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  • Writer's pictureFrank Visser

2014 Dutch F-35 team is gaining momentum

Updated: Feb 3, 2018

For thirty years the air space over Eglin AFB Florida has been the territory of the F-15 Eagles. Though there are still F-15s at Eglin, the transition to the F-35s of 33 FW is progressing rapidly. Recently Frank Visser visited the F-35 Integrated Training Center to report on the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) as one of the partners in the F-35 program.

Transition When it became evident that 33 FW would become the first F-35 Lightning II Training unit in

the U.S.A. it was transformed from Air Combat Command (ACC) to Air Education and Training Command (AETC) on 1 October 2009. It took another two years for the first 33 FW F-35A

EG 08-0747 (AF-9) to arrive at Eglin AFB on 14 July 2011.

One of the early production models of the F-35A seen here returning from a training mission at Eglin AFB.

Not only did this imply a big change for 33 FW, but the airbase itself also underwent a metamorphosis in order to pave the way for operating the F-35. Besides training the pilots they also chose to have the technical staff, the so-called maintainers, pass through their course. Thus a new student Campus and Academic Training Center was built for F-35 pilot trainees as well as for the maintenance staff. Next to the many classrooms the maintainers can apply their acquired knowledge on the various mock-ups during the so-called on the job training.

One of the three British F-35Bs landing at Eglin AFB. The British and the Dutch are the only two partners to join the OT&E program with their own aircraft.

It is unique for 33 FW that USAF as well as USMC and USN pilots attend the training course at this Wing. In addition the pilots of the RAF, RN and RNLAF, as partners within the F-35 Program, are detached at this USAF unit for their transition to the F-35. The USAF and the RNLAF pilots fly the aircraft of the 58 FS, which have the disposal of 26 F-35As.

The pilots of the USMC and the RAF/RN pilots fly the F-35Bs that are part of the VMFAT-501. Their presence at Eglin AFB will come to an end before long as the move from this unit to Beaufort MCAS in South Carolina is already in progress and will be finalized at the end of this year.

An F-35B of VMFAT-501 making an vertical landing at Eglin AFB. Soon the F-35Bs will leave Eglin AFB for their new home Beaufort MCAS South Carolina.

Though the British and the Dutch have their own aircraft, they and the Americans fly each other’s aircraft during the training.

VFA-101 "Grim Reapers" is latter part of 33 FW stationed at Eglin AFB . They fly the carrier version the F-35C. All in all 33 FW have the disposal of 1.500 staff and almost fifty F-35s. The maximum capacity of this Wing is 59 aircraft.

Training For several years Dutch military and civilian personnel, being partners in the F-35 program, have been involved in the further development of this fifth generation multirole fighter, for example in the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase at Edwards AFB and at Fokker Aerostructures in The Netherlands. The two already purchased test aircraft had been assembled before and had been kept airworthy by the test pilots of Lockheed Martin.

Major Laurens J.W Vijge was honoured to be the first RNLAF pilot to begin with the course. He explained that it was very interesting for him to be part of the project from the very first moment. After 15 years of flying the F-16 he saw that his flying career was finite. As he was an experienced F-16 pilot and weapons instructor, one of the key American requirements to be met with at this stage, he was allowed to start his training at Eglin AFB in October 2013. Each pilot training starts with 210 hours of classroom instruction, the so-called academics training, which is spread over five weeks. Subsequently the four-week Device Training begins including the Ejection Seat Maintenance Training and 18 Full Mission Simulator (FMS) flights. The FMS disposes of a state-of-the-art version of the Eglin area so that pilots can be prepared optimally for their first flight. On 18 December 2013 after nine weeks of training on the ground Maj. Laurens J.W. Vijge flew his first sortie in the F-35A F-001 (the first Dutch test aircraft), accompanied by instructor pilot (IP) Lt. Col. Matthew Renbarger, Commanding Officer of 58 FS. Besides being Maj. Laurens J.W. Vijge’s first F-35 flight he was also the first foreigner to fly the Conventional Take-off and Landing (CTOL) version of the F-35. With his first flight The Netherlands became the second partner country to operate the F-35. The flight training at Eglin AFB consists of six sorties with an IP. During the first three flights emphasis is on instrument flying using quite regularly Duke Field just north of Eglin AFB. Flight four is an air-to-air mission and during flights five and six the use of the targeting pod is practiced.

For optimal training on the ground several mock-up models are used by the Academic Training Center. On this mock-up the loading of weapons is trained. The second Dutch F-35 pilot and head of the Dutch F-35 Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) team is Col. Bert de Smit. He flew the F-35 for the first time op 8 April 2014. Four RNLAF pilots are required for the Dutch contribution to the OT&E, which will start on 1 January 2015. In June during the visit of Combat Aircraft the Dutch detachment consisted of 16 personnel and Maj. Laurens J.W. Vijge had already flown 55 and Col. Bert de Smit 16 missions. Despite the limited number of flying hours both pilots are F-35 instructors now and in this role they have been a great help to the first Australian F-35 pilot.

