The first demonstration flights by the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) were flown in the year 1922. Under command by captain-pilot Versteegh the first RNLAF display team presented itself to the Dutch public during an airshow which was held at Waalhaven Airport in Rotterdam. Versteegh and his colleagues showed several formations with four Fokker D-VII fighters. Almost 100 years later the RNLAF still presents itself during airshows in the Netherlands and abroad. Since 1979 the F-16 Fighting Falcon is the main airplane to do that with. The first F-16 demonstration pilot was captain Wim Sneek, followed by 17 others. Today, one pilot, four coaches, one technical manager, one public relations manager, six crew chiefs and one webmaster together form the RNLAF F-16 Demo Team.

Why a F-16 Demo Team

"You're cleared for take-off, have a good show!" is what every demonstration pilot hears
the Air Traffic Control say right before he starts his display during an air show. After that,
about 10 to 12 minutes of tightly flown maneuvers with high-G turns follow. Besides it's a
great spectacle for the public to see a professionally flown display, there are several more
reasons why the RNLAF formed the F-16 Demo Team. The main reason is for public relations
purposes. The team represents the RNLAF and demonstrates its and the RNLAFs high standard
of professionalism by showing the F-16 for what it is: a modern and capable weapon system.
Furthermore, the team supports the RNLAFs objective to recruit new personnel by presenting
itself to a large public in the Netherlands during the RNLAF Days and other air shows abroad.


In the summer of 1979 the first F-16s were delivered to the RNLAF, replacing the F-104 and NF-5 fighters in the years that followed. That same year, on the 15th of September, the first RNLAF F-16 demonstration pilot captain Sneek presented the new fighter to the Dutch public during the RNLAF Open Day at Twenthe Air Base (AB). At first the purpose of demonstrating the F-16 was to show the tax payers what capabilities the airplane has. During the years that followed, several other RNLAF pilots had the honor to represent the air force by flying the F-16 during public air events.
Retired RNLAF-pilot lieutenant-colonel Loek "Pipe" Mulder was the coach of the F-16 Demo Team in 1987 and 1988. About the selection of demonstration pilots he explains as follows: "Experience is obviously a prerequisite for a demonstration pilot, although any RNLAF pilot is able to perform as one in terms of flying skills. Additional consideration is given to the representative powers of the pilot, as the pilot will be interviewed by several media." Mulder continues: "In addition, especially the pilot has to withstand the pressure that comes with flying international air displays. On his own in his office at the beginning of the runway the pilot can see the watching public. All eyes are on him, so the pilot really wants to give an excellent performance". Representation doesn't stop when the air show is over. This continues during meetings and diners after the show with the officers of the hosting air force, fellow teams and VIPs. This also applies for the rest of the team. These qualifications did not change much over the years. Captain "Slick" Dickens, the team's current pilot, confirms Mulders' words and adds: "Today the candidate demo-pilot has to have 'clocked' a minimum of 1,000 flying hours to qualify and his commanding officer has to support the candidacy. The most important aspect is that the candidate has to really want the job, being aware of the elements that come with it."

Color schemes

Until 1983 only F-16s in operational colors were used for the demonstration flights. In 1983 the team, adopted by the 322 Squadron based at Leeuwarden AB, used a special painted F-16 for the first time. The airplane had a tail adorned with markings to celebrate the unit's 40th birthday. From then on it became a tradition that whenever the adopting squadron had adorned a F-16 with special markings, that particular airplane was used during the airshow season.
In 1988 the RNLAF celebrated its 75th birthday. One F-16 received a special red-white-blue color scheme, representing the Dutch flag, together with the number 75 on the tail. A comparable color scheme was applied to two Northrop NF-5As (forming the demonstration team "Double Dutch") and one Fokker F-27 Friendship.
During the following years the designated F-16s all received an especially designed red-white-blue color scheme. Almost every time another squadron adopted the team, a new scheme was designed. In 1998 one F-16 was painted in a day and night color scheme celebrating the RNLAFs 85th birthday. This aircraft was used for a display only on a rare occasion.
In 2002 the RNLAF decided that the demo team should fly with one designated F-16, regardless the squadron the F-16 Demo Team was assigned to. The first one was painted in a black-grey-white color scheme. Supporting the RNLAFs slogan "One team, one task", the word "Teamwork" was painted on both wings of the aircraft. This F-16 was used until 2004. The succeeding F-16 received the so called "Sonic Boom" color scheme.
In the meantime the RNLAF invested more and more in public relations towards the population of the Netherlands and the promotional value of the team increased. In 2007 the RNLAF chose to give the succeeding aircraft a black-orange color scheme, showing an orange lion on its back and bottom. This orange lion represented the Coat of Arms of the Dutch Royal Family. The aircraft has been the eye catcher of the RNLAF for 5 years, starring in several national television commercials to interest and gain sympathy of the Dutch public and to recruit new personnel for the air force.
Due to operational necessities, the RNLAF decided in 2013 to paint the famous "Orange Lion" back to operational colors, so the aircraft could be used again for operational duties. Since then the F-16 Demo Team uses an aircraft in operational colors once again.

One pilot

The pilot's primary task obviously is to fly the displays and, as previously mentioned, is the main representative of the RNLAF during air events. The RNLAF appoints one pilot to represent the RNLAF for a maximum of two years. Only exceptions were major "Barney" Booij (1980-1983 and 1986) and captain "Sheik" Aarts (2007-2009). The main reason to appoint one pilot is that pilots are primary responsible for their military tasks. To keep in touch with those tasks, pilots have to fly regularly in operational circumstances, instead of practicing for and performing during air shows during approximately six months of a year. Mulder explains why never a back-up pilot was assigned: "Just think of all the extra training, extra noise exposure on the residents living near an air base and all the extra logistics having a back-up pilot would require. Therefore, whenever the pilot was too sick to fly the display had to be cancelled. But, during my period as coach of captain "Basco" Schevers this never happened". The same applies for "Slick".

