Royal Netherlands Air Force Open Days


16 and 17 June 2006




Leeuwarden, one of the two active fighter bases left in the Netherlands was the stage for the annual Open days of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. An annual event, this year's show promised to be something special. The organisers had managed to attract the US navy's demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels. The days before the show weekend, throngs of enthousiasts gathered around the perimeter fence. Bad weather on the Thursday gave way to at least dry conditions on the Friday followed by glorious sunshine on the Saturday. 


The static display was a bit smaller than usual, but that is little wonder considering the many drawdowns throughout Europe lately. Nevertheless, these Eastern European mounts were welcome sights. Above, a Polish MiG.29 with markings commemorating it's service over the Baltics the previous winter could be seen next to a brand new Czech Air Force JAS-39C Gripen that has now taken over from obsolete MiG.21MF's.

The Eurofighter Typhoon, or EF.2000 if you will, made an interesting comparison right next to one of the other two Eurocanards, the Gripen. A French Rafale would have made the trio complete, but this type has been firmly overtaken by even the Typhoon when it comes to service deliveries.

The flying display kicked off around 10, with a demonstration by Fokker S.11 trainers; as usual early in the program historic aircraft could be viewed. As always, the popular Supermarine Spitfire Mk.9 from the KLu Historic Flight, flown by ex F-16 jock Berry Macco, gave a fine display.

During the earliest part as well, the P-51D Mustang from the Dutch Mustang Flight and flown by Tom Karst van der Meulen from Leleystad appeared. Christended Damn Yankee, this is quite an immaculate aeroplane

Of the many aerobatic teams at Leeuwarden, a number deserve some attention. These pair of Alpha Jets from the Portuguese Air Force form the new incarnation of Asas de Portugal (Wings of Portugal). During the eighties, this team from Esc 102 at Sintra flew six Cessna T-37C's but was disbanded with the retirement of the T-37. With sufficient Alpha Jets now available through the introduction of more F-16's, Asas de Portugal have been reinstated with these two jets plus at least two in reserve. They fly a very interesting set of formation and opposition manoeuvres. 

The Finnish Air Force's Midnight Hawks are in a somewhat different catagory. They are standard issue Hawk Mk.51 trainers in their normal grey colourscheme. Nevertheless, they put up a display with some accurate formation flying. Like the Portuguese above, it was their first display in the Netherlands. 

How do you cope with a 2,5 km long runway if you want to demonstrate a Search and Rescue operation? Simple, you do it simultaneously with a pair of helicopters. When it was all said and done, this shot could be made of the pair of Leeuwarden based AB.412SP helicopters from 303 sq. Not a sight one would usually see.

Captain Gert Jan Vooren was his usual self flying display-sprayed F-16AM J-055. Liberal use of afterburner, smoke and sometimes even flares coupled with a spirited display more than makes up for the lack of a full multi-jet demonstration team in the KLu. 

The same can be said of this Spanish Air Force EF-18A Hornet. A standard squadron jet from Zaragoza's Ala 15 was luck to fly in the still moist air over Leeuwarden which resulted in this beautiful vortex streaming from the jet's strakes during the Hornet's climb to altitude. 

Another act to benefit from the moist air was this F-15E Strike Eagle. Like the Blue Angels, this team had come over from the USA especially for the event, although the jet flown was from RAF Lakenheath's 48 Fighter Wing. The Strike Eagle demo team was only formed late in 2005 and to have this team in a KLu display programme certainly was very welcome. Even more so when one consideres that the narration was done by Dutch speaking Capt. Gerry van Dyke from Paramaribo, Suriname! In this view, the F-15E can be seen in a tight turn to the right with condensed water vapour streaming from it's wings.

Then, the moment came. The final act of 2006's KLu airshow. Each Blue Angels display is preceded by a display by their supporting C-130 Hercules. This C-130T is seen here taking off with the aid of a set of solid fuelled rockets, producing not only extra thrust but some extra noise and an acrid smell as well. Unfortunately, these JATO take-offs will be a thing of the past soon, as the rockets are no longer being produced.

The Blue Angels display concluded Leeuwarden's Open Days for 2006. Equipped with front line jets instead of advanced trainers like the European teams, the Blue Angels show is completely different from their European counterparts. The British Red Arrows concentrate on an aerial ballet with their nine small Hawk trainers, as do others like the French Patrouille de France. The Blues on the other hand fly front line F/A-18 Hornet fighters and demonstrate the raw power of this type of aircraft, along with some precision formation flying. Both require equal pilot skills and are fun to watch and photograph though..

The organisers of the KLu Open Days can be proud of a well organised air show, including the only Blue Angels appearance outside of the United States this year. Let's see what Volkel brings with KLu Open Days 2007.

All pictures (c) Hans Rolink