The Center of Human and Aviation (CHA) together with research organizations such as the Netherlands Aviation and Aerospace Center, has compiled competence profiles for specific kinds of aviators to determine what kind of aircraft a candidate-pilot is fit for. Based on those 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 the selection and before entering the EMPT, the students have to graduate the Royal Military Academy. Since the EMPTs foundation in 1988, the average percentage of dropouts during further training at Sheppard Air Force Base (AFB) quickly lowered to almost zero compared to the previous fighter pilot training.

Learning to fly after World War II

Throughout the history, the location from where RNLAF pilots were trained changed several times. This was mostly caused by the types of aircraft the RNLAF had in service since WWII, as well as the fact that setting up an own good and effective training costs a lot of effort, time and money. Therefore, the RNLAF cooperated with several allied forces to train its pilots.
Right after the World War II (WWII) ended most RNLAF pilots were trained by the English Royal Air Force. Within a year, the training moved to the Netherlands, where the Dutch candidates learned the ropes during the Elementary Flying Education (EFE). The EFE at first used the Tiger Moth, which was replaced in 1950 for the Fokker S-11 Instructor and the AT-16 Harvard. Within a few years, the RNLAF introduced jet fighters and the training moved to Canada in 1951. To be moved back again to the Netherlands after seven years.

The '70s and '80s

When the Netherlands bought the Canadian-American built NF-5 the Netherlands Ministry of Defense (MoD) signed a contract with the Royal Canadian Air Force to train Dutch fighter and helicopter pilots in Canada. The contract stated a strict rule, which in short meant that candidates weren't allowed to make mistakes. One failed exam meant expulsion. This resulted in a high percentage of dropouts. Around 40%, too high for NATO-standards. The RNLAF therefore entered a preselection in 1977. But, this didn't result in a substantial lower dropout percentage. In the meantime, the Netherlands MoD had lowered the number of pilots available from 1,4 per aircraft to 1,2 and many RNLAF pilots switched to commercial airlines. This quickly led to a shortage of pilots. To address these problems, the Netherlands MoD signed an agreement in 1980 together with 12 other NATO-members, which resulted in the foundation of the Euro-NATO Joined Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT). The ENJJPT started in October 1981 at Sheppard AFB, Texas, United States of America (USA). The helicopter training was already moved to the Army Aviation Center at Cairns Army Air Field (AAF), Fort Rucker, Alabama, in 1977.

Extra spots

When the world economy revived again during the mid-80s the commercial airline companies profited. Their need for experienced pilots grew and again many RNLAF pilots decided to choose for contracts with commercial airlines. The RNLAF needed extra new pilots, more than the ENJJPT could deliver on short notice. Just like the Netherlands, Belgium bought the F-16. But, Belgium had kept their jet pilot training throughout the years. Therefore, the RNLAF decided to cooperate with the Belgian Air Force once again. From 1985 the Belgian Air Force annually granted a few spots in their pilot training to the RNLAF to train its future F-16 pilots. The current commander of the 131st EMPT Squadron, major-pilot Jeroen Kloosterman, was one of them. In the meantime, the Netherlands MoD decided to organize the military pilot training within the RNLAF and founded the EMPT.

Mea doctrina volantes

In the beginning the 131 EMPT Squadron didn't have an official logo. Nevertheless, all PC-7s had a logo on the tail, showing a young and older bird within a white triangle (the sign for a student-pilot). This changed in 1989 after the RNLAF 313 Squadron became fully operational with the F-16. Since the early '70s the 313 Squadron served as a training- and conversion unit for the in the USA and Canada trained Dutch fighter pilots (Theatre Qualification Program, a program to teach pilots the difference between weather circumstances and procedures in the USA and in Europe). When its task changed in 1989 to air support and air defense, the 313 Squadron chose another logo. This became a tiger. The old 313 logo was passed on to the 131 EMPT Squadron, together with the Latin phrase 'Mea doctrina volantes'. This translates into: Because of my lessons they learn to fly.
Around 50 people work within the EMPT: 15 instructors and the rest are technicians, platform crew and other supporting personnel.

Contents of EMPT

After successfully completing the Royal Military Academy, candidate-pilots enter the second phase of their pilot training: the Elementary Military Pilot Training. The EMPT is based at Woensdrecht Air Base (AB) in the Netherlands and is part of the 131 EMPT Squadron. The EMPT commander, major-pilot Jeroen Kloosterman, says: "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. The duration of the training depends on the type of aircraft a candidate is assigned to."
During the Ground School the candidates study Military Pilot License-Technical Knowledge (MPL-TK). This phase takes 25 weeks. During this course the students learn about air law, the airframe and its systems, instruments, flight performance and planning, human performance, meteorology, general and radio navigation, operational procedures, aerodynamics, flight mechanics and communication. Every two weeks a student's progress is tested and if necessary extra personal guidance is provided. To graduate, a student has to score 75% or higher on each test. If he or she needs more than three re-exams, the student fails and is relieved.

Flying phase with PC-7

During the Flying Phase students learn to fly the Swiss built Pilatus PC-7. The PC-7 is a turbo propeller trainer with a tandem cockpit. The PC-7s design is based on its predecessor, the Pilatus P-3 trainer. The instructor sits in the backseat and the student in the front. The aircraft is in service with more than 20 air forces all over the world. Since the introduction in 1978 Pilatus has sold over 500 PC-7s, of which most of them are still operational. The RNLAF operates 13 aircraft.

