The first operationally-assigned Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) arrived in-country on 31 October.
Aircraft F-009 flew into Leeuwarden Air Base (AB), one of the RNLAF's two planned F-35 operating stations, from the Italian final assembly and check-out (FACO) facility at Cameri. Aircraft F-009 will be assigned to 322 Squadron, as the unit begins its transition from the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon.
While F-009 is the first RNLAF aircraft to be assigned to an operational unit, the first Dutch non-test aircraft was F-003 which was rolled out of the Fort Worth production facility in January and currently resides with the international training fleet at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona.
The RNLAF is procuring the F-35A to replace its F-16AM/BMs, with 46 set to be ordered for EUR5 billion (USD5.6 billion). The first eight are currently located in the United States as part of the international training and test and evaluation fleets (six F-35As are located at Luke AFB, with two at Edwards AFB in California). In May 2016, two aircraft made the flight from Luke AFB to Leeuwarden AB, marking the first time that RNLAF F-35s had visited the Netherlands.
While delivery of aircraft F-009 to the first operational unit marks a welcome milestone for the RNLAF, the event did not apparently pass without incident. According to media reports that were substantiated by official images of the arrival ceremony, the aircraft was accidently doused in fire retardant foam instead of water as intended. This foam is highly corrosive, and it is likely that F-009 will need to undergo a deep-clean and checks at the least before it can take-up its operational duties.
The RNLAF's second F-35A operating station at Volkel AB is expected to open in 2021.
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