The other team members

As a team possible show locations are discussed with the air force staff. The coach and other team members also each have specific tasks.
Above all the coach has to achieve that the demo pilot can fully concentrate on his show and all necessary preparations by taking over most daily tasks a pilot has, such as flight planning. During a show, the coach is constantly in contact with the pilot. Not only to give directions. "Pipe" says: "On a rare occasion it happened that the display director asked the pilot to fly another maneuver or add one, different from what was planned. The job of the coach is first to prevent those questions being asked. Secondly - if it did happen - to counteract, preventing possible concentration loss with the pilot or in the worst case safety issues. I know those situations cannot occur anymore due to stricter regulations after the disaster at Ramstein AB in 1988 with the Italian Air Force's demonstration team Il Frecce Tricolori. Since then, the Standard NATO Agreement (STANAG) was changed to a stricter regime." After the show, coach and pilot evaluate the show.
The crew chiefs maintain the aircraft and perform all technical pre- and post-flight checks. At the flight line, they check the aircraft and clean, polish and prepare it for the upcoming display. The crew chiefs also have other tasks, like manning the demo team's stand at the air show terrain. Besides being one of the crew chiefs, sergeant 1st class Marcel is the public relations manager. He says: "As PR-manager I have to make sure that we have enough goodies like posters, stickers and patches available to give away or sell from our stand. I also make sure all logistics are arranged, for example the car journey and hotels".
"Yes it does, but it's very fulfilling to travel through Europe with a small group of colleagues, all enthusiastically promoting our jobs and the RNLAF. We all learn to be as flexible as possible, especially when programs change at the last moment or things are arranged differently as initially agreed. This means we improve our improvising skills and learn to act appropriately. At the same time we learn from the methods our colleagues from other air forces use".


Given the fact that the F-16 has more engine power and is more maneuverable than its predecessors, the F-104G and NF-5A, means that flying a demonstration requires a lot more physical efforts from the pilot. Training is necessary. First in a simulator and after that several training flights. Dickens: "Given the altitude and the locations the maneuvers we fly aren't ordinary. Yes, they do occur during everyday operations. But, because during airshows I fly them on an altitude between 30 and 100 meters and this is very intense on the body. To keep this up during a whole airshow season, training is necessary. Also physically." He continues: "As representatives we receive media training to learn how to deal with media attention and to have decent answers or a good story in reply to the questions asked".


In 2012 and 2013 major "Sheik" Aarts was the coach of the F-16 Demo Team. During a media event organized for a radio station in 2012 he explained as follows about preparing for an airshow: "Once arrived at the airbase where the air show is held, the demo pilot flies a training session to get familiar with the aerial view at the airbase and its surroundings. Prior to the actual display, the team has several briefings. The first one is by the local meteorological department about the expected weather conditions to determine which profile will be flown." The following briefing is between the demo pilot and his coach to discuss general flight information. "Sheik": "This includes specific airfield information and alternate airfields to land in case of an emergency. After this, we will discuss the demo flight in the outmost detail: when to use flares, switch on and off the smoke winders and which maneuver is performed at which speed and at what altitude. In the meantime the crew chiefs pre-setup the aircraft. Before start up, the pilot and crew chief walk around for a visual inspection of the exterior of the aircraft. Next, the pilot takes place in the F-16 and performs pre-flight checks. Finally he taxies towards the runway to fly the show."

Show content

Even though a show mostly contains maneuvers that can occur during normal operational missions, a display pilot does not compose the show he flies all by himself. Teamwork is the key. Together the team members choreograph all maneuvers into a smooth and professional show. Former coach Mulder says: "Just like the current show, our show in the 80s had three profiles. A high, a middle and a low profile. It all depends on weather conditions and cloud base. Worse conditions then needed for the low profile means the show most likely will be cancelled." High profile can be flown with a cloud base over 7,500 feet. The middle profile show is flown with a cloud base of minimal 3,500 feet and a low profile means 1,500 feet.
In general, the display starts with a high G-turn followed by a combination of fast and slow maneuvers. The split S, steep climbs and dives, looping's, a high speed pass, the high angle of attack and other figures are shown. To heighten the visual impact of the show, sometimes new features are introduced. For example, in 1985 captain "Midas" Weber introduced so called smoke winders for the first time during the RNLAF Open Day at Leeuwarden AB. These airborne self-contained smoke generators are used since then to heighten the visual impact of the maneuvers shown. The last decade the pilots use flares during almost every display they fly, providing that weather circumstances allow deployment. These defensive countermeasures are normally only used in combat to mislead heat seeking missiles, but give an extra dimension to a show, literally highlighting the figures flown. During landing a red-white-blue drag chute is deployed.
"But, every show has its own challenges", Dickens says. He explains: "As mentioned before, weather circumstances can be a challenge. Also the terrain can be very challenging. Striking examples are antennas, buildings and other high obstacles within the show area. Also the visibility of the air field due to surrounding forests or mountains can be challenging. A show above water is extra difficult because I have almost no terrain references."

This article was also published in Lotnictwo Aviation International 5/2016. We would like to thank the RNLAF, Volkel AB and the F-16 Demo Team crew for the huge hospitality and the great experience from close by. Also we like to thank Rob Loonstra, lt-col. Loek Mulder ret., Frank Swinkels ret. and the F-16 Demoteam for providing some unique photos and thereby supporting our article.