Royal Netherlands Air Force

air warfare branch of the Netherlands' armed forces

The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is the air force of the Netherlands.

The Air Force was founded in the year 1913. The aerobatic display team was active from 1979 to 2019, named the Solo Display Team.

Badge of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.



Origin in 1913


The Dutch Air Force started on 1 July 1913 at Soesterberg airfield with 4 pilots. When it started it only had 1 aircraft, the brik.

Only a few months later 3 French Farman HF.20.

But these airplanes where fast to old and was replaced with the Nieuport and Caudron.

World War I (1914-1918)


The Netherlands stayed neutral during World War I.

New airfields where build at Gilze-Rijen air base, Arnhem, Venlo and Vlissingen.

Between the wars


The Dutch goverment cut the defence budget for the army and the army was almost gone.

As political tensions in Europe increased in the late 1930s the goverment tried to rebuild the army in 1938.

World War II and the late 1940s


In August of 1939 the army was ready. But because of low budget the air force only operated

176 combat aircraft of the types:

In May of 1940 German troops invade the Netherlands. Within five days the Dutch Army was defeated by the luftwaffe.

All of the Brigade's bombers, along with 30 Fokker D.XXI and 17 Fokker G.I fighters where shot down; 2 D.XXI and 8 G.I where destroyed on the ground.

2 G.I where captured by the German forces.

1950s and 1960s

  • The Spitfire Mk.IX was used by 322 Squadron RNLAF until 1954, but was replaced as new squadrons were established.
  • The Gloster Meteor F Mk.IV was used by 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327 and 328 Squadrons from 1948–1957. Bases included Soesterberg and Leeuwarden.
  • The Gloster Meteor F Mk.VIII was used by 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327 and 328 sqn from 1951–1958.
  • CTL consisted of seven new strike squadrons (306, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315 and 316 sqn), all equipped with Republic F-84G Thunderjet's. These aircraft were supplied by the United States under the Mutual Defense Aid Program from 1952–1956. 311 was the first flying squadron to be stood up at Volkel on 1 May 1951.
  • 322, 323, 324, 325, 326 and 327 Sqn operated the Hawker Hunter F Mk.4 between 1955–1964, and 322, 324, 325 and 326 Sqn operated the Hawker Hunter F Mk.6 between 1957–1968.
  • 700, 701 and 702 Sqn operated the North American F-86K Sabre all-weather fighter between 1955–1964.
  • 306, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315 and 316 Sqn changed aircraft configuration from 1955–1970 as the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak and RF-84F Thunderflash became available.

Western New Guinea conflict


The Indonesian government claimed Western New Guinea following the end of the Second World War. The Dutch government considered the area Dutch territory. Negotiations over the country were conducted for years, but tensions grew until Indonesia broke diplomatic relations with the Netherlands at the end of the 1950s.

In response, in 1958, the Netherlands deployed military reinforcements to New Guinea, including an Air Force detachment for the air defense of the island Biak as there was evidence that Indonesia was infiltrating the island in advance of a military operation

  • one Hawker Hunter Mk.4 air defence squadron;
  • a radar navigation system at Biak, and;
  • a reserve airstrip at Noemfoer.

The Dutch government deployed a squadron consisting of 12 Hawker Hunter Mk.4 AD fighters and two Alouette II SAR helicopters. They were transported to Southeast Asia by the Karel Doorman. One year later the Dutch government deployed another 12 Hawker Hunter Mk6 AD fighters; these aircraft carried more fuel and had a larger combat radius.

In August 1962 Indonesia was ready to attack New Guinea. Despite reinforcements the Dutch defences would be insufficient to withstand the coming attack. Therefore, and because of international political pressure the Dutch government was forced to agree to the peaceful surrender of New Guinea. Dutch forces were withdrawn from the territory.

Cold War era, 1960s, 1970s and later


During the cold war Dutch Air Force flying units were integrated in NATO's Second Allied Tactical Air Force tasked with defending northern West Germany against Warsaw Pact forces.

