Each year the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Koninklijke Luchtmacht hold an Air Force open day called Luchtmachtdagen. The event, which is free to enter, is rotated amongst a number of bases and 2014 sees it return to Glize Rijen. Adam Duffield and Jamie Ewan were there for AeroResource.
Over the years the RNLAF open days have become a popular choice of event to attend for UK enthusiasts thanks to the help of budget airline travel and the chance of seeing some different display items that tend not to make it to UK shores. Glize Rijen is situated approximately 30 minutes drive to the west of Eindhoven and easily accessible for anyone planning to travel. On top of this, the runway and display line layout means that photography conditions are very favourable providing the weather conditions cooperate.
For 2014, the show had a theme of Air Support Operations, Operatie Luchtsteun, and there were plenty of examples relating to the role of the RNLAF around the world. Entering the show through one of two Sky Gates, large marque like structures that funnel you through an audio/visual display projected onto the walls, the expanse of the show ground is quick to see. The static display aircraft were mostly based within the central area of the show running at 90 degrees away from the main crowd and display lines. The main taxiway was utilised to house a number of fast jets and transport aircraft whilst the ground to the side was used for rotary and light aircraft. Also present was a large area sectioned off as a mock Forward Operating base housing a pair of CH-47 Chinooks and a trio of AH-64 Apaches along with tents and vehicles showing the non-aviation aspects of such a base. Off to the sides and walking down a tree lined taxiway led visitors past a number of HAS sites buried into the trees. Each of these had a separate display inside, often including an airframe of some type, to demonstrate the roles. These varied from showing the work that the force is involved with in Mali, Somalia and Afghanistan to aircraft maintenance and fire fighting roles undertaken. Simply walking around all these display areas would take almost a day in itself such is the vast quantity on offer.
Aircraft in the static display included some very special items that the show did well to attract. Of particular note was a pair of Turkish Air Force F-4E Phantoms (73-1020 and 73-1046) from 112 Filo at Eskisehir whose crews were overwhelmed by the response their participation had gathered. Next to them were two MiG-29 aircraft with an example from the Polish Air Force (4110) and Slovak Air Force (5304) who also provided a Let L-410 (2718) for static. Other fixed wing military assets included a special scheme French Navy Xingu (67), French Air Force Mirage 2000D (613/133-MO), German Air Force Tornado IDS (45+57) and a Royal Navy Avenger T1 (ZZ503). A number of civilian operated aircraft were also present such as an Aero L-39 (ES-TLE), Tony De Bruyns new OV-10 Bronco (G-ONAA/99+18), Blackshape Prime (I-X010) carrying Italian Roundels amongst many. Military rotary assets were numerous despite the cancellation of the US Army Lakotas that were due to attend. The German Army provided a pair of bright special schemed Bolkow BO-105s (86+28 and 86+49) along with an EC-135 (82+65), the Polish Air Force sent a PZL SW-4 Puszczyk (6608) and the Royal Navy also supplied a Sea King HU5 (ZA137) from 771 NAS at Culdrose.
With plenty to see around the airfield, an impressive air display line-up spanning over 7 hours of flying gave few gaps to explore. The flying programme for both days was very similar with few alterations made and was mostly split with all fast jet action taking place in the afternoon leaving the majority of warbird, formation and helicopter displays in the morning and the epic airfield assault taking place during the middle of the day. Be it deliberate or not, the positioning of the main fast jet demonstrations later in the day meant that any sunlight available would be from the best possible position for the photographer to enjoy.
The Fokker Four team flying their Fokker S-11 trainer aircraft may not appeal to many as one of the most exciting formation display teams however, despite the aircrafts limited abilities, the team managed to keep a very close and interesting display running that was well executed, particularly the ‘three in a row’ formation loops with each of the four aircraft following each other down the display line. Operated by the Royal Netherlands Historical Flight, Stichting Koninklijke Luchtmacht Historische Vlucht, another formation display was that of the de Havilland Beaver MkI (S-9/PH-DHC) along with a pair of Harvards (B-64/PH-LSK and B-182/PH-TBR). A much more restrained display it was less dynamic than many of the others however the formation remained tight throughout.
Representing local warbirds were three of the most well known types. From the Historic Flight, Spitfire MkIX (3W-17/PH-OUQ) and North American Aviation B-25N Mitchell (232511/PH-XXV) joined up to perform a formation routine along with solo displays although the Mitchell appeared to cut short its Sunday appearance for unknown reasons. Another North American Aviation type, P-51D Mustang (474425/PH-PSI) ‘Damn Yankee’ also performed a solo display which plenty of the stereotypical ‘mustang howl’ resounding around the airfield.
