The trip to NAS Key West is significant because this is the last Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon B-course to graduate before closing out their contract and moving back to their home country.
Airmen and Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) personnel from Morris Air National Guard Base, Arizona, traveled to Naval Air Station Key West, Apr. 27, 2022, for a two week-training event with the final Dutch B-Course student pilots.
This temporary duty satisfied the over-water training and dissimilar aircraft training required by the student pilot course syllabus of the RNLAF.
“Since we are only flying over land in Tucson, our altitude awareness is really good,” said Lt. Col. Joost Luijsterburg, RNLAF detachment commander, in the article Farewell tour: Dutch finish overwater F-16 training over Florida coast, by Tech. Sgt. George Keck, 162nd Wing. “Every class goes to a location to fly over water and give them a different perspective.”
While flying over open waters, there are no ground references such as cars, buildings, and terrain to determine altitude. This training is crucial in preparing the students for their return home to the Netherlands where most flying occurs over the Atlantic Ocean.
“Two of our students found themselves a lot lower in altitude than they thought they were,” said Luijsterburg.
The other goal for the student pilots is to see the hard work of deploying various personnel assets as a cohesive unit, said Luijsterburg. As an example, Luijsterburg said that the student pilots were surprised to learn that their maintenance crew brought a spare aircraft engine, as a contingency.
The 162nd Logistics Readiness Squadron coordinated the TDY with the 161st Air Refueling Wing and with the 107th Airlift Wing to provide a KC-135 Stratotanker and a C-17 Globemaster III, respectively, for a seamless movement of personnel and equipment round trip to NAS Key West.
The 148th Fighter Squadron brought along six of their own F-16 Fighting Falcons from Morris ANGB to fly against F-18 Super Hornets.
“In Tucson, the students have not had an opportunity to fight against dissimilar aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Wittke, the 148th Fighter Squadron commander. “When we are fighting a different platform with different capabilities, it changes things up quite a bit. It is some of the best training you can do as a young lieutenant.”
This trip is also significant because this is the last Dutch F-16 B-course to graduate before closing out their contract and moving back to their home country.
“This is a big deal and a bittersweet thing,” said Wittke.
After a 32-year partnership, this is the last TDY that the RNLAF will participate in as part of the 148th Fighter Squadron before returning home to the Netherlands.
“I, myself, was a student in the 148th Fighter Squadron in 1991,” said Luijsterburg. “That was 31 years ago and now I am going to close this unit in a couple of months. It is the end of an era, I think you could say.”
The Dutch were the first in a long line of foreign partners to train at Morris ANG Base. On average they flew 2,000 hours a year and graduated four student pilots every nine months.
“I will be sad to see them leave,” said Wittke. “They have been one of our best partners. They are always in combat with us and that loyalty I find incredibly inspiring.”
The service declared initial operating capability (IOC) for the F-35A in late December 2021. For the RNLAF, IOC means four aircraft are available for expeditionary taskings for a period of three to four months. The service is expected to declare full operating capability for the type in 2024.
The RNLAF announced on Jan. 12 that, with the last of 24 F-35As now delivered to 322 Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base, the first aircraft for 313 Squadron have now begun arriving at Volkel Air Base also.
In October 2019 the Dutch Ministry of Defence announced it would stand up a third operating squadron for the F-35A, although it did not give its planned location.
U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. George Keck