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Dutch F-16 pilot training to return to Tucson

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gabe Johnson
  • 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The Royal Netherlands Air Force will soon resume F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot training here at Tucson International Airport after a five-year absence.

Dutch pilots were the first in a long line of international students to ever 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 five-year agreement to train with the Ohio Air National Guard's 178th Fighter Wing.

"We have a long and very successful history with the Dutch. We're looking forward to reestablishing our relationship with their air force," said Brig. Gen. Greg Stroud, 162nd Fighter Wing commander.

The details of their return, scheduled for January 2011, were the subject of discussion between wing and Dutch air force leaders during a site visit April 26-28.

The Dutch plan to base 14 of their own jets here to participate in basic F-16 training as well as advanced courses such as flight lead upgrade and instructor pilot certification.

In addition to student training, the 162nd will periodically host experienced Dutch pilots for operational training before deployments to Afghanistan; training opportunities similar to those offered at Operation Snowbird, a wing detachment at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Their arrival will come 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, will move 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 the general.

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 UAE is still our customer until December 31 and the goal is to make the transition as seamless as possible," he said. "Some Dutch equipment will start arriving as early as October as UAE equipment leaves and makes room. We'll have a detailed and complicated plan at times."

Col. Peter Tankink, chief of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Fighter Branch, anticipates about 10 Dutch pilots will train in Tucson per year, and about six instructor pilots will be stationed here for three years each.

According to Tankink, the Dutch are excited about their pending return.

"Of course the benefits of training in Tucson include the weather. You can execute all planned training without delays due to bad weather," he said. "The second thing is the training ranges are perfect here."

He also noted the advantages of training alongside student pilots from other nations.

"It helps to talk to those guys and learn what level of training they have and to exchange some thoughts on operational and tactical flying. In the future we will be working with them in operations in Afghanistan. We will also train with them down the road, for example we recently had a large training exercise in Holland working with Polish pilots who have trained here in Tucson," said Colonel Tankink.

The broad international flavor of the wing also translates to reduced costs for the Netherlands.

Cost sharing among several partner nation air forces makes training in Tucson affordable. Current partners like Poland, Singapore, Norway and Morocco each take on a piece of the 162nd's operating budget which is fractionalized at a per-student rate.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which runs airfield operations at Tucson International Airport, also contributes to bringing down training costs. Bases that don't share an airfield with a commercial airport usually take on the entire expense.

"We've been working closely with the Secretary of the Air Force's International Affairs office and the Air Force Security Assistance Training office to arrive at a letter of offer and acceptance that works for the Dutch," said General Stroud. "SAF/IA's role, as it is for all partner nations, is to arrange the best training at the best cost."

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.

"We are very happy to be coming back to Tucson," said Colonel Tankink. "We really enjoyed our stay and the training here from '89 to 2005, and we look forward to working with the 162nd again."