A televised ceremony on the northerly Dutch airbase of Leeuwarden among a selection of VIP’s, guests, press, personnel and guards. Clear skies with an Autumn sun, what could go wrong..?
“She flies like a razor” said 322 Squadron Commander Ian “Gladys” Knight, who flew in the brand new 5th generation fighter jet for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF): the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning ll.
“A wonderful experience to have done so, as well as arriving in a special legacy formation” after the ferry flight from the Leonardo plant in Cameri, Italy. “But being sprayed with foam was a bit of a surprise of course… But it saw me use my helmet in a way I’ve never used it before!”
After the morning flights saw the final missions flown of exercise Fighter Weapons Instructor Training (FWIT) it was time to check in at the main gate.
As a member of the press I received an F-35-shaped USB stick as a present with some factsheets loaded on it. Nice to meet up with some familiar faces again but also meeting some in the flesh for once!
Heading out in vans it was a tight fit but we all got to go (of course). A lot of security everywhere with a roadblock check and many guards and patrol dogs. Since it was pretty brisk out we could go in a large tent to stay warm and have some coffee or tea.
The spectators area looked like a weird with rooftops over the grandstands? They must have thought about the typical Dutch weather that wasn’t as such but not so great during the fly-bys… ‘Swing and a miss’ I’d say.
Luckily the press could stand next to those, though tucked in a corner a bit. When we fanned out towards the front of the air force musical tent officials split us up to both sides. Not I could go for a great head-on view!
During the speech of Air Force Commander Lt.-gen. Dennis Luyt one of the big yellow Crash tenders went away in a hurry. I heard over a radio scanner that a RNLAF F-16 pilot got smoke in his cockpit and had to come in for an emergency landing. Something the fire department had to give priority to over a water salute of a plane that wasn’t coming in yet anyway.
Luckily the Pilot from a Volkel based squadron landed safely without much trouble. But in case of a fire it would best be put out with foam. So the crew in that crash tender selected it….. and never switched it back for the water salute.
Then came the overhead formation fly-bys - one consisting of a special formation with the F-35, an F-16, Hawker Hunter and Spitfire – it was indeed hard to see for those on the stands… Also hard to shoot being amidst a lot of visual obstacles. But luckily I got me some great shots!
So taxiing through the water cannon arch the brand new fighter jet got doused with fire retardant foam and “Gladys” couldn’t see out of the window. Luckily he could use his tricked out helmet and special optical sensors on the aircraft to still see the marshaller and his surroundings. Something he hasn’t done before.
Sometimes the simplest mistake can have big consequences. Of course it was but a human error, in the heat of the moment and all that. It now seems though that the Lightning ll needs at least a full inspection for any corrosion from the foam. The stuff is great for putting out aircraft fires but terrible for certain aircraft components. The RNLAF is in contact with manufacturer Lockheed Martin to find out if there are any consequences.
Just like right after a Formula 1 race ends the crowds swarm to get up close! As I later found out this wasn’t supposed to happen like that and there was a short moment of panic with officials and guards. But soon enough the press got up front of the crowd for interviews and to get the best shots and a black ribbon on poles was set up as a boundary limit.
Sure enough most people scattered towards the party tent as the F-35 was pushed back for a hose-down with water. Another pilot got in the seat to power up the engine for it had sucked in some of the foam too and needed a rinse. A great photo opportunity before we had to leave again as the sun was setting.
Many thanks to the Koninklijke Luchtmacht, Vliegbasis Leeuwarden and all who made my attendance possible!