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Dutch throw foam party for their first operational F-35A

October 31, 2019 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Crash trucks at the Royal Netherlands Air Force's Leeuwarden Air Base were supposed to provide a water cannon salute to herald the arrival of the country's first operational F-35A JSF to be based in the country, but accidentally coated it in firefighting foam instead.

The first operational F-35A based in the Netherlands (#F-009) got a foam bath by mistake when it arrived at Leeuwarden AB. [RNlAF photo]

The base firefighters had reportedly responded to an actual emergency involving an F-16 earlier and forgot to switch back to shooting regular water for the ceremony.

The F-35A (F-009) arrived at Leeuwarden at around 15:30h local time and landed after flying a lap around the base. The jet had flown from the final assembly and checkout (FACO) facility in Italy, where Leonardo assembled it under license from Lockheed Martin.

The aircraft was being flown by Ian Knight, Commanding Officer of the 323 Test & Evaluation Squadron, the unit that has conducted the F-35A testing for the Dutch military.

The impromptu Ibiza-style foam party didn't seem to dampen Dutch spirits any, and the arrival ceremony continued as planned.

The Dutch Air Force already has eight other Joint Strike Fighters, but they are all in the United States where they have been conducting flight testing at Edwards AFB. Those aircraft have made multiple visits to the Netherlands since 2016, but are not permanently based in the country.

The country is buying 46 of the jets in total, including nine more it agreed to purchase just this month following the ejection of Turkey from the F-35 programme.

It's not clear what this might mean for the aircraft, which ingested some of the foam into the engine intakes and the engine itself, as it taxied to the ceremony area after the impromptu foam party. Reports regarding past military aviation mishaps involving the accidental release of firefighting foam onto aircraft in hangars typically say that firefighting crews later used water to wash it away without any mention of serious lasting effects. Whether that applies to stealthy aircraft, such as the F-35, which have very sensitive external features, especially the specialized radar-absorbing coatings that cover their skin, is unclear.

Hopefully, the first experience that personnel at Leeuwarden have with this new operational jet won't be having to strip it down to remove any traces of the mistaken foam salute. Although it might prove to be a costly mistake, it is still better than shooting your own jet of course.

The F-35A was chosen by the Netherlands in September 2013 to replace the sixty F-16AM fighter jets it currently operates.

In 1975, the Netherlands was one of the four initial European customers of the F-16, along with Belgium, Denmark, and Norway. The four countries have all decided to upgrade to the F-35 since then. The Netherlands is a Level 2 partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program, having invested $800 million in development costs.

To date, more than 360 F-35s have been delivered and are now operating from 16 bases worldwide. Ten nations are flying the F-35, seven countries have F-35s operating from a base on their home soil, five services have declared Initial Operating Capability, and two services have announced their F-35s have been used in combat operations.

Additional images:

The first operational F-35A based in the Netherlands (#F-009) got welcomed by 2 E-ONE emergency vehicles at Leeuwarden AB. [RNlAF photo]

Firefighting foam is seen dripping from the first operational Dutch F-35(#F-009) as the pilot, Ian Knight, CO of the 323 Test & Evaluation Squadron, exits the aircraft to greet a crowd including various government dignitaries on October 31st, 2019. [RNlAF photo]

RNlAF F-35A #F-009 is seen on its first flight on September 9th, 2019 from FACO Cameri. This is the first of the Dutch airframes being assembled in Italy. [Photo by Jan Dijkstra]