One of the F-15C Eagle's from the Oregan Air National Guard's 123rd Fighter Squadron/142nd Fighter Wing

is captured about to recover after a morning Frisian Flag mission

Organised by 322 Tactical Training, Evaluation and Standardization Squadron (TACTESS) at Leeuwarden Air Base, the core aim of Frisian Flag is one of multi-national co-operation. Conducting multi-national fighter exercises is necessary to increase the sustainment of effective execution of each nation's air defence operations and missions. During Frisian Flag, the Movement Co-ordination Centre Europe (MCCE), which is base at Eindhoven, deployed an AAR expert to Leeuwarden to act as a liaison between Frisian Flag and EART for AAR tasking. The Royal Netherlands Navy also participated in this year's exercise with HNLMS Evertsen, an air defence and command frigate of the Zeven Provinciën class. Command over the entire exercise was controlled by the Dutch and German Control and Reporting Centre (CRC), with a NATO Boeing E-3A AWACS aircraft supporting the CRC with radar images and its on-board tactical controllers.

This particular Dutch F-16BM wear's the AZ tailcode and fintip flash from its time with the RNLAF 162nd Fighter Wing detachment at Tucson Air National Guard Base. The aircraft is now assigned to Leeuwarden with 322 Sqn

#Train As We Fight

During this year's exercises Jetwash Aviation Photos had the chance to fly with the two participating tankers that remained at Eindhoven during EART, after the United States and French aircraft had departed due to operational commitments. Flying aboard the Luftwaffe A.310 (callsign Cobo 43) and the Dutch KDC-10 (callsign Texaco 41), we captured the French, German and Dutch fighters as they linked up with the tankers to take on fuel over the 'Shell' Air-to-Air Refuelling Area (AARA) off the north-east coast of The Netherlands.

#4042 was one of five Polish Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16Cs from 3 Squadron/31 Air Base at Poznan

Note the AIM-120C AMRAAMs on the outer wing pylons

In recent years Frisian Flag has expanded the number of countries that have taken part in the exercise

The EF-18 Hornets from Ala.15 Wing at Zaragoza participated for the first time at Frisian Flag

Frisian Flag 2018

Four Dassault Mirage 2000Ds attended this year's exercise

This particular aircraft wears a 02/003EC badge on the vertical fin

The Home of Military Aircraft

Typical of the receivers that provide the traffic for the tankers during EART is this Dutch F-16

Flying as part of 'Blade' flight, the aircraft formates alongside 'Texaco 41', a Dutch KDC-10 tanker

One of the French Air Force Dassault Rafale's from Escadron de Chasse 01/030 at Mont-de-Marsan,

formates alongside the German A310-MRTT after having taken on fuel

This year’s EART (European Air Refuelling Training), the fifth such exercise, took place from 9-20th April 2018 at its regular site of Eindhoven Air Base, Netherlands. For the first time, a non-European Air Transport Command (EATC) member nation, the United States, participated in the training programme under EATC’s lead, along with France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Under the watchful eye of the Exercise Director, Colonel Andrea Massucci, EART 2018 ran in conjunction with the multi-national Frisian Flag fighter training exercise at Leeuwarden Air Base. A dedicated air-to-air refuelling (AAR) focused multi-national training for tanker and maintenance crews, EART provides the participating nations with a unique opportunity to train their aircrews in planning and executing missions within complex and realistic multi-national scenarios they are not exposed to in peacetime AAR operations. Importantly, EART also facilitates the opportunity to certify the processes between tankers and receiver aircraft. 

 area and the Vleihors range (NATO codename 'Cornfield') include Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries, which work in conjunction with the Red-Air fighters. Missions flown include air defence, destruction of static and dynamic targets on the ground or at sea, protection of high-value air assets (HVAA) such as AWACS and AAR aircraft, and the protection of slow-movers (utilising a Dutch Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft).

EART's Exercise Director, Colonel Andrea Massucci, told us that EART 2018 planned to put a premium on 'Tanker cell formation' operations and 'tanker-to-tanker' rendezvous procedures; as well as introducing the 'Advanced Certification Level' for tanker crews. However the unforeseen withdrawal of the French, Italian and United States left just two operational aircraft for the exercise, meaning that much of the planned training such as the 'tanker cell formation' procedures could not be practiced.


With the introduction of the 'new generation' fleet of Airbus A400M and A330-MRTT aircraft, EATC's member nations will become increasingly committed and more capable in their AAR capabilities. All future AAR operations will be operated as 'pooled' assets; interoperability being essential for success. It was noticeable that between 2010-2016, the number of air-to-air refuelling missions flown by EATC member nations increased year on year, whereas 2017 saw a decline in the number flown and is probably indicative of the capabilities and reliability of the aging fleets of aircraft operated by every member; a sure sign that new, more reliable and capable aircraft are of paramount importance.