Head of the Dutch F-35 Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) team and former F-16 pilot is Col. Bert de Smit. The syllabus will become more and more extensive and will eventually comprise 40 flights, excluding night sorties and 1V1 missions. A positive outcome of the course is that no supplementary flights in the Netherlands with regard to the terrain will be necessary to complete the syllabus. However, the differences between the two Dutch aircraft is another issue. The first test plane, serial F-001 was once delivered as LRIP 3 with a Block 1B configuration, whereas the second aircraft, the F-002, has a LRIP 4 Block 2A configuration. Block 2A, unlike Block 1B, has higher

G-restrictions, can climb without any restrictions and all the sensors can be activated. The software

of the Block 2A is also more stable. For the OT&E both test planes will be updated to Block 2B configurations. During the OT&E another configuration to Block 3B will be carried out in order

to finish with Block 3F aircraft in 2017. Then every two years updates will be carried out.

OT&E op Edwards AFB Before the F-35 will be introduced in the various air forces as a complete and valuable system several test phases must be passed through. Two very important stages at the moment are the Development Testing & Evaluation (DT&E), which has been active at Edwards AFB for some time and which is accommodated by the 461 Flight Test Squadron/ 412 Test Wing and the Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) phase, which will also take place at Edwards AFB by the 31 Test Evaluation Squadron/ 53 Wing. Here we focus on the OT&E, or rather Joint OT&E, since in addition to the USAF, the USMC and the USN , the RAF/RN and the RNLAF are participating with their own aircraft. Twenty-three 23 F-35s (6 F-35A, 6 F-35B, 6 F-35C (all US), 3 RAF/RN F-35B and 2 RNLAF F-35As will soon be deployed at Edwards AFB. They will fly some 2,200 test sorties during the four-year OT&E, Planned are 36 missile firings and 120 weapon drops at the ranges of China Lake, Nellis and Yuma. The immense area of these ranges and the existence of realistic treats on the ground create the ideal practice area for this OT&E. Scheduled are a further 10,700 + so-called tactics development, training and support sorties and on the ground 5,000 simulator flights will be dealt with. This OT&E is unique as there are 12 deployments to other airbases and ships. Selected are among others Alpena ANGB in Michigan and Volk ANGB in Wisconsin. The RNLAF will only take part as an observer in these deployments, which have to provide insight in the reaction alertness of the

F-35 elsewhere. Major Laurens-Jan Vijge confirms that the US are very content that the RNLAF is participating as a partner in the F-35 project right from the start. Other partners such as the Norwegians and the Australians have been more reserved and except for an observer role, they do not take part their own aircraft as the British and the Dutch. The former will fall behind as to knowledge of the F-35 and the Americans will consider the latter more as equal partners. Thus the RNLAF views Eglin AFB as a transitory phase.

Sunsets at Eglin AFB Florida with the second Dutch test aircraft on the ramp.

Here the RNLAF team will be at full strength before leaving Eglin AFB as planned at the end of this year. Col. Bert de Smit is fully convinced that they can gather all the basic knowledge at Eglin AFB to enable them to participate as full partners during the four years of the OT&E phase. “ We really had to seize this opportunity as it is the first time that the US allow foreign participants in the OT&E of a fifth generation aircraft“. According to plan 323 Tactical Training and Evaluation Standardization Squadron (TACTESS) will close down at Leeuwarden Airbase on 1 November 2014 and move to Edwards AFB. A key part of 323 TACTESS, the Fighter Weapons Instructor Course (FWIT) is going to be accommodated at 322 Squadron, based Leeuwarden Airbase. Preparations at Edwards AFB started with the OT&E Block of buildings: a container setting including a Mobile SAP facility and office space. Later this set-up will also be applied for the out-of-area operations to Alpena and Volk ANGB. This summer the Titan system will be installed and in November the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS). This advanced system links various data to create an optimum supply chain management. A pilot will then be able to transmit maintenance data to the ground during a flight, for instance if parts have to be replaced. On the ground they can check if this part is in the warehouse or if it has to be ordered. When a pilot starts his next mission he will log in on ALIS to register the latest state of affairs. Sun shelters will be built to accommodate the 23 F-35s. The goal

of the OT&E for the RNLAF is to validate whether the F-35 meets the requirements of the Dutch.

In addition these four years are used to acquire the necessary stealth experience, to develop procedures and tactics, to write the manual and record possible limitations. Col. Bert de Smit said, that this OT&E would be vital for them in order to be able to operate as RNLAF autonomously with the F-35 from the Americans. Maj. Laurens J.W. Vijge added:“ At first we had to do a lot of digging-up and then we went from crawling to walking and eventually to running. Now this project has finally received the attention it deserves (despite a lot of political bickerings).“

Although 33 FW has switched to the F-35A there are still F-15s flying at Eglin AFB. This example is an F-15C used by 85 TES/ 53 Wing.

It a unique chance for the RNLAF to become a front runner by being a partner in the F-35 program with their own test aircraft. The RNLAF can look forward with optimism and have the same impetus they had before when they were at the front of the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF).

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