Kloosterman explains about the Flying Phase: "This phase takes 12 weeks, during which the on average 17 students fly around 30 hours with the PC-7. Each week the students are tested about boldfaces and limitations and each flight is evaluated and scored. Every year two Flying Phases take place. Designated helicopter pilots, on average 12 students, then follow the Advanced Flying Education (AFE). During the AFE they fly around 55 additional hours with the PC-7. This means we clock around 3,200 flying hours each year." In total a student gets five do-overs if he or she needs it. "We are really focused on delivering good student pilots. We invest heavily in the basics with the intention to have as few dropouts as possible in this and following training phases. Since the RNLAF decided to train their own pilots within the concept of the EMPT, the dropout percentage lowered to around 30% in comparison to the '70s and early '80s", the commander says proudly.

The time to train future pilots is limited and therefore standardization is very important. Learning methods are standardized and captured in a syllabus. All instructors teach the skills the students have to learn using the same methods. But, each instructor also brings his own experiences as a pilot and as an instructor. Although those experiences are very valuable, each student is assigned to only one or two instructors until their first 'checkride' the pilot training with the EMPT. After that a student will receive training from any random instructor.This prevents students from getting confused due the different experiences every instructor has and shares. All procedures, skills and emergency situations are also trained in the simulator. The EMPT has one simulator and two Cockpit Procedure Trainers available.

After the EMPT

The major: "After completing our EMPT, the students assigned helicopters will stay at Woensdrecht AB to be trained during the AFE. Those students fly around 55 flying hours more with the PC-7. After that, they move to Fort Rucker to be qualified for the Initial Entry Rotary Wing. Pilots assigned to the AH-64D Apache and CH-47D/F will stay there to be further trained for the mentioned types. Students assigned to the AS.532U2 Cougar move to Fort Hood. Students assigned to the Royal Netherlands Navy NH90 helicopter move to B├╝ckeburg AB, Germany." After 11 months learning to fly the EC-135, the training to fly the NH90 follows at Naval Air Station De Kooy in the Netherlands.
Future F-16 pilots and transport pilots move to Sheppard AFB. Kloosterman: "There they are first trained to fly the T-6A Texan II. Students assigned to the F-16 after that proceed on the T-38C Talon. When qualified, the student enters the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF)." This 10-week IFF course begins with tactical formation flights and introduces the students 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-38B Combat Talon. When completed, the student finally receives his pilot wings.

With his shiny wings spelled on his uniform, the pilot moves to Tucson Air National Guard Base to be trained for the F-16. Besides the RNLAF F-16 pilots also other F-16 pilots are trained there, for example the ones from the Polish, Norwegian and Japanese Air Force. The course takes 25 weeks. In the future, probably after 2020, the next generation fighter pilots will be converted to the RNLAF F-35 at Luke Air Force Base (AFB).


The PC-7 trainer is in RNLAF service since 1988 and is scheduled to be operated until 2027. When the last PC-7 is phased out, almost 40 years have gone by. Up until this year, the aircraft didn't receive major upgrades. "So, to be able to fly for another 10 years or so", Kloosterman says, "the Netherlands MoD therefore signed a contract in 2015 to upgrade all 13 trainers in RNLAF service. The program is known as Obsolescence Prevention Program (OPP)." The OPP was carried out by manufacturer Pilatus at its plants in Stans, Switzerland. The first upgraded PC-7 arrived at Woensdrecht AB on the 19th of July, 2017.
The commander elaborates: "The OPP primarily is focused on digitalizing cockpit instruments. All analog systems are replaced for digital systems. In comparison to the PC-7 the Swiss Air Force has in service, not only the navigation instruments are digitalized. The engine instruments are replaced too, resulting in a full 'glass' cockpit. The navigation instruments are all replaced by the Primary Flight Display System. The PC-7 has a back-up available when the PFD fails, called the Secondary Flight Display System. Furthermore, the engine instruments are all replaced by one Engine Indicator Display. Pilatus also will completely reinforce each of our airframes' structure (Structural Enhancement of tail, fuselage and wings). From now on each three months two PC7s will be upgraded, finalizing the OPP in October 2018." The OPP enables the EMPT to fly its trainer fleet for another 12,000 hours. In the meantime, the RNLAF will start thinking about the future of RNLAF pilot training.
The major adds: "At the same time Pilatus upgraded and reinforced our trainer aircraft. The manufacturer also performed a 200-hour inspection. Normally we perform the 100-hour, 200-hour and 1,000-hour inspections ourselves. However, combining the upgrade and structural enhancement with the 200-hour inspection seemed efficient and therefore logical to us."

To sum up

Jeroen concludes: "I really think we have one of the best concepts for training our future pilots. Judging from all compliments we and our students receive during further training phases, I think several air forces are a bit jealous of the fine job we do here as one team. Delivering quality, starting from the basics and keeping that up throughout all training phases that follow, is our top priority. A result of that for example is, that each time a training at Sheppard AFB is concluded, one or more of our guys end up in the top five of best scoring students. In addition to the fact that after the EMPT almost no student fails anymore, that is one of the best compliments we can get!"

This article was also published in Lotnictwo Aviation International 2-2018.