Whoops! First F-35A Based In The Netherlands Got A Foam Bath By Mistake

Base firefighters were supposed to give the plane a water salute to mark the arrival of the first Joint Strike Fighter to be based in the country.

byJoseph Trevithick|
Europe photo


Crash trucks at the Royal Netherlands Air Force's Leeuwarden Air Base were supposed to provide a water cannon salute to mark the arrival of the country's first operational F-35A Joint Strike Fighter to be based in the country, but covered it in firefighting foam by accident instead. The base firefighters had reportedly responded to an actual emergency involving an F-16 Viper fighter jet earlier and forgot to switch back to shooting regular water for the ceremony.

The F-35A arrived at Leeuwarden at around 3:30 PM local time and landed after flying a lap around the base, according to an official press release. The jet had flown from the final assembly and checkout (FACO) facility in Italy, where Leonardo had assembled it under license from the primary manufacturer Lockheed Martin. The Dutch Air Force already has eight other Joint Strike Fighters, but they are all in the United States where they support test and pilot training activities. 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.

Amusingly, despite including pictures clearly showing the mixup, the official release makes no mention of the mixup. The foam is seen dripping from the plane as the pilot, Ian Knight, the commander of the 323 Test & Evaluation Squadron, exits the aircraft to greet a crowd including various government dignitaries.

"The air base fire department was on standby for the water salute when they were called to an actual emergency with an F-16," according to Reddit user krijgnog5eurovanje. "When they returned for the water salute they forgot to switch from 'foam' to 'water.'"

Dutch Ministry of Defense
Dutch Ministry of Defense

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.

The foam bath certainly didn't appear to dampen the spirits of those who attended the ceremony. Dutch Air Force Lieuentant Colonel Laurens-Jan ‘Sjoak’ Vijge gave a brief speech to the crowd in which he explained his own experience of flying the F-35 for the first time.

"Holy crap! For a moment, I felt like a teenager on a very cool skateboard in Florida," Vijge said, referring to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where Dutch Joint Strike Fighter pilots have been training for years now, according to the official press release. "This thing flies like a rocket."

"A little over 40 years ago, the first Dutch F-16 was welcomed here. It was called 'the aircraft of the future.'" Dutch Defense Secretary Barbara Visser said in her own remarks at the ceremony. Leeuwarden will now serve as the Dutch base at the center of the country's next major leap forward in aerial combat capability.

The F-35A flying around Leeuwarden before landing., Dutch Ministry of Defense

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.

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the pilot who flew the F-35A to Leeuwarden. Ian Knight, the commander of the 323 Test & Evaluation Squadron, flew the aircraft.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com