First Dutch F-35A grounded for three weeks after welcome blunder

Johan C. op den Dries

As the Koninklijke Luchtmacht, the Dutch Air Force, was receiving its first operational F-35A fighter jet in Leeuwarden Air Base, on October 31, the whole country had eyes on the new aircraft. However, not everything went as expected.

The arrival of the first operational F-35A fighter jet in the Netherlands was described as “historical” by the Dutch Ministry of Defense in a statement. More than 2,000 people/quests had been invited to the welcoming ceremony. The aircraft took off from Cameri, Italy, where it was assembled.

Before landing, Ian Knight, commander of the 323 Test and Evaluation Squadron, saluted the audience by flying an honorary round accompanied by 3 predecessors: an F-16, a Hawker Hunter and a Spitfire.

But once the F-35A fighter jet landed on the runway of Leeuwarden, the ceremony took an unexpected turn. The aircraft was welcomed by the traditional “water salute” from two fire trucks. However, one of them did not spray water but doused the aircraft with firefighting foam instead.

(Credit: Johan C. op den Dries)

This mistake should ground the aircraft for two weeks, as it will now be inspected for damages. “Extinguishing foam can have a corrosive effect, so we are in consultation with the manufacturer as to what we should check, for example, certain openings or the engine,” a spokesperson from the Defense Minister told Dutch media NOS. The special coating of the F-35A supposed to absorb radar waves could have been damaged. Moreover, technicians will need to check for foam in the engine.

Several Dutch media have reported that an F-16 from Volkel Air Base, had to land in Leeuwarden due to smoke in the cockpit, shortly before the arrival of its successor. The base firefighters might have simply forgotten to switch back to water mode for the salute, as the two switches are next to each other, according to the Defense spokesperson.

So far, eight Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets were delivered to the Netherlands, out of the 46 the country ordered to replace its aging fleet of F-16s. They are currently remaining in the United States for training purposes. A second fighter jet is expected in three weeks.

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