Dutch viper fleet feels the strain; orange lion team takes a sabbatical year.

Lieuwe de Vries for Veenstra & de Vries Publishing

In an announcement on their Facebook page yesterday the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 display team cancelled their 2015 airshow season. Citing operational demands the much-loved team won’t be flying their single ship display until at least 2016.

 With a large deployment to Jordan to combat the Islamic State, a commitment to defend NATO’s airspace both at home and over the Baltic and another large training detachment in the United States the Royal Netherlands Air Forces fleet of F-16’s is spread thin. In the Ministry of Defense’s own estimates the RNLAF’s viper fleet is at best able to support six machines on short-term deployments, with longer deployments allowing for only four aircraft. With eight aircraft currently deployed to Jordan alone the service is asking a lot of its aging fleet of F-16’s.

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 The strain on the fleet had already caused the team to lose its signature orange painted F-16, nick named “the Orange Lion” after the lion motive painted on its top surfaces. The machine was repainted prior to last years airshow season in the standard grey paint scheme for RNLAF vipers, this allowed the machine to be used for normal operational and training tasks. For a fleet that continues to shrink in numbers and is under pressure from multiple deployments keeping a machine out of normal operations just for display team purposes makes increasingly less sense.

 The RNLAF has had a long tradition of colorful display teams, with teams like “The Grasshoppers” flying the allouette three, the NF-5 equipped “Double Dutch” and a long tradition of single ship displayteams flying the F-104 and F-16. It seems that with current reduced force sizes that is a luxury the RNLAF can no longer afford.

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