Finals of the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon B-Training Course at NAS Key West
Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Airmen and personnel from Morris Air National Guard Base, Arizona traveled to Naval Air Station Key West, April 27, 2022, for a training event of two weeks with the last Dutch student pilots of the B course.
This temporary assignment satisfied the over-water and cross-aircraft training required by the RNLAF student pilot course curriculum.
“Since we’re only flying over land in Tucson, our altitude awareness is really good,” RNLAF detachment commander Lt. Col. Joost Luijsterburg said in the article Farewell tour: Dutch finish overwater F- 16 training over Florida coast, by Tech. sergeant. George Keck, 162nd Wing. “Each class goes to a place to fly over the water and give them a different perspective.”
When flying over open water, there are no ground references such as cars, buildings, and terrain to determine altitude. This training is crucial to prepare students for their return to the Netherlands where most flights take place over the Atlantic Ocean.
“Two of our students ended up much lower in altitude than they thought,” Luijsterburg said.
The other goal for student pilots is to see the hard work of deploying various personnel assets as a cohesive unit, Luijsterburg said. As an example, Luijsterburg said the student pilots were surprised to learn that their maintenance crew had brought a spare aircraft engine, in case of an emergency.
The 162nd Logistics Readiness Squadron coordinated the TDY with the 161st Air Refueling Wing and with the 107th Airlift Wing to provide a KC-135 Stratotanker and a C-17 Globemaster III, respectively, for smooth movement of personnel and round trip equipment to the West NAS key.
The 148th Fighter Squadron brought six of its own F-16 Fighting Falcons from Morris ANGB to fly against the F-18 Super Hornets.
“In Tucson, the students didn’t have the opportunity to fight against different aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Wittke, commander of the 148th Fighter Squadron. “When we fight a different platform with different abilities, it changes things up a bit. It is one of the best courses you can take as a young lieutenant.
This trip is also significant as it is the last Dutch F-16B course to graduate before completing his contract and returning to his home country.
“It’s a big deal and a bittersweet thing,” Wittke said.
After a 32-year partnership, this is the last TDY the RNLAF will participate in as part of the 148th Fighter Squadron before returning to the Netherlands.
“I was a student in the 148th Fighter Squadron myself in 1991,” Luijsterburg said. “That was 31 years ago and now I will close this unit in a few months. It’s the end of an era, I guess you could say.
The Dutch were the first in a long line of foreign partners to train at Morris ANG Base. On average, they flew 2,000 hours a year and graduated four student pilots every nine months.
“I will be sad to see them go,” Wittke said. “They’ve been one of our best partners. They’re still in the fight with us and that loyalty I find incredibly inspiring.
According to Janes, the RNLAF needs to procure at least 46 F-35As (37 of which are on order) to replace its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons.
The service declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the F-35A at the end of December 2021. For the RNLAF, the IOC means that four aircraft are available for expeditionary missions for a period of three to four months. The service is expected to declare full operational capability for the type in 2024.
The RNLAF announced on 12 January that along with the last of 24 F-35As now delivered to 322 Squadron from Leeuwarden Air Base, the first aircraft from 313 Squadron also began arriving at Volkel Air Base.
In October 2019, the Dutch Ministry of Defense announced that it would be setting up a third operational squadron for the F-35A, although it did not state its intended location.
U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. sergeant. Georges Keck