Also present was the privately operated PBY-5 Catalina (16-218/PH-PBY). In a nice silver scheme with large Dutch roundels present it stood out against the cloudy skies with a number of passes in various configurations of landing gear and floats.
The Dutch Coastguard Dornier Do.228 (PH-CGN) display was impressive given the aircraft type. With two in service they carry civil registrations but are crewed by military personnel who during the display performed some very tight turns and high bank angles.
There was a heavy focus on rotary displays throughout the weekend with a number of varying types being shown. Celebrating 50 years of service and providing a Search and Rescue demonstration was a flight of three Aérospatiale Alouette III helicopters (A-275, A-292 and A-301) from 300 Sqn based at Glize Rijen. Primarily now used in the VIP transport role, the flying display was not the only celebration of the anniversary with a separate ground display tent charting the history of the type. These three aircraft were also seen airborne behind the crowd throughout the day providing a video and photography platform. Another Alouette III (3E-LC), this time from the Austrian Air Force, was also present performing a more lively solo demonstration than its Dutch counterparts despite the limitations of the ageing design.
Two further SAR demos took place representing much newer rotary platforms that are utilised in the role. The Belgian Air Force showed an example of their Sea King Mk48 (RS04) that has provided their SAR capability for many years. The fleet carries a distinctive colour scheme that is easily seen however the current fleet is down to three aircraft as the type is phased out and replaced by the latest in SAR platforms – the NHIndustries NH-90. Whilst the Belgians had an example on static display, the RNLAF also operate the type and provided their own SAR demo (N-277) along with display some of the qualities that make it a very capable ship borne helicopter.
From Germany, an indigenous designed helicopter from Bolkow, the BO-105 (86+70), from the Army provided a rare display of the type which this particular airframe sporting a large German flag motif one each side along with the standard camouflage scheme. The local forces of 298 Sqn and 300 Sqn flying CH-47 Chinooks and Eurocopter AS.532 Cougars, provided a demonstration of their fire fighting roles with the underslung ‘Bambi Bucket’ being used to drop water in front of the crowd with two pairs of each type involved in the demo.
Of all the rotary displays however, that of Patrulla Aspa may well have been most anticipated by many. The team fly five Eurocopter EC-120 ‘Hummingbird’ helicopters which are piloted by instructors from the force. With distinctive colour schemes and smoke ability provided from the exhaust system the majority of the display was a masterpiece of precision, especially the four-ship pirouette that spreads to allow the fifth helicopter to fly and climb through the centre. However, the display is let down towards the end where two particular repositions for crowd facing breaks create significant gaps in the fluidity of the show. With the commentator also silent during these periods, it was only the background music that filled the odd silence, which left the crowd searching for the small machines in the distance.
Saturday of the show saw two unique displays that were only performed once. The first was a simulated QRA intercept of an Arkefly Boeing 787 (PH-TFK). With the Q-Jets launching with full burner a few minutes later the 787 was escorted over the airfield by a separate set of F-16s that had launched and rendezvoused earlier on. As the escorts peeled away, the 787 treated the crowed to a further couple of passes including a wheels down low approach. The second display was a formation flypast involving the tri-hole jet combination of KLM MD-11 (PH-KCE) and RNLAF KDC-10 (T-235). Whilst many were maybe expecting the two to arrive together, they followed in distant line astern. Only a single pass was made by the KDC-10, which now carries special markings on the tail, however the MD-11 continued for another two passes before landing at the airfield with an incredibly short landing stopping at the midpoint of the runway and taxiing in to face the crowd. KLM are due to phase out the type later in the year and this was potentially the last chance to see the aircraft at a show. At the end of the show the aircraft returned to Schipol, with a group of sick/disabled children being taken along with their families for a treat – a really nice gesture from the company that has started to become a tradition at these shows.
Whilst vintage jet types are comparatively rare compared with their prop driven counterparts, the Dutch Hunter F6 (N-294/G-KAXF) mode than made it’s presence known. One of the highlights of the show, the Hunter was flown around the skies at what seemed like almost constant full power with plenty of ‘blue note’ noise present and tight turns minimising repositioning. An amazingly impressive display, that would be more than welcomed in the UK by enthusiasts.
The Czech Air Force sent an Aero L-159 Alca (6054)for the flying display from 212 Taktická Letka based at Caslav. The display was seen at a few shows in the UK during 2013 and for this year still retains the high and distant routine that often sees it disappear into the clouds and lost from sight.
