F-35s, F-16s Take Part In WIC 2021 at Leeuwarden Air Base

WIC 2021
The newest F-35A, F-018 from the Dutch Air Force. It was delivered from Cameri, Italy on May 25, 2021 and is the 10th Lightning for the Leeuwarden based 322 Squadron. (All images: Edwin Schimmel)

Our contributor Edwin Schimmel went to Leeuwarden Air Base, the Netherlands, to observe the activity related to the WIC (Weapons Instructor Course) 2021 currently underway.

Last week we reported about a mishap that occurred to a BAF (Belgian Air Force) F-16 jet which was involved in an incident at Leeuwarden Air Base during WIC (Weapons Instructor Course) 2021: for reasons still being investigated, the F-16 accelerated on its own on start-up, as the crew chief was still working on the aircraft, jumped the chocks and crashed into a building opposite the flightline. Despite the successful ejection, both the pilot and the crew chief were injured and taken to hospital.

Anyway, WIC 2021 is a 6-months training course held at Leeuwarden for the best and most experienced pilots to become weapon instructors. Leeuwarden Air Base has been the center of knowledge in the field of target practice and fighter flight operations since the 1950s. This is due to its strategic location close to the exercise areas above the North Sea and the existing military airspace above the north of the Netherlands. But also because of the extensive facilities at the airbase and the nearby Cornfieldrange on the Vliehors.

WIC 2021 currently underway takes place between May 3 and Oct. 22, 2021. After about four weeks of theory lessons, at the end of June, the first flying phase started with the air-to-air missions. During this stage pilots learn in depth about tactics and weapon systems and how to instruct at a higher level. Then, they also fly more complicated air-to-air missions starting with 1-v-1 fights and then increasingly complex scenarios with more and more aircraft. Most mission are flown above the North Sea in the Northern part of the Netherlands supported by Dutch and international aircraft.

WIC 2021
F-16AM from the Volkel based 312 Squadron about to land at runway 05 at Leeuwarden after a morning WIC mission. This F-16 is loaded with AIM120B Amraam and AIM9L Sidewinder air-to-air missles. 312 Squadron will be the very last Dutch F-16 squadron flying the Falcon till 2024.

After a two week summer break the course will continue in August with an air-to-surface phase. During this part of the course, pilots will learn about tactics, weapon systems and sensors used in the air-to-ground role. And finally, after one more study week the pilots will do their exams during the mission employment phase in October. For the final part of the training, pilots will have to lead large formations of fighter and support aircraft to gain experience in planning, executing and debriefing large missions.

WIC 2021
With the last Dutch F-16’s leaving towards Volkel, Leeuwarden will become an F-35 Lightning (and MQ-9 Reaper) base. Here a four-ship F-35As is returning using callsign “Panther”.
Dutch C-130H-30 from the Eindhoven based 336 Squadron supporting the WIC

Edwin Schimmel visited Leeuwarden at the end of June and took the photographs of the aircraft taking part in WIC that you can find in this article. The 2021 iteration of WIC sees the participation of Belgian, Royal Netherlands and Royal Norwegian Air Forces. Interestingly, while previously only pilots could become weapons instructors, nowadays officers from other service sectors are also admitted to the training. From 2021, Patriot operators, intelligence officers and air battle managers will also be trained as instructors.

WIC 2021
At the end of June the last Leeuwarden F-16’s flew their missions from the Northern base. They are replaced by the new F-35A Lightnings and that’s why some of the Falcons received some full color markings. Here J-509 is about to land carrying a full color 322 Squadron batch and Friesland band on its tail. All the Leeuwarden based F-16’s are or will be flown to Volkel Air Base where they will soldier on till 2024, used as instructional airframe or taken apart.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.