F-16.net: Please give us an overview of your military career and tell the readers a little about yourself?
Christian: I was trained at Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training in Sheppard Airforce Base,
Texas. I furthered my training in the F-16 block 15 in 1995 at the ANG in Tucson. My first squadron was 306 Squadron at Volkel AB. This was a recce squadron. I spend a great 5 years there, but when our Head Quarters decided to turn this in to an OCU squadron, I packed my bags for fighter town Leeuwarden. For 4 years I am proud to be a part of the 322 Squadron. This year is my second and last year as the display pilot.
RNLAF F-16 Solo Display Team 2004 'Frysian Dragon' (Asif Shamim Collection)
F-16.net: What is your call sign and how did you get it?
Christian: "Louis", no comment
F-16.net: How many hours do you have in the F-16?
Christian: 1,600 hours
F-16.net: What do you like about the F-16?
Christian: You don't step in a F-16, you wear it. It makes dreams possible.
F-16.net: How would you improve the F-16?
Christian: For fun I would like to have more power and a variable nozzle. For effectiveness I would like to have more power and more internal fuel.
F-16.net: What is your most memorable time with the F-16 both positive and/or
Christian: The best time in the F-16 was when we still did low level flying. Both in Goose
Bay and Red flag. The worst times are the 6 hour ferry flights.
F-16.net: Other than the F-16, what aircraft have you flown? And how does the
Christian: The only operational jet I ever flew is the F-16. I had backseat rides in a MiG-29 and Mirage 2000. The Mirage has more AOA available but falls out of the sky after he puts this big delta wing into the wind. The MiG has power and turns very well. It is an ergonomical drama inside the cockpit, it will not roll and it lacks fuel.
F-16.net: Many F-16 pilots look forward to a flight in the MiG-29. Where did you get your flight and what can you say about the MiG-29?
Christian: I was lucky enough to participate on a squadron exchange to Kecskemet, Hungary. The MiG-29 is powerfull and has a turn rate which is comparable to the F-16. Disadvantage is the very bad cockpit layout. You can hardly see past the 3/9 line and the pilot has great difficulty reaching switches. Furthermore it lacks endurance, since it was designed as a point defence fighter, so if you can last 5 minutes without being shot by a MiG-29 it will flame out due to fuel starvation. If you find yourself low and slow with a MiG-29 he will kick your a**.
RNLAF F-16AM, #J-016
(Photo by A. Zeitler)
F-16.net: Tell our readers about the 2004 demo team and who's behind the scenes?
Christian: I would like to refer to our website www.f16demoteam.nl
There is a whole base supporting the demo team
F-16.net: What big shows are being preformed this year?
"Captain Christian "Louis" van Gestel"
F-16.net: How is a demo team put together and when does that start coming together?
Christian: Every 2 years a different base is tasked to host the F-16 demo team. The old
demo team will train the new demo team. For a demo team you need 1 pilot, 2 coaches, 4 crewchiefs, 1 PR manager and a lot of local support. You can apply for the job and the base commander decides who is getting it.
F-16.net: What does it take to be a demo pilot when there are so many pilots from
which to chose?
Christian: You need 1,000 hours on the F-16 and you need to be willing to wave away your
social life for 2 years, since you will be on tour every weekend during the season that lasts from May untill October.
F-16.net: What is the demo bird going to look like this year?
Christian: We had a great paintingscheme for this year, but due to budget costs, we were
not allowed to repaint the jet this year. The old paint is still looking good so we decided to use the #J-016 for one more year.
"Captain Christian "Louis" van Gestel waves to the crowd."
F-16.net: Give a brief about your routine and indicate the "tough" parts?
Christian: I try to show all aspects about what makes the F-16 a great machine. I start the
show with a minimum radius turn. Next I will show the high roll rate. Naturally a F-16 demonstration is not complete without showing the maximum positive (+9) and negative (-3) G of the F-16. The slow speed pass (105kts) and fast pass (600kts) are done before I end the show with a spiral. The spiral is started at 12,000 ft and is a maximum AOA and maximum rolling descending maneuvre which I do with flares on our own Airshow in the Netherlands.
The toughest part is to make the show fluent instead of a series of maneuvres while respecting the display line and minimum hight of 300ft (100ft during the straight and level high speed pass).
F-16.net: Is there going to be a special 2004 demo patch?
Christian: Yes, come to one of our stands on the airshows.
322nd Squadron (Herman Gerritsen collection)
F-16.net: After this years air show season, what activities will you return to?
Christian: On weekdays I am and will continue to be a flight commander on 322 squadron.
F-16.net: Any fond memories of a specific deployment or exercise?
Christian: Being deployed in Italy was great.
F-16.net: What do you think now that the Dutch will no longer be using Goose Bay?
Christian: Flying low level in Goose Bay was one of the best experiences in the F-16. Happy Valley is not really a party town so it is great to be there for 2 weeks and then get the hell out.
F-16.net: What assignment/squadron is/was your favorite?
Christian: 322 squadron is the most Northern squadron. In the north of the Netherland is
where all the nice training area's are. Wheels in the well and fights on.
F-16.net: Is there any particular F-16 tail number(s) to which you are fond?
Christian: The only tailnumbers I like are the ones flying
F-16.net: What advice would you give future pilots?
F-16.net: Any words of advice to any of our young readers wanting to join the military?
Christian: Try it once and if you succeed, good for you and have fun. If you don't succeed go do something else you like. There are too many people that hang around hoping that tomorrow they will be hired.
F-16.net: Anything that you would like to add?
Christian: check out: www.f16demoteam.nl
F-16.net: Thank you for the interview!
- Capt. van Gestel was interviewed online by Jon Somerville on June 3rd, 2004 -
RNLAF F-16AM #J-016
Dutch demo team equipment.
Look for this van on the roads in Europe (Photo by Andries van Straten)