Representing the RAF was two of the most well known acts from Britain. The BBMF were present on both days with their Avro Lancaster (PA474) and a pair of Spitfires (Mk LFIXe MK356 and PRXIX PS815). With the usual formation routine carried out with all three aircraft, the crowd on Friday were treated to the tail chase fighter routine that then changed to the opposition routine on the second day. Celebrating their 50th display season, the Red Arrows performed to their usual high standard although cloud levels restricted both days displays to the rolling show until mid-way through. The Friday display saw Red 1 fly a non-smoking jet due to technical issues with his usual aircraft that saw it remain in the UK, although thankfully it was delivered late on Friday to complete the smoking 9-ship. Seeing both displays representing the country abroad was a real privilege with the Dutch crowd filling the grass at the front of the viewing area and standing in appreciation with large rounds of applause for them showing just how well loved they are.
Often seen at shows around Europe the Dutch F16 solo display was present along with its Apache solo counterpart. The Apache opened the display segment with the brightly liveried demo aircraft demonstrating the rolling ability of the type along with plenty of flare action – more so on the Saturday after Fridays flare releases were constrained by wind direction. Following completion of its display, the Apache was joined by the F-16AM for a formation pass before allowing ‘Slick’ to continue on with his own display. In previous years the Dutch demonstration aircraft has been amongst the brightest in the skies with its vibrant ‘Orange Lion’ scheme however this year the aircraft has returned to an operational grey scheme with just a small marking on the tail denoting the demo team. Whilst the display itself was of the usual high standard, it just doesn’t seem right without seeing the flash of orange speed past.
In addition to the RNLAF solo, two other F-16 displays were at the show. Neighbours Belgium sent their solo display aircraft to perform with pilot Captain “Grat” Thys in control for his third, and final, display season. Operated by 350 Squadron at Florennes, the distinctive liveried F-16AM aircraft (FA-84) is now the only F-16 demonstration in Europe that retains an all over special scheme. Once again the use of flares enhanced the routine although seemingly fired more sparingly than in 2013. A rarer display around European shows is that of the Hellenic Air Force ‘Zeus’ F-16 demo team. With the F-16 only performing at a handful of events throughout the year, and yet to be seen in the UK, Captain Georgios Androulakis’ display was possibly the best of the three on show. Flying a Block 52 F-16C (519) with 340 Squadron markings, the take-off straight into inverted flight was particularly impressive setting up nicely for the rest of the performance, which kept up the same momentum.
Originally intended to be a show with two Mig-29 displays the Polish Air Force unfortunately had to cancel leaving the much less seen Slovakian Mig-29AS (0921) display as the sole representative of the type to fly. Operated by 1 Letka based at Sliac, the display aircraft not only carried a digital camouflage scheme but was also adorned with a tiger motif tail. With the usual black smoke trails being left behind, it’s always impressive to see the type display however it was surprising that no flares were used unlike the majority of the other fast jets.
Another surprising addition without flares was the Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet (J-5005) solo display. With the Swiss Air Force celebrating some major anniversaries in 2014 and following the lack of a 2013 F-18 solo display; it is good to see the type back on the display circuit.
The highlight of the show for many however will have been the airpower demonstration. For anyone who has seen the Commando Assault at Yeovilton shows, the concept will be very familiar – various units from the home forces taking part in a mass role demonstration showing each of their capabilities in a simulated attack on retaking of an enemy held position. Starting with strafe and bombing runs from four F-16s, from the very start it was clear it was going to be a fast paced and explosive display. With constant pyrotechnics the F-16’s soon cleared to allow four AH-64 Apaches to engage and show their firepower. Once cleared, a pair of CH-47 Chinooks and AS.532 Cougars landed to drop troops on the ground followed closely the tactical arrival of a C-130H with further re-enforcements – all whilst the Apaches kept watch and the F-16s circled overhead. Heavy lift ability of the rotary assets was shown with another pair of Chinooks and Cougars delivering underslung vehicle loads before the insertion of even more troops. From start to finish it was a non-stop show of force that moved at such a pace it was a struggle to keep up with at times. Once completed the airborne assets departed to crowd rear to reform for a formation flypast where the sight of 12 helicopters was reminiscent of the famous scene in Apocalypse now and was closely followed by the KDC-10 in formation with the four F-16s and, just behind and underneath, the C-130H.
After spending nearly two days at the show its clear to see why it attracts the number of visitors that it does, with an estimated 250,000 attending on the Saturday alone. With well laid out grounds that aren’t filled with merchandise stands it allows the freedom of wandering around the show and being able to see the flying activity from almost anywhere. For those without long lens cameras or top eyesight, two large screens provided an impressive view of the show that was also live streamed on the internet. Combined with cheap merchandise, reasonably priced (and plentiful) food and drink stands the Royal Netherlands Air Force really do know how to put on an extremely enjoyable event with top quality displays all in a friendly atmosphere.