preserved well inside the base and the Su-20 is now hidden by a huge mound of earth due to the construction works in that area. However we did see what looked very much like a Spitfire and we are still trying to identify it.
In all including our brief stops at some museums on the way to Tilburg and subsequent to that night stop I took somewhere in the region of 3,200 pictures. The task now is to edit these and add them to the gallery here on the website.
Part two of this journey will continue taking in our visits to Tilburg, Gilze-Rijen, Best, Eindhoven, Weert, Seppe, Zwijnaarde (Gent) and Wetteren, Belgium