Based on specific competence profiles and thorough medical, psychical and psychological tests candidate-pilots are selected for the Elementary Military Pilot Training (EMPT) of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF). After graduating the Royal Military Academy and the EMPT, candidate-pilots assigned to the F-16 receive further training at Sheppard Air Force Base (AFB). There they are trained to be fighter pilots and they will receive their pilot wings after graduation. Next stop? The Netherlands Detachment at Tucson Air National Guard Base (ANGB), in the middle of the Arizona desert, to become a RNLAF F-16 pilot.

First stage

After successfully completing the Royal Military Academy, candidate-pilots enter the Elementary Military Pilot Training (EMPT) at Woensdrecht Air Base (AB) in The Netherlands. The EMPT commander, major-pilot Jeroen Kloosterman, explained in earlier context to Global Air Power Media that all candidate-pilots of the RNLAF and the Royal Netherlands Navy are trained here since the EMPTs foundation in 1988. The training is divided into the Ground School and the Flying Phase. During the Ground School the candidates study Military Pilot License-Technical Knowledge (MPL-TK), to learn about subjects such as air law, meteorology, navigation, instruments and so on. This phase takes 25 weeks. During the following 12-week Flying Phase students learn to fly the Swiss built Pilatus PC-7, of which the RNLAF operates 13 aircraft.

Sheppard AFB

After completing the EMPT, future F-16 pilots move to Sheppard AFB, Texas, United States of America (USA). Since 1981, the education there is part of a joint fighter pilot training for NATO alliance countries in Europe, called the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT). The benefits of this program are many: lower costs, better training environment, enhanced standardization and interoperability, to name a few.
Students are first trained to fly the T-6A Texan II before proceeding onto the T-38C Talon. After completion they receive their pilot wings. After earning their wings they enter the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF). This 10-week course teaches students tactical formation flights and introduces them to Basic Fighter Maneuvers and air-to-air employment in offensive, defensive, and high aspect fight scenarios. Also working with live armament is part of the IFF. Students then fly the AT-38C Combat Talon. After that course is successfully completed, the candidates move to Tucson ANGB, Arizona.


The Tucson International Airport (IAP) is home to the Air National Guard (ANG) 162nd Wing, which contains three F-16 training squadrons. The Dutch F-16 training squadron is the 148th Fighter Squadron. The 162nd Wing resides on 92 acres next to the Tucson IAP. That part of the airport is designated as Tucson ANGB. The 148th FS shares use of the runway, security and fire control with the airport. The primary mission of the 148th FS is to train Dutch F-16 pilots.

In 1989 The Netherlands and USA agreed to use the facilities and people of the ANG to train Dutch fighter pilots in the F-16. Dutch pilots were the first in a long line of international students to train with the ANG. In 2007, they moved to Springfield for a three-year agreement to train with the 178th FW of the Ohio ANG. Only to come back to Tucson again in 2010.
The unit is completely Dutch, currently embedded in the 162nd ANG Wing, operating according to Dutch standards without any US-oversight and using Dutch course material. The RNLAF has 10 of its F-16s (five AM, five BM models) and around 12 servicemen based there. This includes flight instructors, a simulator instructor, mission planners, logistics and technicians. This small group is supplemented with approximately 80 US ANG servicemen, who also operate under Dutch command and follow Dutch rules. The current commander of the Netherlands Detachment Tucson Arizona (NDTA) is lieutenant-colonel Joost "Niki" Luijsterburg. Niki is an experienced F-16 pilot with over 4,000 flying hours in the F-16. During his RNLAF career he has been active in 11 international operations so far, such as in Operation Deny Flight (Bosnia), Operation Allied Force (Serbia/Kosovo) and Operation Enduring Freedom/International Security Assistance Force (Afghanistan).


The NDTA provides approximately 2,000 hours of flight training and education. The main part, which consists of 1,000 hours, is preserved for the Initial Qualification Training (IQT) for new F-16 pilots. The lieutenant-colonel explains about the Initial Qualification Training: "The transition from T-38 to F-16 starts off with a month of ground school, meaning theory lessons and simulator flights. After that, the Transition Phase starts. Pilots will make their first flight in a F-16BM trainer, learning to handle the aircraft for real and to fly several standard patterns. Most pilots will fly solo already after five training sorties. That marks the moment for the fresh F-16 pilots to learn about Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM) during the Air-to-Air phase." The BFM training covers the basic maneuvers used during air combat, or dogfighting, in order to gain an advantage over the opponent as well as a good angular position. The BFM is trained offensively as well as defensively in several staged scenarios.
"When mastering that," the commander continues, "we learn our pilots about Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM). Our pilots learn to fight with two aircraft against one, followed by two aircraft against two adversaries. After that phase we start Tactical Intercepts". Niki: "During the Air-to-Ground phase which follows the Air-to-Air phase, we perform basic and advanced bomb runs on the ranges. First medium level, then low level, first dummy bombs and later on real ones. We also learn our pilots how to perform Close Air Support. The scenarios become more and more challenging during the phase. As they progress they'll be required to master multiple tasks at the same time. Both phases are executed during day and night time and include aerial refueling." Finally, the pilots are introduced to Surface Attack Tactics. This phase teaches pilots how to fight their way to a target and return safely. In several cases aerial refueling is part of the training missions. Aerial refueling is mostly supported by the 161st Air Refueling Wing, stationed at Phoenix-Sky Harbor International Airport and flying with KC-135R tanker aircraft.
Every class consists of four RNLAF students and it takes about nine months to complete all the training phases. After the IQT, the pilots move back to The Netherlands. There they will start the Mission Qualification Training (MQT) with the squadron the pilot is assigned to. This can be either the 322 Squadron at Leeuwarden AB, or the 312 or 313 Squadron at Volkel AB.


