Twice every three years the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) provides the Dutch public a look behind the scenes during the RNLAF Days. She shows how the RNLAF contributes to peace, safety and freedom. This year's edition of the RNLAF Days, called Operation Air Support, were held on Friday the 10th and Saturday the 11th of June at Leeuwarden Air Force Base (AFB). Operation Air Support stands for air support operations, international cooperation and good neighborly relations.

Air support

The RNLAF obviously protects the airspace of the Netherlands. Therefor two F-16s are on standby, 24 hours each day and fully armed, to be able to quickly react on possible threats (Quick Reaction Alert). With F-16s the RNLAF also monitors the Dutch dikes. Besides for military tasks, the RNLAF uses its helicopters to cooperates with fire departments to fight forest and heath fires and with police departments to support their efforts fighting crime. One AS.532U2 Cougar helicopter is stationed at CuraƧao, to support the Coast Guard with Search and Rescue and narcotic operations.

International cooperation

As a full member of NATO the RNLAF participates in several missions all over the world. Striking examples are its participation in the Middle-East fighting terrorism coming from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the United Nations mission in Mali and the air-policing tasks to guard the airspace of the Baltic states and the Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg combined). The RNLAF also cooperates with European Union members to monitor refugees coming from Africa and Asia.

The show

On the Thursday prior to the air show two F-5Es of the Patrouille Suisse collided in the air during their rehearsal, resulting in one aircraft crashing near the village of Bitgum. The pilot ejected safely. The other one landed its damaged aircraft. Because also no casualties were suffered on the ground, the authorities decided that the RNLAF Days could go on. In the shelter area at Leeuwarden AFB the RNLAF furnished a big information market. The RNLAF presented itself as a professional organization. She informed the public about aircraft maintenance, logistic services, the future of the RNLAF and of course tried to recruit new personnel.
In the static display almost every type of the RNLAF was present. Several international partners participated too. Amongst others, the German Air Force was present with two EF2000s and the United States Air Force with a C-17A. The Italian Air Force sent two M-346 jet trainers and the Polish Air Force showed a F-16D and a C-295M.
The aerial part of the show was filled with well-known European display teams, such as the Royal Air Force Red Arrows and the Italian Il Frecce Tricolori. Obviously, Patrouille Suisse canceled their show. Also solo displays amazed the public. Striking examples were the Belgian Air Force F-16, Spanish Air Force EF2000 Typhoon, Slovak Air Force MiG 29 and the RNLAF AH-64D Apache.

Air power

Traditionally, the RNLAF performs an Air Power Demonstration (APD). During this the RNLAF shows how she faces threats, during a simulated base attack. The APD was highlighted by simulated blasts, while F-16s used flares and AH-64Ds protected ground troops. The demonstration ended with a mass formation of all participating aircraft. The newest addition to the RNLAF, the F-35A, participated too. A global first! After a three week stay in the Netherlands, promoting the 5th generation fighter and performing sound tests, both F-35As returned back to Edwards AFB in the United States on Monday the 13th of June.
On Friday, the APD was the background for an official ceremony. Commander of the RNLAF, lieutenant-general Schnitger, passed on his command to lieutenant-general Luit.


Operation Air Support attracted a record setting number of visitors. 280,000 People attended and 12,000 viewers watched the livestream online. At the time the RNLAF decided the next RNLAF Open Days would be held at Volkel AFB in 2017. But, in October the RNLAF cancelled this event. Mainly because all RNLAF operations in the Netherlands and abroad during several missions, such as in the Middle-East, required a lot of time and manpower over the last years. The RNLAF needs some time to breath and will think over in which other or different way professional staff can be recruited the coming period.