  • 306, 311, 312, 322 and 323 Sqn changed configuration again from 1962–1984 after the dual role F-104 Starfighter was introduced.
  • 313, 314, 315 and 316 Sqn switched over to the NF-5 Freedom Fighter from 1969–1991. The NF-5 was a development of the Canadair CF-5 fighter. Northrop incorporated some NF-5 features into the F-5E/F Tiger II.
  • Since 1979 all RNLAF fast-jet squadrons (originally 306, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 322 and 323) have operated the multi role F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Former Yugoslavia


In 1992 Ypenburg Air Base closed. After the USAF handed over their section of Soesterberg in September 1994, Soesterberg then became a RNLAF transport helicopter base with 298 Squadron

(CH-47D Chinook) and 300 Squadron (AS 532U2 Cougar Mk2 and SA 316 Alouette III) stationed at the base.

RNLAF F-16s participated in all operations over Yugoslavia from 1993: Deny Flight, including Deliberate Force in 1995 and ending with Operation Allied Force in 1999 from two bases in Italy. Initially from Villafranca AB in the north of Italy, later moving south to Amendola AB. During the operations over FRY RNLAF F-16s flew reconnaissance (306 Sqn detachments from Volkel AB were in theatre throughout the operations), enforced the Bosnian no-fly zone, dropped bombs on Udbina AB (1994), successfully dropped an unguided bomb on a moving Serb tank during the fall of Srebrenica (1995), and took part in Deliberate Force later in the summer of 1995.

Between 1994 and 1997 Dutch GCI personnel, along with Canadian GCI controllers, provided many hundreds of hours of fighter control and surveillance as integrated members of USAF/ANG Air Control Squadrons. In May 1999 during the Kosovo crisis a RNLAF F-16AM pilot Major Peter Tankink shot down a Yugoslavian MiG-29 with an AMRAAM, but the force was more recognized for its high bombing accuracy. Allied Force was also the operational debut for the upgraded F-16AM. Besides the CAP missions, offensive bombing and photo reconnaissance missions were flown. KDC-10 tankers refuelled allied aircraft over the Adriatic Sea, and C-130 Hercules transports flew daily sorties from Eindhoven AB to logistically support the operation. Dutch F-16s also dropped cluster bombs on Niš. In total, RNLAF aircraft flew 1,194 sorties during operation Allied Force, which is about 7.5% of the total 37,000 sorties flown.

Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO in Afghanistan


On 2 October 2002 a tri-national detachment of 18 Dutch, Danish and Norwegian F-16 ground attack aircraft and one Dutch KDC-10 tanker deployed to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan in support of ground forces in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. On 1 October 2003 the Dutch F-16 detachment returned to the Netherlands and the KDC-10 returned even earlier (1 April 2003). The RNLAF returned to Manas AB on 8 September 2004 with five F-16 and one KDC-10 in support of the presidential elections of Afghanistan. This time the aircraft flew under the NATO ISAF flag. On 24 March 2005 the whole Dutch detachment transferred from Manas AB to Kabul International Airport. A detachment of six AH-64D Apache helicopters were already stationed at Kabul International Airport from April 2004 until March 2005.

In February 2006 four Dutch F-16s were joined by four Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s in a detachment known as the 1st Netherlands-Norwegian European Participating Forces Expeditionary Air Wing (1 NLD/NOR EEAW). This was a follow up of the participation with the Belgian Air Force.

As part of the expanded NATO ISAF mission in southern Afghanistan in August 2006, the Royal Netherlands Air Force had three CH-47D Chinook of 298 Sq stationed at Kandahar Airfield. On 12 November 2006 eight F-16s transferred from Kabul International Airport to Kandahar Airfield, Additionally, a detachment of six (later four) AH-64D Apache helicopters had been stationed of Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan province. The CH-47D Chinooks of 298 sq rotated with Cougars from 300 sq. All helicopters together with a few F-16s returned to the Netherlands in November 2010. The other four F-16s transferred from Kandahar Airfield to Mazar-e-Sharif International Airport in November 2011. The F-16 flight, providing Close Air Support for ground forces and Recce Flights (specialised in counter-ied's), ended their mission officially on 1 July 2014.

