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  • Writer's pictureFrank Visser

2007 Fuerza Aérea de Chile goes multirole with F-16

Updated: Feb 3, 2018

By purchasing 18 former Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16 MLUs and 10 new Block 50

F-16C/D the Fuerza Aérea de Chile (FACh) has carried out an important modernisation of its air force. Frank Visser reports on the recent delivery of 18 former RNLAF F-16 MLUs to the FACh and the FACh’s plans for the future. Frank Visser followed the F-16s on their way to Chili.

Modernisation of the FACh

Quite a number of years ago the FACh started to modernise its air force. Then they opted for upgrading existing aircraft such as the Mirage Elkan 5 and the Mirage 50 Pantera. Most of these upgrades were carried out by the Chilean state enterprise ENAER. Even recently the

F-5E/Tiger IIs were upgraded by the Israeli company RADA Electronic Industries and equipped with a debriefing solution based on analogue video recording.

According to the Commanding Officer of the FACh General Ricardo Ortega Perrier it is a necessary update considering the threats still latently present in this region. He mainly refers to the tensions between Chile and Bolivia and especially those with Peru. Tensions that go back to the Saltpetre War of 1879 to 1884. Those were the years that Chile annexed large areas rich in minerals of Bolivia and Peru. He also mentioned this the main reason why these brand-new Block F-16s are stationed at the most northern base of Los Condores Air Base and the F-16 MLUs at Cerro Moreno Air Base near Antofagasta. This show of force should in his opinion provide more stability in the region.

They were looking for a successor to the obsolete A-37 Dragonflies and the former Belgian Air Force’s Mirage 5 Elkan, which could operate as a multirole aircraft. After a competition lasting for four years between the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, Dassault Mirage 2000-5, Saab Gripen and the Lockeed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon the Government of Chile finally opted for the Lockheed Martin F-16. The order of about $550m is part of the so-called “Peace Puma Program” and comprises the delivery of 10 Block 50 aircraft: 6 single-seat F-16C and 4 dual F-16D.

For the first ferry, September 2006, each of the six F-16 MLU had been re-painted and FACh markings put on. Since the RNLAF was responsible for the crossing all 18 F-16 aircraft in three separate ferries.

Seven dual F-16BM aircraft were sold to the FACh. Three of them departed with the first ferry in the FACh colour scheme.

Besides the order also entails the conversion training of a number of FACh pilots in the U.S. Air Force, the supply of spare parts, maintenance and ammunition. These Block 50 F-16D have replaced meanwhile the A-37 Dragonflies of the Grupo de Aviación Nº3 (3 Squadron) at Los Condores Air Base. The need for more F-16s could be met by the RNLAF. Due to a reorganisation of the Dutch Air Force a number of superfluous F-16 MLUs became available for sale. In 2005 a contract for the delivery a of 18 F-16 MLUs was tuned to an amount of approximately € 190 million.

Conversion to the F-16 MLU The contract with the RNLAF was entered into on 16 September 2005 and embraced the delivery

of 18 F-16 MLUs (11 single-seat F-16AM and 7 dual F-16BM with an M2 configuration). Two of the F-16s are meant as spares and will be cannibalised for spare parts.

The second ferry of six F-16s from Twenthe air base took place in April 2007.

A F-16BM seen here taxing at Twenthe air base to take part in the second delivery of six F-16s to Chili.

All six F-16s lined up for the second ferry in April 2007 to Chili. With all the squadron markings removed the F-16 MLUs of the second and third ferry flew to Chile. Instead of with paint the RNLAF markings were applied with stickers. Thus the Chileans could remove these markings immediately after the planes had landed.

Just as with the Lockheed Martin contract the Chileans also opted for a complete deal this time, albeit without the supply of ammunition. Thus the RNLAF not only sold the F-16s, but she also committed herself to train four Chilean pilots and a large group of ground personnel on The Netherlands. That the RNLAF anticipated a successful conclusion of the contract negotiations appears from the fact that the first two FACh pilots, both instructors, had already commenced their training with 306 Squadron at Volkel Air Base in November 2005 before the actual signing of the contract. This meant quite a lot of extra work and readjustment for 306 Squadron, which has always taken care of the advanced training of F-16 RNLAF pilots.

The first stage of the ferry went to Gando Air Base, Gran Canaria. Here last checks were executed before crossing the Atlantic to Brazil.

For each Chilean pilot the F-16 conversion training lasted three months and corresponded in general with the conversion program NATO exchange pilots have to complete before they are allowed to fly the RNLAF F-16. Besides the training on the ground both instructors flew 35 hours in the F-16. Judicially the training of the Chilean pilots also implied a lot of snags. Germany and Belgium were requested to give permission to the Chileans to enter their airspace. Germany gave a written permission on the understanding that the pilot was not allowed to fly solo. Flying solo, however, was permitted in a two-ship with an RNLAF pilot as leader. Belgium only gave an oral approval, which was too meagre for the RNLAF and consequently the Chileans have never flown in Belgian airspace. After three months the two instructors were replace by two new FACh pilots who had to take the same conversion course. In April 2006 the two instructors returned again to take their advanced training course at 323 TACTESS (Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardisation Squadron) at Leeuwarden Air Base. This course, completed in August 2006, also implied flying with night vision goggles and an extra 35 flying hours on the F-16. Thus the two instructors were well prepared to handle the conversion training in Chile. At the same time 42 men FACh ground personnel took a technical course at Woensdrecht Air Base and completed this training with a practical course at Volkel and Leeuwarden Air Base.