The three Polish MiG.29s from Minsk air base were believed to have acted as 'Red-Air' forces during Frisian Flag 2018

One of the Spanish EF-18M Hornet's is seen on final approach to Leeuwarden

Alongside the French Rafales were the Mirage 2000Ds from Nancy-Ochey

#668 wear's the markings of 02/003 Escadron de Chasse

Captured 'plugged-in' to the basket of the hose and drogue of the Airbus A.310

is this Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoon from TLG-71 based at Wittmund

Cobham Aviation Services Dassault Falcon 20s provide operational readiness training, including electronic warfare training, mission rehearsal, and target towing for armed forces around the world

They are regular attendees at Frisian Flag and one of their ex-Canadian Air Force examples is seen here on approach to Runway 05 on 11th April 2018

Fighter Town Leeuwarden

Frisian Flag 2018 saw some 60+ aircraft from seven nations participate in one of the world's largest international fighter exercises. Executing both offensive and defensive missions, the core of Frisian Flag is centred on international co-operation between tactical air commands and air control agencies. With two waves of aircraft flown each day throughout the exercise (one morning, one afternoon), with anything up to 50 aircraft in each wave, the skies above northern Europe and Leeuwarden in particular, become heavily congested. The unique opportunity to train crews in planning and executing missions within a multi-national framework is invaluable, as is the pooling and sharing of each participating nations military air capabilities. Add to this the AAR training provided by EART running in conjunction, and it is easy to see why Frisian Flag is so popular amongst the many countries throughout Europe who participate on a regular basis, many returning year after year.

During the month of April, the Netherlands once again echoed to the sound of fast-jets as approximately 70 military aircraft from eight different nations participated in Combined Air Operations (COMAO) over northern Europe. Exercise Frisian Flag (FF) and European Air Refuelling Training (EART) have run concurrently for a number of years now, with both very much benefiting from the other. Modern fighter operations rely heavily on air-to-air refuelling (AAR), and it is of primary importance that both the 'tanker' and fighter crews practice the art of AAR on a regular basis. EART and Frisian Flag provide the ideal scenario for that; two exercises, running side by side over a two week period with the joint aim of maximising NATO's fighter operations. Jetwash Aviation Photos once again ventured across the North Sea for this year's exercises at Leeuwarden and Eindhoven air bases.

Two aircraft from 'Blade' flight formate alongside us during EART/Frisian Flag 2018

The aircraft nearest the camera wear's the markings of 322 Squadron, which will become the RNLAF's first Lockheed Martin F-35A squadron in 2019

Jetwash Aviation Photos

A German Air Force Airbus A310-MRTT participated in EART '18

They will soon be replaced by the larger A330-MRTT as part of the MMU fleet

Two AARA's are used during EART and Frisian Flag, codenamed 'Shell' (in Dutch airspace) and 'Esso' (in Danish airspace).


Aside from any missions lost to aircraft unserviceability, the daily EART missions are normally flown Monday to Friday, morning and afternoon, similar to the two waves of aircraft that operate from Leeuwarden with the Frisian Flag participants.

The participating KDC-10 from 334 Squadron, RNLAF, seen just prior to landing

The Luftwaffe contingent came from Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 71 (TLG-71) at Wittmund

Ala.15 from Zaragoza brought along a mix of both single-seat and twin-seat EF-18M Hornets

This was the first time Ala.15 had attended a Frisian Flag exercise

Two Volkel-based F-16AMs in close formation

The aircraft nearest the camera wear's a 313 Squadron badge, whilst the other carries one from 312 Squadron

A NATO Boeing E-3A from Geilenkirchen provided radar and tactical controller support during Frisian Flag 2018

A number of French Dassault Rafales from the Armée de l'Air attended Frisian Flag 2018

This Rafale C is from Escadron de Chasse 03/030 'Lorraine' at Mont-de-Marsan

'Two Exercises, One Goal'

European Air Refuelling Training 2018

As with the previous two year's, 2018 saw participation from a United States Air National Guard F-15 unit

Frisian Flag 2018's US-contingent was formed around the Oregan Air National Guard's 123rd Fighter Squadron 'Redhawks' from Portland Air National Guard Base

Participating Frisian Flag aircraft are assigned to either 'Blue' (friendly) or 'Red' (enemy) forces, with many varied aspects of current air operations flown during missions, under a high-threat environment. Ground-based air defence units in the Marnewaard training