On 31 August 2006 a Royal Netherlands Air Force (Michael "Sofac" Donkervoort) pilot was killed when his plane crashed during a mission to support British ground troops in Helmand province.

On 7 December 2007 military use of Twente Air Base ceased. The aerodrome is now known as Enschede Airport Twente. Flying officially ended at Soesterberg Air Base on 12 November 2008. The last jet ever to take off was a Hellenic AF F-4E. The base formally closed on 31 December 2008. The 298th and 300th squadron have been moved to Gilze-Rijen Air Base. A part of the base remains in use as a glider field, however. Also, the former USAFE side will be in use by ground units Relocated from Kamp van Zeist and will be called "Camp New Amsterdam". Finally, the AF museum (Royal Netherlands Military Aviation Museum) returned to the base and will use most of the existing hangars.

In 2013 the Royal Netherlands Air Force provided Strategic Airlift Support with a KDC-10 in support of French operations in Mali.

The RNLAF was hit hard by the Dutch defence cuts after the 2008 financial crisis. 311 Squadron was disbanded in September 2012, leaving four squadrons of F-16s, and one DC-10 Transport Aircraft was disposed of.

In October 2014 the Netherlands Air Force joined the US and its Allies fighting ISIL, deploying eight F-16s (of which two are in reserve) to Jordan.

On 31 October 2014 323 Tactess squadron (F-16) disbanded and its aircraft and personnel were merged into 322 Squadron. The following Wednesday (5 November) the squadron reformed in the US as the RNLAF's first Joint Strike Fighter unit.

303 Squadron (Agusta Bell AB 412SP) provided search and rescue within Dutch Flight Information Region) until 1 January 2015 when the unit was disbanded.

As per 2017 the Air Defence – Quick Reaction Force of two F-16 fighters are integrated for Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourg airspace and rotated between Dutch and Belgian ADF squadrons.

Operation Inherent Resolve – Iraq & Syria


From 2014 The Royal Netherlands Air Force provided eight F-16s in support of the coalition fighting IS. The aircraft were initially deployed in Iraq and later Syria. The mission was handed over to the Belgian Air Force in July 2016 after more than 2100 missions were flown, with weapons used over 1800 times. The Royal Netherlands Air Force contributed extensively to the missions flown by the coalition forces and were in high demand.

Since 2017 RNLAF KDC-10 and C-130 Hercules are deployed to an airfield in the Middle East to assist the USA led coalition in Operation Inherent Resolve.

In January 2018 the Dutch F-16s returned to the Middle East for a year-long deployment.

Air Bases


In the country of the Netherlands there are 11 air bases. They are.

Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
F-35 Lightning II United States Multirole F-35A 16 22 on order
F-16 Fighting falcon United States Multirole F-16AM 40
Airbus A330 MRTT Europe Aerial Refueling/


5 4 on order, used for the NATO MMR fleet
Gulfstream IV United States VIP transport 1
C-130 Hercules United States Tactical Airlift C-130H 4 2 are C-130H-30 variants
Dornier Do 228 Germany SAR / Patrol Do 228-


2 flown for the Netherlands Coastguard
Boeing CH-47 United States transport / heavy lift CH-47H 20
AH-64 Apache United states Attack AH-64D 28 Being upgraded to AH-64E
Eurocopter AS532 France transport / CSAR 12
NHIndustries NH90 European


Transport / ASW T/NFH 19 flown by Royal Netherlands Navy
Trainer Aircraft
Pilatus PC-7 Switzerland trainer 13
F-35 Lightning II United States conversion trainer 8 Conducting training at Luke AFB, 2 are used


F-16 Fighting falcon United States conversion trainer 7
MQ-9 Reaper United States MALE UAV 4 on order