The Blue Angels’ 60th Birthday Bash at RNLAF Leeuwarden
Koninklijke Luchtmacht (RNLAF) Leeuwarden Open Dagen 2006
2021 is the Squadron’s 75 anniversary! As the Blue Angels have retired all of their Legacy Hornets and their KC-130T in 2020, let’s take a look back at their F/A-18A and B models at an overseas show more than a decade ago.
The year was 2006, and the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron as celebrating their 60th Anniversary. As part of their schedule, a short European tour was planned and executed, including a weekend at RNLAF Leeuwarden, an air force base well northeast of the Netherlands’ largest city of Amsterdam.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see another European air show, with a twist of Blues too. I chose to attend both the Friday and Saturday air shows, which were slightly different each day. A fantastic flying and static display was presented, and now – some fourteen years later – it is well worth looking back at the event.
“Open Dagen”, or translated in English to “Open Days”, is a yearly tradition where Dutch military air bases rotate and one hosts an event open to the public for a weekend air show. This is the largest air show of the year in the Netherlands, and national pride in their air force is readily apparent. At the Leeuwarden air base, formation flying, solo routines and historic aircraft were all presented from one of the base’s two runways. The other runway and major taxiways were covered with parked aircraft on display, or space to stretch out and watch the almost five-hour long flying display.
The “home team” was led by a pair of solo military performers, the flashy F-16 demonstration as well as the PC-7 display. A large 9-ship F-16 flight, as well as an air refueling formation of a KDC-10 and F-16, and helicopter demos were all done with European flair.
A Netherlands heritage formation made up of a Spitfire, B-25 and the RNLAF F-16 demo ship was a highlight, with some great, close formation flying. Other foreign jet teams included the Patroille Suisse, Finland’s Midnight Hawks, a Portuguese Air Force 2-ship Alpha Jet team, and the Patroille de France. Of course, the Blue Angels flew their usual routine too.
A special Friday non-aerobatic flypast put the RAF’s Red Arrows in the lead of a formation with the Blue Angels F/A-18s below and behind the nine BAE Hawks. The Red Arrows had other weekend engagements, but made the short, cross-Channel flight for the Friday matinee salute to the Blue Angels.
In the ground, some very interesting military and civilian aircraft were displayed. An Austrian Shorts Skyvan, Finnish Fokker 27, Czech Air Force Antonov AN-26 and a new Polish CN-295 transport were just four aircraft not normally seen in North America.
Belgian and Royal Navy Sea Kings joined another Sikorsky helicopter, a German Army CH-53G. As far as heavy metal, a German F-4F, Turkish F-5-2000, Czech Saab JAS_39 Gripen joined multiple F-16s, including the RNLAF’s test aircraft, nicknames the “Orange Jumper” (Orange is the Netherland’s national color and identity).
Other warbirds on the ground included a DHC-2 Beaver, T-6 Texan, Fokker T-11 trainer, a Beech C-45, and a Piper L-4J. A pristine PBY Catalina was joined by a civilian Fokker 27 and Douglas DC-3C.
Unfortunately, the weather on Friday was overcast and hazy… but fortunately Saturday was the opposite… mainly clear blue skies, perfect for an air show.
The Blue Angels attracted a lot of the attention at this Open Dagen, and performed brilliantly. The formation with the Red Arrows was a rare treat, seeing the two teams fly together. For me, my satisfaction also came from the diverse aircraft and operators at the show, from countries that I usually don’t see.