Report: Frisian Flag 2019

The Frisian Flag is the largest aerial exercise organized annually by the Royal Netherland Air Force involving dozens of combat aircraft from numerous NATO countries.

Frisian Flag 2019 Leeuwarden Netherlands
U.S. F-16 belonging to the 148 FighterWing, Minnesota ANG, during Frisian Flag 2019.

Fighter pilots from different countries trained complex missions in an international context during exercise Frisian Flag 2019. Around 50 aircraft took off twice a day from Leeuwarden airbase. During the exercise, air-air-refueling was performed by tanker aircraft at Eindhoven airbase (NL), that flew in their own exercise EART 2019

The Royal Netherlands Air Force participated with F-16s from Volkel airbase and Leeuwarden airbase. The Polish Air Force brought the newest F-16Cs. The US Air Force sent F-16C aircraft from the 148 FighterWing of the Minnesota Air National Guard, based at Duluth (MN) airbase. These F-16s were painted with special "Have Glass" painting, in a dark grey color. The German Air Force participated with Eurofighters and the French Air Force took a number of Mirage 2000D aircraft from Nancy airbase. A special participant was the Swiss Air Force with the F/A-18 Hornet, after some decades of absence, the Swiss took part in an exercise in the Netherlands. A Cobham DA-20 is deployed from England to disrupt communication with fighter aircraft. That makes their operations extra difficult. In addition, a number of air defense systems must contribute to making the scenarios as realistic as possible. The new Multi Mission Radar (MMR) is also being used. This radar of the army detects enemy actions extremely quickly.

Limiting nuisance

Today's missions are increasingly happening in a coalition context. This also makes training in an international context necessary. Because Leeuwarden airbase is close to the large exercise area above the North Sea, the exercise is from the Frisian location. Head of Operations Lieutenant Colonel Ronald van der Jagt is aware that Frisian Flag has an impact on the environment. Yet he hopes for understanding. “It is one of the points of attention to minimize unnecessary inconvenience. Fixed departure and landing times are used as much as possible. ”According to Van der Jagt, people from the neighborhood therefore know exactly when the flight movements are.


The exercise takes place not only in Dutch airspace, but also in that of Germany and Denmark. This requires close cooperation between the airspace control authorities of the 3 countries. The combat management is in the hands of the Dutch and German Control and Reporting Center (CRC). An Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) reconnaissance aircraft from Geilenkirchen also contributes to this.

During the first week of the exercise, the planes flew in the north-south direction where simulated attacks were carried out on the north of the Netherlands. During the second week the targets were set in the north of Germany, with the planes flying from the west to the east.

On the first day of the exercise, Monday April 1, 2019, a media day was organized at Leeuwarden airbase.


- The experienced French lieutenant-colonel Raphael had come to Leeuwarden airbase with 85 people and 4 aircraft to teach his pilots to fly in large groups of aircraft of various types, the "Composite Air Operation" (CAMAO). In the role of Mission Commander, he prepared and executed the complete FrisianFlag mission from Tuesday in the first week

- The young American lieutenant Smidt, with only 100 flying hours on the F-16, was amazed during his first exercise abroad, during which an almost complete air war was also conducted during Frisian Flag. His biggest exercise to date included 10 planes while he was now engaged in aerial combat with as many as 50 planes.

- The Swiss Lieutenant Colonel Studer was honored to participate in Frisian Flag. Given the upcoming selection period for the new fighter aircraft of the Swiss Air Force, Frisian Flag was the only foreign exercise in which it could participate this year. The NATO TigerMeet in the French Mont-de-Marsan, the Tactical Leadership Program in the Spanish Albacete and the Artic Challenge exercise in Sweden will be skipped this year. With 16 pilots and 4 planes, the Swiss could only participate for a short time in the exercise. For operational reasons, the Swiss aircraft and pilots have already returned to Switzerland on the Tuesday of the second week.

- The Frisian Flag "exercise director", Lieutenant Colonel Ronald van der Jagt indicated that for this exercise the number of people at the airbase has doubled during these 2 weeks. The planning for FrisianFlag 2020 starts already 1 week after the end of the exercise. Then the first preparations are already started again. Given the arrival of the first Dutch F-35s around October / November this year and the slow reduction of the F-16s at Leeuwarden airbase; later this year a choice will be made as to whether the FrisianFlag 2020 can proceed in its current form.


F-16AM RNLAF / Leeuwarden / 322TT SQN
F-16AM RNLAF / Volkel / 312 & 313 SQN
F-16C USAF / Duluth / 148 FW
F-16C PLAF / Poznan
Eurofighter GAF / Noervenich / TLG 31B
F-18 SAF / Meiringen / Staffel 11
M-2000D FAF / Nancy / 3 rd Wing

All photos, all text: Joris van Boven and Alex van Noye

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