Making a welcome, but rare appearance at this year's Frisian Flag were three Mikoyan MiG-29s from 1 ELT/23 BL based at Minsk

The first week of FF '18 was somewhat plagued with grey skies, not the best conditions for photographing grey aircraft

One of a flight of four aircraft operating as 'Saw' flight

This F-16AM Fighting Falcon wearing a 312 Squadron badge, closes in on the Dutch KDC-10

Attending for the first time, the USAF KC-135R never got involved in the exercises due to it being required to support strike missions in Syria at the end of the first week of EART. A USAF aircraft will however be back for 2019's EART

Air-to-Air during EART and Frisian Flag

Five Polish Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcons from 3 Squadron/31 Wing

were in evidence, the aircraft becoming regular attendees at Frisian Flag

Five tankers were scheduled to participate in EART 2018; however a couple of unforeseen events elsewhere impacted heavily on the exercise. The Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767A never made it to Eindhoven, it being required to provide support for a returning detachment of eight fighter aircraft returning from missile trials at Naval Air Station China Lake, California. The French Air Force Boeing C-135 flew just two missions on the first day of the exercise before being re-called by the Armée de l'Air. The U.S Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing had some minor technical issues on the first day, and was then re-called to RAF Mildenhall as soon as the issue was resolved - both aircraft being required to support the planned air strikes against Syrian targets that subsequently took place at the end of the week. These unforeseen events left the AAR assets somewhat limited, with just the Dutch and German tankers left in situ.

NATO’s air campaigns in Kosovo and Libya identified critical shortfalls in European air-to-air refuelling capabilities, having relied enormously on the United States to provide support during operations. Individual nations, as well as NATO and the EU, have been working to address this shortfall ever since. In 2013, EATC initiated the first milestones for a new AAR concept. The new Multi-national Multi-Role Tanker Transport Unit (MMU) will operate from Main Operating Base (MOB) at Eindhoven and a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Cologne. Currently 49 aircraft of nine different types and seven nations operate under the auspices of EATC. The new cost-efficient AAR force under the MMU will allow nations to operate under a 'pay for what you need' scenario-currently giving access to an eight aircraft fleet. The Netherlands is the lead nation, with 2000 hours of allocated AAR time-the Dutch will also be responsible for registration and certification of the Airbus A330-MRTT (multi-role, tanker, transport) aircraft. Germany has the largest allotted AAR time with 5000 hours, followed by Belgium with 1000 hours and Luxembourg with 200. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and contract was signed by the Netherlands and Luxembourg on 23rd July 2016, followed by Germany and Norway on 29th June 2017; and finally Belgium on 14th February 2018. Delivery of the first A330 is scheduled for 2020, with Full Operational Capability (FOC) expected to be achieved in 2023. At present Airbus has eight firm orders from the conglomerate, with a further three options on the table. In addition to the MMU fleet, France has orders for 12 aircraft of the same configuration, whilst the United Kingdom's RAF/AirTanker fleet has nine aircraft of the similar A330 Voyager, together with a 'surge' fleet of five aircraft that all have 2/3-point hose & drogue refuelling capability, but no refuelling boom. Australia also operates similar aircraft to the A330-MRTT with a five aircraft fleet.

Although the United States contingent was officially formed around the Oregan Air National Guard's 123rd Fighter Squadron,

there were also a number of aircraft from the Massachussets ANG 131st Fighter Squadron, which had attended Frisian Flag in 2016

We would like to thank the following for their assistance in completing this article

EATC Public Affairs Office, Eindhoven

Brig. Gen. Andreas Schick (Chief of Staff, EATC)

Col. Elanor Boekholt-O'Sullivan (RNLAF)

Col. Andrea Massucci (AMI)

Maj. Martin Bakker (RNLAF)

The crew of 'Texaco 41'

The crew of 'Cobo 43'

The Boeing C-135FR from the Armée de l'Air flew just two missions during EART before be re-called home

for operational commitments

"Thanks to the continuous effort of the EATC, crews increase their know-how in complex multi-national scenarios, further hone their knowledge of other allies’ tanker aircraft and tactics, techniques and procedures” says EART 2018 exercise director, Colonel Andrea Massucci, Italian Air Force. During EART 2018, focus was placed on the use of so-called tanker-cell formation in congested airspace and on tanker-to-tanker rendezvous procedures. Air-to-air refuelling is a major enabler for allied and coalition air operations, extending the range and endurance of air assets. It is paramount that aircrews in both the tankers and the fighters are well-trained and experienced to enable them to co-operate in any real-world mission.