Each ferry was accompanied by a RNLAF KDC-10. Here the aircraft just crossed the Atlantic to refuel at a military base near Natal.

Project Disposal F-16 (PAF) was responsible for preparing the 18 F-16 MLU. This team, responsible for getting the aircraft ready for sale, and is also in charge of dismantling aircraft or preparing them to suit other purposes e.g. monuments. According to the head of the department First Lieutenant Jan H. ten Doeschot the Chileans themselves could choose the 18 F-16 MLUs and they did so very well. They selected the best aircraft, all of them with around 3000 flying hours. Besides a thorough maintenance of the aircraft through the PAF team Stork overhauled all of the 18 landing gears.

The Americans demanded an adaptation of the software of all the 18 RNLAF F-16s and therefore Lockheed Martin developed a special Chile F-16 MLU M2 software tape, which was installed in one aircraft and tested early 2006. The findings were used by Lockheed Martin to develop the definite software tape with which the aircraft were equipped. The first six aircraft to be delivered were also re-sprayed and provided with Chilean roundels.

Ferry to Chile

Due to the great distance between The Netherlands and Chile it was decided to fly in three ferries of six aircraft and in three stages across the ocean. Air refuelling was carried out by a KDC-10 of 334 Squadron based at Eindhoven Air Base. Each ferry was accompanied by a chartered Russian Il-76 to transport the tons of extra spare parts. The first ferry departed on 4 September 2006 from Twenthe Air Base. Six aircraft and two spares left for the first stage to Gando Air Base at the Canary Islands. The spares only flew to Gando at Gran Canaria and returned back to The Netherlands after the ferry had left for the crossing to Brazil. Since the RNLAF was only responsible for the fly-over of the F-16s the FACh markings were covered with RNLAF markings and serials. The second stage brought the aircraft to Recife in Brazil. Project leader and pilot Major Charles Dalloyaux said that there had been plans to fly over the Amazon region but this option had already been dropped at an early stage because there were no options to divert in case of an emergency. The last stage was via Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina to Cerro Moreno Air Base in Chile. Here the remaining RNLAF markings were removed quickly at arrival so that, in the ceremony that followed, all six F-16s could be presented on the flightline in complete FACh markings to the president of Chile. The twelve remaining aircraft were delivered in RNLAF markings.

For the last stage of the third ferry from Salvador (Brazil) to Cerro Moreno Air Base (Chile) an appropriate sticker was put on the tail of the J-211 F-16BM.

All three ferries flew over the Andes. Here F-16BM J-211 flies over Northern Argentine.

In the break over the Andes.

During each ferry the KDC-10 provided the fuel for air-to-air refluelling. Here F-16BM J-211 is about to receive fuel over the Andes during ferry number three. Photo: RNLAF

KDC-10 over the Andes during the last stage of the ferry to Chili. Photo: RNLAF

A unique formation over the Andes. Photo: RNLAF

The second ferry, again with two spares, left on 5 April 2007 following the same route, although the KDC-10 flew to Salvador. At crossing the equator a serious problem with several F-16s arose: a software error caused a wrong functioning of data transfer from Global Positioning System (GPS) to the Internal Navigation System (INS), resulting in a display of wrong symbols in the Head Up Display (HUD) followed by a complete breakdown of the navigation system.

Mission accomplished. Line up of all six RNLAF F-16s at Cerro Moreno Air Base in Chile.

Immediately after arrival all six F-16 MLUs were stripped of their RNLAF markings and serials. Even the sticker at the F-16BM J-211 had to be stripped to make room for the FACh markings. According to Major Charles Dalloyaux it could not have been foreseen. Fortunately the problem did not occur with all F-16s, so that the aircraft without problems could lead the others to Recife. The last ferry left on 3 June 2007 and arrived at Cerro Moreno Air Base on 8 June. As they did not want to be confronted with the problem of the previous flight, the pilots switched off their navigation systems over the equator for a short while. This time the aircraft flew on to Salvador.

After signing, the transfer is confirmed with a firm handshake. The RNLAF had delivered all 18 F-16s as planned.

Future With the acquisition of 28 F-16 aircraft an important step has been taken to modernise the Chilean Air Force. The Fuerza Aérea de Chile, however has more objectives: she has shown great interest in four RNLAF Fokker 60 planes, provided all the aircraft will be updated to the Marine Patrol Aircraft (MPA) version. Two of these aircraft have gone through this modification and will be operational at Curaçao for coastal protection and the fight against drugs in the autumn of 2007. The RNLAF is willing to have the other two Fokker 60 planes modified as well. Furthermore the FACh has shown interest in the Airbus A400M to replace the C-130B/H transport aircraft, the purchase of various weapon systems such as a targeting pod, and the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile for the F-16 MLUs. Though the Commanding Officer FACh General Ricardo Ortega Perrier did not express his opinion last year, he is very clear now:” I am interested in replacing the F-5 Tiger II and the last A-37 Dragonfly by the F-16. We know where we stand and the co-operation with the Dutch Government and the RNLAF went very well: the price, the maintenance and the support for a minimum of four years are perfect.” The 18 former RNLAF F-16 MLU will keep the FACh going for another 12 to 15 years and the Block 50 F-16 will certainly have a twenty years’ operational service. Whether they will actually improve the stability in the region, time will tell.

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