RNLAF And NATO Join Forces For Falcon Leap Exercise And Op. Market Garden Commemoration

Operation Market Garden
RNLAF C-130, the second aircraft of "Roque Formation" (Image credit: Marco Ferrageau)

The annual commemoration of Operation Market Garden marked the end of the Falcon Leap exercise.

On the outskirts of Arnhem, RNLAF and NATO transport aircraft combined forces to participate in the demonstration that was part of Airborne Ede 2023. The event took place in Ginkel Heath, Ede, where the same mission would have taken place 79 years ago on Sept. 17, 1944. The event marked the end of the NATO training exercise, Exercise Falcon Leap. The international paradrop mission took place at Eindhoven Air Base between Sept. 5 and 16.

Organised by the 11 Airmobile Brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army, the event saw a combination of transport aircraft dropping cargo and paratroopers across Belgium and Netherland. According to the 11 Airmobile Brigade, about 750 soldiers from 12 different countries participated in Exercise Falcon Leap. The annual commemoration of Airborne Ede marked the end of the training exercise with the attending aircraft giving one final public display.

RNLAF C-130H leads formation (Image credit: Author)

Ex-RAF C-47 Dakota started off the event

The start of the event was marked by a solo C-47 air drop. While only a single remaining Dakota was present, this low speed, low altitude pass resembled that done on historical day of September 18, 1944. During WWII the aircraft would either carry 28 paratroopers or tow a Horsa glider into enemy territory.

C-47 Dakota (G-ANAF) on solo display

A Combined NATO force

A combined force consisting of RNLAF, USAF, Italian Air Force, Romanian Air Force, Hellenic Air Force, Polish Air Force, German Air Force participated in the paradrop display after finishing their joint exercise.

Paratroopers board the Italian C-130J (Image credit: Marco Ferrageau)

With the Dutch C-130s at the lead, a nine-ship formation consisting of USAFE and Italian C-130Js, Greek C-130H, Polish CN-235, Romanian C-27J, and German A400M made consecutive airdrops over Ginkel Heath, Ede. Multiple air drops were made by the formation between 1,000ft to 1,350ft altitude.

Paratroopers jumping from RNLAF C-130H (G-988)
Parachuters jump from an Italian Air Force C-130J (Image credit: Marco Ferrageau)

The airdrop location Ginkel Heath (or Ginkelse Heide) was formerly Drop Zone Y assigned to Hacketts 4th Brigade, 1st British Airborne Division. The Allied forces that landed there would later advance to Arnhem and fight for the bridge to cross the Lower Rhine River. While the success of the operation is left to debate, Operation Market Garden is with no doubt the largest combat airborne operations in history.

Nearly 1,000 soldiers from 12 different countries took part in Falcon Leap exercise (Image credit: Marco Ferrageau)

One of the rarer sights were the Airbus A400M serving as a Static Line Airborne Jump platform. The aircraft would be the largest airframe attending the event. Although the capability of the platform has been extensively proven by the manufacturer, not a lot of instances have been recorded where the aircraft has demonstrated such capabilities. It should be noted that unlike the other aircraft on display such as the C-130, CN-295, and C-27J, the A400M was the sole aircraft to deploy its landing gears for paradrop configuration. It is suspected that this is purely due to predetermined weight and balance settings, as flying at 140kts would require full flaps.

Luftwaffe A400M 54+28 was at the end of the formation. (Image credit: Author)

After the main display, the event saw various other displays by the RNLAF. A mock high altitude jump from 10,000ft with ram-air parachutes were made from an RNLAF C-130H-30 (G-275). The final display was given by the Dutch helicopter force consisting of Puma, CH-47 Chinooks, and AH-64 Apaches giving an air assault demo.

H/T to our contributor and friend Marco Ferrageau for sending us additional details and photos about Ex. Falcon Leap

About Wonwoo Choi
Wonwoo is a student journalist and contributor to The Aviationist based in London, United Kingdom. Currently studying MEng in Aeronautical Engineering with a keen interest in OSINT, plane spotting and aircraft design. He is a former Sergeant of the Republic of Korea Army, having served as an artillery Fire Direction Centre Vehicle Radio Operator.