Minnesota ANG F-16s Join German, Polish, French, Swiss and Dutch Combat Aircraft for “Frisian Flag 2019”

One of the F-16C jets of the Minnesorta Air National Guard launches from Leeuwarden (All images credit: Author)

Leeuwarden Air Base in The Netherlands is currently hosting the large-scale international exercise Frisian Flag 2019. Freelance photographer and reporter Edwin Schimmel visited Leeuwarden and here’s his report for The Aviationist.

Frisian Flag is a highly rated, annual exercise organized by the 322 Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardization Squadron of the RNlAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force) since 1992 (receiving its current name in 1999). Over 50 aircraft and fighter aircraft from six different nations will complete extensive and complex training missions. The main goal of this Flag exercise, which started on Apr. 1, is to train joint and combined air operations in a broad spectrum of scenarios.

Every day a participant plans, leads and evaluates the training missions which last approximately 1.5 hours. Start ups and take offs occurs from 09:00 and 13:00 hours and the missions are flown in Dutch, German and Danish airspace.

An F-16AM MLU of the RNlAF.

To support the missions a Dutch, German, French and American tanker aircraft refuel the jets twice a day. The four tanker aircraft fly out of Eindhoven Air Base, making it their own parallel exercise called EART (European Air Refuelling Training). Also a NATO E-3 AWACS flies out of Geilenkirchen airbase in Germany daily to provide the necessary aerial picture for the players.

German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon of the TLG31.
One of the four French Air Force Mirage 2000D taking part in FF19.
Polish Air Force F-16 with the 31 BLT.
Swiss Air Force Hornet.

Minnesota Air National Guard

Most noticeable players during this years Frisian Flag exercise are F-16C jets from the 179th Fighter Squadron/148th Fighter Wing, based at Duluth International Airport.

The ten Block 50 F-16’s from the “Bulldogs” landed at Leeuwarden on Friday Mar. 30 and Saturday Mar. 31 and the Americans sent a total of 24 pilots and 160 supporting airmen and women to the Netherlands. For years, the unit from the Minnesota Air National Guard, which has tight connections with Croatia, wanted to come over to Europe but deployments and a very busy schedule prevented this. But this year the 179th had a so called “off-year” making this two week deployment finally possible.

An F-16C of the “Bulldogs” lands at Leeuwarden after a FF 19 mission.

Lt. Col. Blade Thornton, the new commander of the ‘Bulldogs’, was very happy this European visit finally materialized and spoke with high appreciation about the Frisian Flag exercise. “During this exercise we can train other game-tactics than at home and it gives us a chance to train with other European partners.” Asked about the biggest difference between the well known Red Flag exercises flown from Nellis AFB, Nevada and Frisian Flag Thornton continued: “Main difference is in the planning process. During Red Flag planning takes much more time, around 15 till 16 hours. During Frisian Flag this is much more compressed and takes around 12 hours with one mass debrief in the end. Another difference are the ground threats. During Red Flag there are more threats from ground based units, while the air threats are comparable.”

Lt. Col. Paul Thornton, 179th Fighter Squadron commander and Mission Commander for the Air National Guard (right) and 1st Lt. Chaz Smidt, a 148th Fighter Wing F-16 pilot.

Ex. Frisian Flag will run until Friday Apr. 12.