Frisian Flag ’16

Posted by on Apr 22, 2016 in Blog | Leave a comment

Every year, the Dutch Air Force Base at Leeuwarden holds the ‘Frisian Flag’ exercise. This is a joint military exercise and lasts 2 weeks, with morning and afternoon missions. It usually attracts a couple foreign (NATO) Air Forces as well. For this edition, the Air Base played host to American F-15’s, Belgian F-16’s, British Tornados, French Mirages, German Eurofighters and Polish F-16’s. Plus of course a number of Dutch F-16’s. This was the first time in the 8 years that I’ve lived ‘up North’ that I’ve attended the event and man did I have fun!

Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to shoot photos of military aircraft, except for the Open Days of the Dutch Air Force (which is held every 2 years). However this time was different. I had a couple of days off and the weather seemed to hold up so I just figured I’d check it out. Armed with full batteries, an empty memory card, my photo gear and navigation system I set out for the 45 minute drive to the Air Base.

Getting nearer to the base, the road system was different than what navigation system knew and I got lost. Since it was quite foggy I was also a little afraid that the morning mission would be canceled. Luckily I read on Twitter that the morning wave was starting up and I knew that it was a go. Google Maps on my phone saved the day and I still arrived early enough. I got to the spotter hill location at the 05 end of the runway pretty easily. I thought the facilities were pretty good; a farmer turned his field into a parking area (for a small fee) and there were mobile toilets and a snack car. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since this was my first visit after all. Soon enough, a bell started ringing loudly and for a long time. I learned that this is the sign that departing or landing movements are about to take place. Everyone got the cameras ready and soon enough the first aircraft took to the sky. They all followed in pretty quick succession until the last ones were airborne.

After the last aircraft took off, so did I. The goal was to go to the other side of the runway, so we could shoot the arrivals. Unsure of how long it would take to get there, I set off a bit early. This too turned out to be pretty easy and I parked my car on a secondary road where the majority of cars were. In cases like these, just follow the crowd!
Another field was available, which was accessable by walking through an open sea container that was placed over the canal.

In the mean time, the weather had cleared up a bit as well. It was now sunny, but also a bit hazy still. One by one the aircraft of the morning mission came back, after which there was a break in the program. This allowed everyone to go back to the spotter hill and have lunch. Around 13:30, the afternoon wave started. Shooting conditions were great and I had a blast. Unfortunately I had other obligations after this, so I couldn’t hang around for the arrivals.

On April 18 I went for the second time. During the drive to the airfield I saw the most beautiful light with amazing natural contrasts, but unfortunately that went away by the time I arrived. The morning departure slot was dark and grey and I ended up deleting most of the photos I took of that session. How different it was when they came back from the mission! Although there was quite a strong and chilly breeze, the sun was out and the entire arrival slot of the morning mission was pretty good. A welcome change from the previous week was that the weather was now VFR and all aircraft came overhead in formation and then made the break above the airfield. This resulted in many crossers (1 aircraft on final and another turning final behind #1), something I was really hoping to capture from the moment I set out for the first time.

The sun remained present for most of the afternoon mission departures as well, before hiding behind the clouds again in the afternoon. What we had now was an overcast sky with a relatively low ceiling. Very challenging photography conditions for sure. Since the weather was still just about VFR, we still witnessed the breaks and crossings. However, due to the weather,, most photos came out a bit dark and I apologize in advance for some of the low quality photos you will find below. With the quite large crops also not helping, some photos are a big marginal for my personal standards but I felt the actions was nice enough to show them to you.

Conclusion: This is awesome! Why haven’t I gone sooner?! I will definitely be back next year.
And on that note – time for photos!

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Photos from 14/04 and 18/04. Enjoy!


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