It's the same as graduating for your driver's license. A driver knows the basics and can drive safely. To become a good driver however, it's necessary to drive regularly to get experienced in all aspects and situations. This applies for new F-16 pilots too.
The circumstances and conditions in Europe and The Netherlands vary enormously with those in sunny Arizona. First of all, Dutch circumstances are far more complex. The weather is more volatile, the airspace is more crowded, the training areas and ranges are smaller and the Netherlands is densely populated. Second, the facilities at Dutch airbases differ. For example, the runways at Dutch airbases are shorter and more narrow than the ones in the USA. This all requires getting used to. The MQT provides the necessary training for those aspects during several simulator and real flights and exercises.
A new F-16 pilot in time will become – provided the pilot will finish all MQT stages successfully – an experienced and combat ready pilot. He or she will start as a wingman. When experienced enough and the squadron commander agrees, the pilot will start a training program which teaches him to lead two-ship and later on four-ship formations. To become a Mission Commander, able and qualified to lead large formation flights into combat, a pilot has to gain experience and knowledge. Besides regular training, they will take part in exercises such as Frisian Flag (complex large-scale Composite Air Operation exercise in international context) and possibly be selected for the Fighter Weapons School (FWIT, course about the F-16s systems, weapons and tactics). Some will even come back to Tucson ANGB to be an instructor to young students.

Other training

The NDTA doesn't only train and educate new F-16 pilots. Although half of the NDTAs yearly flying hours, approximately 1,000 hours, is reserved for the IQT. Niki elaborates: "We train foreign exchange pilots, new F-16 instructors and support other efforts such as OT&E's. For these purposes we reserve around 200 flying hours each year." The commander continues: "The remaining 800 flying hours is used to train operational pilots. The area here is perfect for all kind of training aspects. Not only because of the great weather but mainly because the Arizona desert area is sparsely populated. We therefore cause little noise hindrance. Training Dutch pilots here regularly means at the same time that we contribute in less noise hindrance around the airbases in The Netherlands."

Future training program F-35

The RNLAF bought 37 F-35A Lightning IIs to replace her F-16s. Lockheed Martin will build six aircraft for The Netherlands. These, together with the two F-35s The Netherlands already bought in 2013, will form the RNLAF training squadron for the Dutch pilots at the Luke Pilot Training Center (Luke AFB, Arizona) from 2019 until 2023. The other 29 Lightning IIs will be built in Italy and will enter operational service at Leeuwarden AFB and Volkel AFB from 2019 on. Niki: "Initially, we will start at Luke AFB as part of the U.S. F-35 training program. After that we would like to set up a similar construction as we now have within the NDTA." Until 2023 the RNLAF will convert fifteen pilots per year on the F-35. When the conversion is completed, expected as of 2023, an average of five new pilots will be trained on the F-35A each year. Also maintenance personnel will be trained at Luke AFB. Back in The Netherlands, the fresh Lightning II pilot receives further operational training, plus (more and more) flight simulator hours in a Full Mission Simulator. The Netherlands will receive eight F-35 Full Mission Simulators, four at Leeuwarden AB and four at Volkel AB.
In conclusion, only one questions remains to be answered. Will the RNLAF change the content of its initial selection and training program? Niki says: "No, we will probably won't change anything at all. A fighter pilot is a fighter pilot, no matter what aircraft he or she flies. The aircraft is just a tool. The basic competences and skills of a pilot don't change. The EMPT covers the basics. The EMPTs initial selection and training has proven to be very successful and will therefore stay unchanged, even though the backbone of our air force will be a very different one than it is today." In other words, the RNLAFs training basics are in order. The RNLAF is prepared for the future in which she will operate a modern and state-of-the-art fifth generation fighter. Flown by well-trained pilots, educated by good and experienced instructor pilots.

This article was also published in Lotnictwo Aviation International 10-2018.