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Dutch Heaven & Blue Angels
Author: James Shelbourn
Photography: Author and Andrew Chaplin
RNlAF CH-47 Chinook BAF F-16AM Fighting Falcon
RNlAF Airpower
BAF F-16AM Fighting Falcon

The Annual Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLU) Open Dagen, otherwise known as the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) Airshow or Open Day to the British military aviation photographer, was held this year over the two days of 16/17 June 2006, at Leeuwarden Air Base in The Netherlands. This annual event is one of the largest happenings taking place in The Netherlands each year. In the span of two days, the Armed Forces, and more specifically, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, present themselves to the general public by providing an informative look inside the life of the Air Force, using demonstrations both in the air and on the ground to match the information. Leeuwarden Air Base is situated north west of the City of Leeuwarden and is the only Air Force Base in the northern part of The Netherlands, home to two F-16 squadrons, 322 Squadron and 323 Squadron, and one Search And Rescue unit, No. 303 Squadron which operates the AB.412SP helicopter.

Dutch air shows have always been a favourite of mine, they have a reputation for attracting rare exotic aircraft not normally seen in the UK, and also usually offer something different in the flying display. The 2006 Open Dagen was no exception. The flying display had plenty of fast jet action, helicopters and foreign display team participation. Solo fast demonstrations included the Belgian Air Force Lockheed F-16AM, Spanish Air Force Boeing EF-18 Hornet, Royal Netherlands Air Force Lockheed F-16AM (which never fails to impress, no matter how many times you have seen it) and the European debut of the United States Air Force Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle flown by the Strike Eagle Demonstration Team from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, USA. However, a 492 Fighter Squadron jet from RAF Lakenheath UK, was used for the European flying display.
RNlAF F-16AM Fighting Falcon Demo SEDT F-15E Strike Eagle
SEDT F-15E Strike Eagle EdA EF-18A Hornet
CzAF Mi-24 Hind Asas de Portugal
Asas de Portugal CzAF Mi-24 Hind
Helicopter demonstration highlights included the Leeuwarden based Search and Rescue Squadron demo of 303 Squadron AB.412SPs, Royal Netherlands Air Force CH-47 Chinooks, and a Czech Air Force Mi-24 Hind which sported a stunning colour scheme and provided a rare display not normally seen. European military display teams included the British Red Arrows (displaying on Friday only), the Swiss Patrouille Suisse, the French Patrouille De France, the Finnish Midnight Hawks, the ASAS de Portugal Alpha jet duo and the Hunter Flying Group's Swiss Hunter Duo.

Sadly there was no major Air Power Demo this year at the Open Dagen as there was at Gilze Rijen Airbase in 2005 or traditionally at previous Open Dagens. This was mainly due to operational commitments of many Royal Netherlands Air Force aircraft that normally take part in the Air Power Demonstration, in particular AH-64 Apaches and AS.532 Cougars that are involved in NATO operations in Afghanistan. However Leeuwarden still managed to receive air field attacks by six based F-16s that were launched to carry out mock attack runs on simulated hostile targets. Some impressive pyrotechnics explosions were executed to simulate this. A RNLAF KDC-10 then conducted a flypast trailing one F-16 to simulate air refuelling, followed by a flypast of the F-16s to end the demonstration.

RNlAF KDC-10 / F-16AM Fighting Falcon AAR demo FAF Midnight Hawks
RNlAF F-16AM Fighting Falcon
Impressive departure from the RNlAF demo Viper
Blue Angels Blue Angels
Blue Angels Blue Angels
Star of the show with a doubt was the appearance of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, The Blue Angels, flying six Boeing F/A-18 Hornets. The organisers of the Open Dagen managed to attract the team from their home base at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, USA to Europe for one performance at the Leeuwarden Open Dagen. The Blue Angels last deployment to Europe was in 1992, where the team participated in a 30 Day Tour to Sweden, Finland, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain. That was the first European deployment in 19 years, so for the team to make a one off visit to Europe for the 2006 Open Dagen was a very rare occasion. It maybe some years to come before the team return to Europe again.
As with most Blue Angels demonstrations, their support C-130T Hercules aircraft, known as ‘Fat Albert’ also participated in the flying display. During ‘Fat Albert’s’ demonstration, the aircraft demonstrates its jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) capability. Eight solid-fuel rocket bottles, four on each side, attached near the rear paratrooper doors thrust the C-130 into the air. Fired simultaneously, the JATO bottles allow the mammoth transport aircraft to takeoff within 1,500 feet, climb at a 45-degree angle, and propel it to an altitude of 1,000 feet in approximately 15 seconds. Getting ‘Fat Albert’ airborne in minimal time and distance simulates conditions in hostile environments or on short, unprepared runways.
C-130T Fat Albert
Blue Angels
Blue Angels Blue Angels
GAF Typhoon PolAF MiG-29 Fulcrum
CzAF JAS-39C Gripen TuAF NF-5B
Static highlights, amongst many on display, for the enthusiast included a German Air Force F-4F and Typhoon, a Polish Air Force MiG-29, a Czech Air Force JAS-39 Gripen, Belgian, Dutch and Danish Air Force F-16s, USAFE F-15, and a pair of Turkish Air Force NF-5Bs although one cannot understand what happened to the parking and positioning of one example as no thought had obviously gone into it at all with barriers being positioned so close, they were almost under the nose of the aircraft. Perhaps this was a late decision on Thursday evening, or failing that after one or two beers and a hangover early on Friday morning? Other than that, most of the other static aircraft were generally laid out quite nice for photographers.
The Open Dagen is an annually recurring event which rotates each year around the three major RNLAF Air Force Bases of Leeuwarden, Volkel and Gilze Rijen. During the event, visitors can meet with people, equipment and the activities of the Royal Netherlands Air Force air power. Access is free, and the event annually attracts thousands of visiting people on both open days. The Open Dagen provides an excellent opportunity for giving the public a look at the resident F-16 Squadrons, the Search and Rescue Squadron and the other units of the Royal Netherlands Air Force at work. Over the past decades, these fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft have been deployed to crisis response operations continuously, and these deployments are expected to continue during the coming years. The 2006 Royal Netherlands Air Force Open Dagen was therefore the best opportunity to show to the public the latest developments in the field of Air Power and experience how the professional military personnel at Leeuwarden Air Base work with these operational concepts, in the framework of the Royal Netherlands Air Force motto - “One Team, One Mission”.
GAF F-4F Phantom II
SEDT F-15E Strike Eagle
Asas de Portugal FAF F-27

More photos

The author would like to thank would like to extend thanks to the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Open Dagen organising team, along with Peter Lenney and Wayne Button for their hard work and dedication in organising travel arrangements to Leeuwarden Air Base.

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