The first operational RNLAF F-35 has arrived in The Netherlands


LEEUWARDEN AIR BASE, NETHERLANDS – October 31, 2019 is a special day in history for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF). The first operational Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II (registration F-009) has arrived today on a beautiful, sunny, but cold Autumn day at it’s new home, Leeuwarden Air Base in the Netherlands. 40 years ago the first RNLAF F-16 also landed at Leeuwarden AB. The 5th Gen F-35 will replace the F-16 in the coming years. Watch the live stream video again of the F-35’s arrival and the special ceremony in honor of this special day for the RNLAF.

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Live stream of the first arrival of the RNLAF F-35 at Leeuwarden Air Base. Go to 1:20:53 in the video for the arrival of the F-35. Video: Ministerie van Defensie

First flight and landing

The brand new F-35 – flown by Lt Col Ian ‘Gladys’ Knight – departed from Italy today at around 1:30 PM Local Time. After a short delay, the F-35 arrived in the sky over Leeuwarden in The Netherlands – shortly after 3:00 PM Local Time – and performed a historic formation flyby with the iconic Spitfire, the Hawker Hunter and the F-16, before it landed at 3:30 PM for the first time in the Netherlands as an operational RNLAF F-35.

Pilot of the F-009: Lieutenant Colonel Ian ‘Gladys’ Knight.
Photo: Ministerie van Defensie

This was not the first F-35 landing though in the Netherlands. The 5th Generation jet landed for the first time ever in the Netherlands at Leeuwarden AB in June 2016, when 2 F-35s made the journey from the U.S. to give the first F-35 demo ever at an airshow outside the U.S., during the 2016 RNLAF Luchtmachtdagen (Air Force Days).

The first operational RNLAF F-35A (F-009) successfully completed its first flight in Italy on September 9, 2019. Three days later, on September 12, 2019 the aircraft was presented in Cameri (Italy) where the Italian aircraft manufacturer Leonardo is manufacturing the new stealth fighter jet for Lockheed Martin. Leonardo has a production line for wings and an assembly line on which it assembles the aircraft.

Foam salute

A hilarious moment occurred when the fire trucks used foam – by mistake – instead of water to salute the F-35 as it was taxiing after the landing. The fire trucks just returned from an emergency call earlier, when an F-16 made an emergency landing due to smoke in the cockpit. When the fire trucks started the water salute to welcome the F-35, they discovered that the switches were still in the wrong position; foam instead of water.

The fire trucks used foam – by mistake – during the traditional water salute.

The foam was sprayed off the F-35 immediately as soon as the RNLAF concluded the ceremony. It remains unclear what the consequenses could be in relation to the F-35’s special coating, which consists of radar-absorbing material (RAM). RAM is a polymer-based material, applied to the surface of stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 and F-35, to reduce the radar cross-section and thereby make them harder to detect by radar.

The possible consequences are being examined in collaboration with manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Dutch F-35 order

This is the first of a total of 46 F-35s ordered by the RNLAF. Initially the RNLAF ordered 37 F-35s, but on October 8, 2019 the Dutch Department of Defense decided to buy 9 extra F-35s.

Since 2013, the RNLAF already has 8 F-35s stationed in the U.S. of which 2 were test aircraft since 2013. The remaining 6 F-35s were delivered this year to train pilots in the U.S. The first 8 F-35s (F-001 – F-008) were assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility in the U.S. This is the first Dutch F-35 assembled outside the U.S.

Replacement of the F-16

The arrival of the first operational F-35 also means that the RNLAF has slowly begun to retire the outdated F-16. In the coming years the F-35 will replace the F-16, which the RNLAF has been flying with since 1979. The Netherlands bought a total of 213 F-16s. Today, 61 of these 40-year-old F-16s are still flying for the RNLAF.

The F-35 is the 5th generation of fighter jets stationed at Leeuwarden AB, after the Gloster Meteor, the Hawker Hunter, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon aka Viper.

The brand new F-35 will join the 322nd squadron, based at Leeuwarden AB. It will be inspected and tested in the coming weeks, before it will be fully operational in one month. The second F-35 will arrive during that period next month, at the end of November.


(Head image: Ministerie van Defensie)

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