TUCSON, Ariz. --
The 162nd Fighter Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard welcomed Dutch pilots and aircraft as they arrived at Tucson International Airport Oct. 29. The Royal Netherlands Air Force will soon resume F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot training here after a three-year absence.
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Dutch Ambassador Renée Jones-Bos, U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs Heidi Grant, Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup and Arizona Air National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Michael Colangelo commemorated the arrival of the first two Dutch F-16 fighter aircraft during a ceremony here that highlighted the Netherland's partnership with the United States and Southern Arizona.
"The Netherlands and the United States have a longstanding history of collaboration in peace and security," said Ambassador Jones-Bos. "That collaboration is displayed in Southern Arizona. For nearly two decades, the Arizona Air National Guard was home to over 100 Royal Netherlands Air Force pilots and personnel. Dutch and American troops have trained side-by-side in Tucson, and the Netherlands is pleased to return to the 162nd Fighter Wing where our Dutch pilots will receive advanced F-16 pilot training."
Dutch pilots were the first in a long line of international students to train with the 162nd Fighter Wing. Starting in 1989, they were a mainstay program at the Arizona Air National Guard unit for 18 years until they moved to Springfield, Ohio, for a three-year agreement to train with the Ohio Air National Guard's 178th Fighter Wing.
"When the Dutch left to train in Ohio, we agreed to say 'see you later' instead of saying goodbye," said Col. Ted Maxwell, 162nd Fighter Wing commander. "Today marks what we always hoped for as we welcome them back."
The Dutch plan to base 14 of their own jets here to participate in basic F-16 flight training as well as advanced courses such as flight lead upgrade and instructor pilot certification. Flight training is scheduled to be in full swing by January 2011.
The Netherland's training program arrives on the heels of the departure of the United Arab Emirates' F-16 training program in December. The Emiratis, and their squadron of 13 F-16E/F Desert Falcons, are in the process of moving to the UAE wrapping up a six-year stay at Tucson's airport.
"The Netherlands program will fit perfectly as a replacement for the United Arab Emirates program, thereby preserving most of the Air National Guard jobs associated with the UAE. The labor pool in our 148th Fighter Squadron, currently a UAE-only training squadron, will shift to train Dutch pilots," said Colonel Maxwell.
He expects the Dutch program to average about 3,000 flying hours per year, similar to the amount currently generated by the UAE.
The incoming Dutch aircraft, six two-seat trainers and eight single-seat models, are essentially early-model F-16A/B's that have undergone cockpit and avionics upgrades that make them as capable as the newer C/D-models. In the international F-16 community they are known as MLUs, or Mid-Life Update F-16s.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force will send about 10 student pilots to train in Tucson per year, and six instructor pilots will be stationed here for three years each.
"We've been looking forward to their return for a long time," said Lt. Col. Andrew MacDonald, 148th Fighter Squadron commander. "We've always been close with the Dutch so were excited to have a joint squadron where half of the instructors are Dutch and the other half are U.S."
The initial agreement for training in Tucson is a three-year program with an option to extend based on the needs of the Dutch air force.
The 162nd Fighter Wing, a full-time international F-16 pilot training unit, additionally trains students from Poland, Singapore, Norway and Morocco.