Leeuwarden, Netherlands, 7 April 2017
Ten Eurofighter aircraft and around 200 servicemen and -women have spent two weeks in the Netherlands. The Frisian Flag exercise held in Leeuwarden concentrated on aerial operations over the North Sea. This was the sixth time that the Eurofighters of 31 Tactical Air Wing Boelcke had been involved in the exercise in the northern Netherlands.

(© Luftwaffe/Ulrich Metternich)
For some of the Nörvenich-based airmen, Frisian Flag has become something of a fixed point in the calendar. For others, this was the first time they had taken part in a deployment of this kind. Among the first-timers was First Lieutenant Robert Schuster, a maintenance officer who recently joined the Maintenance and Electronics Squadron. It was only at the end of last year that he graduated from his course in aerospace technology and exchanged a seat in the lecture hall for a place working on Eurofighters. After an interim getting to know all areas of the Tactical Air Wing’s technical work, he was now ready to take part in his first major exercise. “I was pretty curious to see how a deployment like this works,” he says. “At long last, it was time to go and the wing sent ten Eurofighters to Leeuwarden. There were about 200 people on top of that – military and civilian members of the wing, plus external personnel from command and control, from the electronic warfare centre and from communication and information systems support.”

Before the exercise could really get under way, communications and computer networks for technicians and pilots first had to be set up and start operating. All that was taken care of by the advance team which arrived two weeks before the start of the exercise.

(© Luftwaffe/Ulrich Metternich)
Long days to keep aircraft ready for take-off

The day-to-day conduct of the exercise meant long hours for pilots and technicians. The first of them would already emerge from their accommodation and make their way to work at 6 o’clock in the morning. While the pilots engaged in preflight planning and briefings with the other Nations, the technicians looked to the jets. “Everything has to be ready for the first round, as the morning flight period is known for short,” the 26‑year-old First Lieutenant explains. For the maintenance crews, this meant carrying out the essential pre-flight checks and topping up the jets’ fuel tanks if required.  The pilots turned up shortly after nine o’clock, wearing flak jackets, anti‑G trousers and helmets. The maintenance crew reported the aircraft’s readiness for take-off to the pilot, who then gave it a last external inspection himself – what the airmen call a “walkaround” – before getting into his seat and starting his cockpit checks. First Lieutenant Schuster was impressed: “It’s fascinating to see how well-practised everyone is. Every action is perfect and everything works like a big well-oiled machine. And when it doesn’t, the various specialists are on the spot right away to solve the problem.” 

(© Luftwaffe/Ulrich Metternich)
Team spirit writ large

“Everyone gets stuck in and helps maintain the aircraft,” Robert Schuster attests. “Cooperation here is even closer than at home. Everyone is crammed together in a small space on this exercise. That means you get an even better idea of how various areas work. It’s also an extraordinary experience to be together with other nations. When else do you get to see a Mirage 2000 or an F15 Eagle close up? I found it great to be involved everywhere and even have the chance to do things myself. For instance, I helped switch out the control unit in the cockpit roof of one of the Eurofighters.”And that excellent team spirit was not only evident among the Germans; their hosts of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) also made themselves available at all times and helped out wherever they could.

Each participating unit had a range of contacts assigned to them, who were at their disposal around the clock. “It was even better than I expected: team work was outstanding not only within the German contingent but also at the international level between the various teams,” First Lieutenant Schuster summarised.

(© Luftwaffe/Ulrich Metternich)
International experience sharing

It was not just the pilots who had a chance to exchange know-how; the technicians also profited from the international exercise. This was the first time since 2010, when they switched from Tornado to Eurofighter aircraft, that 31 Tactical Air Wing Boelcke’s equipment had included laser designator pods (LDPs). Twenty-six-year-old René Frank was one of the LDP specialists. An avionics engineer specialising in computer navigation and technology, he was one of around 50 technicians in the air wing assigned to Eurofighter maintenance and servicing.

“Our LDP workshop, as we call the LDP-RECCE light-repair subunit, has spent the last few years mainly working as a service provider for other wings. That’s because we are the only ones in the whole Bundeswehr who are certified to do this maintenance and servicing. On this exercise, we have been able to expand our horizons a little to see what our pod can achieve – not least in comparison to other countries, like the Netherlands and the UK, which use the same LDP with F
16s and Tornados. For our work, Frisian Flag was great preparation for the airdrop campaign over Sweden planned for September coming, where target illumination will depend on the LDP,”said René Frank.

(© Luftwaffe/Ulrich Metternich)
Eurofighters increasingly versatile

Having been successfully deployed in an air-to-air role to date, the German air force’s Eurofighters are soon to take on the full spectrum of air-to-ground assignments as well. The endeavour to train pilots and technicians for this area is well under way. Major Patrick B. is one of the few pilots left who remember the time when the wing’s aircraft were Tornados. Now, the 34‑year-old is one of the first to get to grips with the air-to-ground training. With 700 flying hours in Eurofighters under his belt, he is among the wing’s most experienced pilots. His verdict of Frisian Flag 2017 is positive: “This exercise is incredibly valuable for all of us – not just for old hands but for younger pilots too. It helps cement our knowledge and skills for major air operations. For the more experienced, the challenge lies in playing the role of mission commander. When you can plan air operations yourself, in highly complex scenarios with up to 50 aircraft, and then successfully carry out those plans as well, you do get a great sense of satisfaction at the end of the day.”

In the area of air strikes, he said, tried-and-tested procedures from the Tornado are now being adapted to suit the Eurofighter weapons system. There is also useful input from initial experience in the field of close air support as well as flexible and rapid target engagement for single-seat combat aircraft. This is being used to lay the foundations for future deployment procedures involving the Eurofighter multi-role aircraft. 

(© Luftwaffe/Ulrich Metternich)

Exercise successfully completed

In Major Patrick B.’s assessment, this year’s Frisian Flag exercise went well: “This has brought us another bit further on,” he said, adding, “Thanks to the technicians’ indefatigable work, we were able to carry out a lot of different training flights over the course of the exercise. The large number of flights you complete during these two weeks translates into a consistently steep learning curve. With regard to further NATO reviews, we were able to gather valuable experience for the future.” 

(© Luftwaffe/Ulrich Metternich)

This  is the translation of an article by Ulrich Metternich published on www.luftwaffe.de

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