Frisian Flag 2017

Leeuwarden Air Base, The Netherlands

This year Frisian Flag took place between the 27th March and the 7th April at Leeuwarden Air Base in The Netherlands. Aircrew and aircraft from a number of NATO and Ally Nations descended upon Leeuwarden to take part in one of the largest and demanding exercises in Europe.  AIA sent one of the team up to the Frisian Region to get a feel for what the exercise entailed.

The exercise first begun in 1999 and has become a yearly event since. The purpose of this exercise is the joint training of NATO and Allied Nations for any conflict scenario, thus serving to enhance the co-operation between foreign militaries. The training is all done above the North Sea and includes Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR), simulated ground attacks and air combat missions. It’s all undertaken to strengthen the relations between Nations, but also for all the participating forces to learn from each other in the way of co-ordinating operational procedures.

On a daily basis, there are two flights of about 35-50 aircraft mostly all launching and recovering from Leeuwarden. This year saw several aircraft participating including F-15's from two US Air National Guard units, below is a list of those present for this year’s exercise:

  • United States Air National Guard - 6x F-15C/D Eagle's - 122nd Fighter Squadron, Louisiana ANG
  • United States Air National Guard - 6x F-15C/D Eagle's - 159th Fighter Squadron, Florida ANG
  • Portuguese Air Force - 5x F16AM/BM Fighting Falcon's - 201/301 Squadron, Base Aérea Nº.5 Monte Real
  • Belgian Air Force - 7x F16AM/BM Fighting Falcon's - 349 Squadron, Kliene Brogel Air Base
  • Royal Netherlands Air Force - 12x F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcon's - 312, 313 and 322 Squadrons, Vokel/Leeuwarden Air Base
  • Royal Air Force - 6x Tornado GR.4's - 31 Squadron, RAF Marham
  • German Air Force - 10x EF2000 Typhoon's - Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 31, Nörvenich Air Base
  • French Air Force - 4x Mirage 2000D's - EC 03.033 Ardennes, Nancy Air Base

As mentioned, one of the roles undertaken during this exercise is Air-to-Air Refuelling. This is made possible by an exercise which runs concurrently with Frisian Flag known as European Air Refuelling Training (EART). The tankers all fly from Eindhoven Airport in the South of The Netherlands, heading North to meet up with the fighters to undertake the transfer of fuel. These two linked exercises allow further international co-operation, expand the complexity of Frisian Flag and of course satisfy the retrospective missions. Those tankers taking part were as follows:

  • Royal Netherlands Air Force - 1x KDC-10A Extender - 334 Squadron, Eindhoven Air Base
  • Royal Netherlands Air Force - 1x C-130H Hercules - 336 Squadron, Eindhoven Air Base
  • Italian Air Force - 1x KC-767A - 14º Stormo, Practica di Mare Air Base
  • German Air Force - 1x A-310MRTT - Flugbereitschaft des Bundesministeriums der Verteidigung, Köln-Bonn Air Base
  • French Air Force - 1x C-135FR - GRV 02.091 Bretagne, Istres Air Base

Also taking part in Frisian Flag as external participants were both a NATO E-3A AWACS from Gielenkirchen Air Base and an E-3F AWACS from the French Air Force at Avord Air Base.

The event regularly draws many spotters and public to Leeuwarden Air Base during the 2 week period, averaging around 500 people per day such is the scale and interest in the exercise.



Credits: Article and photography by Andrew Timmerman