Exchange program connects U.S., Dutch Airmen

  • Published
  • By Louis A. Arana-Barradas
  • Air Force Print News
Training young pilots to push the F-16 Fighting Falcon to its operational limits is a job Lt. Col. David Stine loves as much as flying.

Even better is doing both those things with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, he said. That is just what he has done for three years as an exchange pilot at this busy fighter base.

The colonel is a training instructor pilot with the Dutch air force’s 306th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron. He said the job is satisfying and has an important purpose.

“From the start, I try to instill in young pilots what it is to be a fighter pilot,” said Colonel Stine, on exchange from the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson, Ariz.

And the Dutch need fighter pilots as they take on a more active NATO role, he said. That is evident here, where the Dutch air force’s 1st Fighter Wing has a key NATO strike mission -- supply U.S. Air Force munitions. The Dutch are deploying F-16s to help fight the war on terrorism. So interaction between the air forces is vital to maintaining a close working bond.

“A key part of the exchange program is exposing both countries to each other’s way of doing business,” Colonel Stein said. “You share ideas and learn different things from each other.”

That is even more important at deployed locations where Airmen from the two countries provide close-air support to ground forces.

But there are still different standards that prevail in each air force, the colonel said. And when the two air forces fly together -- like the first year the Dutch went to Afghanistan -- they had to work and resolve issues.

That is why the exchange is so vital, he said. So the learning process, the interaction, starts early. Dutch students, and those from other NATO countries flying F-16s, go through the Euro-NATO joint jet undergraduate pilot training course at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Then they go to Tucson for their initial F-16 flight training. They then return to their country for theater qualifications training, which prepares them for flight operations over Europe.

“When they train in Tucson, they don’t have much weather to deal with,” the colonel said. “But here, you have quite a bit of weather. So that’s one thing they have learned to deal with.”

But the biggest difference they face is learning to fly the Dutch F-16, early models that have undergone a midlife upgrade. The jets have colorful, multifunctional display units, better radar and much improved avionics very similar to the avionics in U.S. Air Force’s Block 50 F-16s, the colonel said. Students must undergo extensive training to master the war jet.

“Basically, they have a whole new jet they must learn to fly,” the colonel said.

Training is not easy, and the colonel does not treat his students with kid gloves. He must ensure they know their chosen profession, and that “they know their jet inside and out.”

“That means everything,” he said. “Knowing all the standards and emergency procedures cold, learning the tactics cold, and working all of these things together.”

Students learn in the classroom and simulator training, the flightline, flight training and instructors’ mentoring.

But the colonel’s job is not all about training. He is learning, too. He said the Dutch do “some interesting” procedures with their F-16s the Air Force does not do that “we could think about employing,” he said.

However, it will be up to Maj. Joe Thomas, also from the Tucson Guard unit, to take those procedures back home. The colonel’s replacement, the major will not be a training instructor. Instead, he will fly with the operational 311th Fighter Squadron. The unit, he said, has a high operations tempo similar to that American pilots deal with. He will get to fly three or four times a week.

“This is an outstanding opportunity to do something new, something important,” he said.

The switch in the exchange pilot’s job is part of a “new thrust” at the Tucson wing -- an attempt to work closely with the Dutch on tactic development.

“I will be able to tie in exactly to my experiences here,” Major Thomas said. “Then I can take them back home and have the knowledge of how things are done here. This is our emphasis.”

That kind of operational exchange is extremely important for the F-16 community, he said. Much of the aircraft’s development has been a joint partnership between the Air Force and the NATO nations that fly the jet -- and that also have exchange pilots. It is even more important for the Tucson-based unit, which provides NATO F-16 pilots initial flight training.

“It’s important our pilots fly with their young pilots, teaching them and helping them learn correctly,” the major said. “It’s important to get feedback from the NATO and American sides.”

That is so, he said, when the air forces work together, their joint operations are seamless.

Seamless describes U.S-Dutch operations here, Colonel Stein said. That is also the key to successful NATO operations. Future joint operations will also be vital. Like the Air Force, the Dutch are waiting to receive the Joint Strike Fighter to replace their aging F-16s.

After his three-year tour, he said, “The Dutch are professionals and staunch NATO allies.”

Colonel Stein returns to Tucson shortly and will pass to guardsmen what he learned about U.S.-Dutch operations, and he might be able to rejoin his adopted squadron soon. The Dutch are in negations with the Air Force to move their tactical fighter training squadron to Tucson.