Dutch F-35s, Canadian F-18s and Italian Tornados Among The Highlights Of Frisian Flag 2022

Frisian Flag 2022
One of the six CF-188 Hornet of the RCAF that took part in Frisian Flag 2022. (All images: Edwin Schimmel)

After being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, Frisian Flag 2022 eventually took place, despite the current crisis in Ukraine.

Frisian Flag is a large-scale exercise series organized, annually, by the 322 Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardization Squadron of the RNLAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force). The series, has been running since 1992 and has got the current name in 1999. After the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, at the beginning of March it was still uncertain whether this year’s edition could take place due to the Ukrainian war.

But after the go ahead was given for the two-week Flag exercise fighter and support aircraft from five different NATO Allies landed in the northern part of the Netherlands to train together from Mar. 28 to Apr. 8, 2022 at Leeuwarden Air Base, a Dutch airfield that 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.

Tornado IDS from the Italian 6 Stormo departing out of Leeuwarden Air Base for another 1,5 hour mission. While the EF2000 flew only the morning mission during the first week the Ghedi Torando’s flew both weeks, but only during the afternoon.

The main goal of the latest Frisian Flag was to prepare participating pilots and support teams for large international conflicts and work together with international partners to fly complex missions in high tempo scenarios. For this reason, around 30 aircraft of all types, including fighters, transports, tankers and electronic warfare aircraft flew two daytime missions each day. Our contributor Edwin Schimmel visited Leeuwarden to report about the drills and take the photos of the participating assets you can find in this article.

Among the interesting assets deployed to Leeuwarden there were six Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornets. The Canadian fighters have become frequent visitors of the European theatre: at the end of last year, Canada has completed its sixth rotation to Romania, in support of iteration 57 of the NATO enhanced Air Policing mission.

Pretty worn CF-188 returning to base catching some sunlight short final runway 23. Although it was 433 Squadron participating most Hornets wore 425 Squadron markings being on loan.

Other remarkable participants were the RNLAF F-35A Lightning II jets at their first Frisian Flag exercise. The Dutch took part in the exercise with F16AM/BM of the 312Sqn, AS532 of the 300Sqn and AH-64D of the 301Sqn.

Dutch F-35A Lighting II taking off from runway 23. It was the first time 322 Squadron participated with their new F-35A’s after they received their Initial Operational Capability (IOC) status last year.
Maybe the last time Dutch F-16’s joined exercise Frisian Flag. The Volkel based 312 Squdron sent six of their F-16AM/BM’s up north which will be retired in 2024.

Initially, the Polish Air Force was also planned to participate, but the service had to cancel due to the crisis in Ukraine and the need to adopt a heightened readiness status at home. The Polish were replaced by the Italian Air Force that took part in the drills with two Tornado IDS of the 6° Stormo from Ghedi Air Base and two F-2000A of the 51° Stormo from Istrana AB. German and British Eurofighters also took part in the drills but did not to fly from Leeuwarden launching from their homebase.

The American contribution was also significant, with 12x F-16CM Fighting Falcons belonging to the 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano AB, in northeastern Italy.

The USAF joined this 2022 edition of Frisian Flag with no less than 12 F-16C’s from the Aviano based 31st Fighter Wing. Two of them wore the Have Glass paint.

The French contingent included both 5x French Air Force Mirage 2000Ds and 2x French Navy Rafales.

French Mirage 2000D with full afterburner blasting out of Leeuwarden. Underneath the centre line it is carrying an inert GBU12 bomb.

 

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a freelance 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.