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F-16 formation

Dutch freeview

Andrew Bates reviews the Klu Open Dagen 2007, held at Volkel on 15/16 June. Photography by Gary Parsons & Mike Kerr

Can you just imagine it? Turning up at a major military airshow and finding an admission charge of precisely 0 Euros (that's about £0.00 in real money at current exchange rates). Then as you walk through the gate, a glossy full colour magazine and programme is thrust into your hand. As you reach for your wallet you then quickly realise you won't need to part with any of your hard earned readies, the programme is free as well. No need to pinch yourself, it's not a dream, this is the reality of attending the annual Koninklijke Luchtmacht Open Dagen (Royal Netherlands Air Force Open Day). Traditionally rotated between bases, 2007 saw the event make a return to Volkel during mid-June.

Thanks to the enlightened attitude of the Dutch military, the tax-payers are treated to a free two-day show every year so that they can see just exactly what their taxes are paying for and also enjoy, at close quarters, a comprehensive demonstration of the capabilities of their air force. Conversely, the RNLAF gets a golden opportunity to present all of their roles, both on the ground and in the air, to the general public and are thus able to present a wide range of possible job prospects to a rich source of potential recruits. With a variety of trades to choose from, all showcased within the vast display marquees on site, there was much to inspire all the youngsters in the crowds, not to mention all the free posters and stickers on offer.

Role demonstration
Turkish Stars
Patrouille de France
Static park

Approximately 240,000people were destined to file through the gates over the two days - this was quite a reasonable attendance figure given the rather indifferent summer weather that had been endured up to that date. However, overall it wasn't too bad, with largely dry and sometimes sunny conditions prevailing, though there were the inevitable rain showers in between, with a particularly severe thunderstorm curtailing the Patrouille de France display at the end of Saturday's show.

There was also some high drama during Friday's show when a Dutch F-16 suffered a bird strike during take-off, causing an immediate engine stall and flame-out. Everyone held their breath as they watched for what they thought would be an inevitable ejection, but fortunately, after jettisoning his drop tanks in a nearby field, the pilot managed to nurse his aircraft back for a successful emergency landing. The emergency services were on hand to render assistance almost immediately and the pilot was able to safely evacuate his aircraft without further incident but the displays had to be suspended for half an hour before the runway could be cleared.

There were a number of 'firsts' recorded during the 2007 show, the most popular being the first appearance of the 'Turkish Stars' display team and their NF-5 Freedom Fighters. They were likely to have been most welcome with the Dutch enthusiasts simply because the team's aircraft are of course ex-KLu machines, so it was almost like turning the clock back to see so many NF-5s gracing the Volkel flightline.

Other debutants included the first appearance of a Hungarian Air Force JAS-39D Gripen and a very attractive looking Hunter T8C in an authentic RNLAF colour scheme, having recently been acquired from the UK by the Stichting Hawker Hunter Foundation. This foundation was started in 2005 with the sole objective of operating a Dutch-based Hunter as a historic link to the post war jets of the KLu. The project gained support from the air force which has since allowed the aircraft to be based at Leeuwarden, where it is flown by former Leeuwarden base commander Barney Booij. Painted to represent a Dutch T7, the aircraft spent most of its career with the Royal Navy as a T8C, with it finally retiring at Yeovilton in 1994. Sold into private hands at auction in 1995, XF357 was purchased by Barry Pover, and it joined the Classic Jet Aircraft Company based at Exeter Airport. After a number of years on the UK airshow circuit, registered as G-BWGL, it was sold in 1998 to Jet Heritage at Bournemouth. After being ferried down to its new home by pilot Keith Hartley, it was paint-stripped and taken apart in preparation for a major overhaul. However, several months later, whilst midway through overhaul, the aircraft was put up for sale and it was then acquired by the Old Flying Machine Company. At this point, XF357 was re-finished in an overall-silver colour scheme, representing the prototype T7 XJ615, and was flown regularly by the Duxford-based team until the aeroplane changed hands again, this time to Elvington Events Ltd based in Yorkshire. After repainting into Dutch markings back at Exeter, the Hunter departed for its new home in the Netherlands in May 2007.

As is always the case with Dutch shows, there was an excellent selection of airframes on show to keep the enthusiasts happy, including gems such as Polish Air Force Su-22, Hellenic Air Force F-16 and pair of French Navy Rafales to name but a few, whilst there was the usual supporting displays from the Dutch warbird community, both on the ground and in the air. Other display teams included the L39s from the Breitling Jet Team, Royal Jordanian Falcons and Swiss PC-7 Team, whilst the real heavy metal displays came courtesy of both the Dutch and Belgian 'Vipers' complemented by the Swiss and Spanish Hornets. And after years of flying the 'final' display, sad to say it really was the last ever Open Dagen for the diminutive Belgian Magister.

Of course the real draw for the public has to be the ever-impressive 'air power' demonstration. It's quite a sight to see about fifteen or so F-16s 'attacking' the airfield with simulated bombing runs before a variety of helicopters, such as Cougars, Chinooks, and Apaches simulate an airborne assault. As always, a real taste of Dutch military prowess that must surely boost the recruitment figures after the show draws to a close. The Dutch may not enjoy as many airshows as we do in the UK, but they sure know how to organise one. Don't suppose they could extend their influence over here? Just a thought.


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