First Batch Of US-Based RNLAF F-16s Return To Europe

F-16AM J-010. (All images, credit: APS)

RNLAF F-16s deployed to Tucson to train Viper pilots, are on their way back.

On Jul. 29, 2022, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) flew the last F-16 mission from Tucson International Airport/Morris ANG Base. The Dutch had 11 F-16 Fighting Falcon jets (5x single seater F-16AMs and 6x two-seat F-16BMs) deployed there to carry out training of Viper pilot as part of an international training agreement that came to an end as the RNLAF started the transition to the new F-35A Lightning II.

The F-16s, assigned to the 148th Fighter Squadron were initially thought to be destined to reinforce the fleet of one of the ADAIR contractors, but the revision of these contracts put a termination to this sale. Therefore, the aircraft are being ferried to SABCA in Belgium, for possible overhaul and storage or pending sale to a new operator (apparently to Bulgaria).

Interestingly, until Dec. 13, the Dutch Ministry of Defence (MoD) still reported that the aircraft were to be sold to Draken International, and the Dutch Government informed the Parliament that the contract with Draken was just put on “stand by“. We will see whether the rumors about the possible sale to the Bulgarian Air Force turn out to be true.

On Dec. 13, the first batch of 6x F-16s being ferried over from Lakeland, Florida (home of the Draken International, where the aircraft reportedly were being tested before joining the fleet of the Red Air contractor), landed at Lajes Field, Azores.

The Vipers were supported by U.S. Air Force KC-10A #87-0117 radio callsign RCH81.

The supporting KC-10A #87-0117.

For the records here are the serials and callsigns:

J-004 tail code AZ F-16AM NAF312
J-067 tail code AZ F-16BM NAF313
J-018 tail code AZ F-16AM NAF314
J-210 tail code AZ F-16BM NAF315
J-064 tail code AZ F-16BM NAF316
J-010 tail code AZ F-16AM NAF317 marked “148FS”

Note: NAF 316 declared in flight emergency due to technical problems, was met by the fire department upon arrival. On Dec. 14, it was towed to a Portuguese AF hangar for attention by maintenance personnel.

On the morning of Dec. 15, four jets departed at around 10.00z. These were J-010, J-210, J-067 and J-004 with J-018 and J-064 left behind. The remaining five are still in the U.S. waiting to do the crossing.

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.