2020: Dutch Starfighter Foundation at Volkel

Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands is home of 312 and 313 squadron, flying the F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcon. Besides these flying squadrons, it is also home of the Dutch Starfighter Foundation. Chairman of this foundation is Hans van der Werf, former F-104 pilot, who flew the Dutch F-104 Solo Display for 6 seasons.
We visited the Dutch Starfighter Foundation, and spoke about Hans van de Werf’s career, the Dutch Starfighter Foundation and tried to fiend an answer to the question: will we ever see a flying Dutch F-104 in the sky over Volkel again ?

Hans van de Werf

Hans van de Werf, chairman of the Dutch Starfighter Foundation, was interested in aviation as long as he can remember. He lived close to Schiphol Airport and was fascinated by the aircraft landing there. Since his father got an occupied at Fokker, a Dutch aircraft design company, his interest in military aviation got triggered as he laid eyes on a model of the F-104. From then, his future was clear to him.
When he got drafted, he told the recruiting officer he would like to fly jets. Unfortunately he was told no flying personnel was needed at that time, and he started his military service at the cavalry. In the mean time he applied at the RLS, the civil aviation school, where he was also told nobody was needed. Besides that, he had to have proof that his finances for the training would be covered, as the KLM, the Dutch Airline company who normally pays for the training when the pilot is accepted at KLM, also had a personnel stop at that time. Several months in his cavalry training an officer of the Air Force appeared at his unit, asking if anyone was interested in a flying career, as the Air Force needed pilots badly. Hans told his story and off he went to the Air Force.

Flight training started in Belgium, First on the S-11 for 30 hours, than on to the Fouga Magister jet for 150 hours. After that he went to the T-33 for 75 hours at Woensdrecht to obtain his wings. After that conversion at 315 squadron at Eindhoven for 75 hours and after that 314 squadron on the F-84 Thunderstreak for 425 hours. In 1968 he was selected to start training on the F-104. However, 700 hours on the F-84 were needed to get into F-104 training, so the goal was to obtain as much hours on the F-84 in a short time. An anecdote Hans told, that they would take-off in a fully loaded F-84, climb to maximum altitude, heading south, and shut off the engine and glide as fire as possible. Near the Mediterranean at 15000 feet, the engine was restarted. After two low passes over the beach they would climb to maximum altitude again and glide back to Eindhoven. When complaints started pouring in that Dutch F-84s made low passes over the beaches in Southern France , Dutch staff members told the complainants this was impossible, the F-84 could not reach that far. Fortunately the remaining 200 hours were flown and the F-104 conversion started.

In april 1969 Hans started F-104 flight training with 12 hours at Leeuwarden at the TCA, the Transition and Conversion unit. At the end of this training it was decided if a pilot would stay at Leeuwarden or move to Volkel. As Hans and his companions sent their stuff to Volkel when leaving Eindhoven, they said to the decision makers that they had to be placed at Volkel, because “someone told them to send their stuff to Volkel” as they left Eindhoven. And so it happened. Consequence for the next class was that they were placed at Leeuwarden after the training. After arriving at Volkel 70 hours were made at the Volkel Conversion Unit, the CAV.

His career as F-104 demo pilot started when a request for a F-104 solo display came from England. Hans was asked to do this and he agreed, only one condition: not just flying around but a real demo. He consulted “Kiek” Okkerman, a test pilot, to check the possibilities. Together they designed a full Solo demo. The first demo went well, and enthusiastic reactions came from England. They didn’t know that the F-104 was capable of flying these maneuvers. For the remaining part of the year requests for a demo were sent to Hans and he flew the show as requested. After the first year the aircraft was modernized for demo flying: tip launchers, removal of unneeded parts to lower the weight and the program was rewritten, together with the NLR, the Dutch Air and Space institute.

The work as demo pilot was done beside the normal flying hours which counted for the JOP (Jaarlijks Oefen Programma, Yearly Exercise Program). The demo season lasted from the end of may until the beginning of September. Needless to say Hans was very busy in this period. At the end of his career Hans had 200 days leave left, because normal operational flying withheld him from taking leave. When starting demo flying it was decided Hans would do this for 3 years, but as there was no successor for his role, another 3 years was added. So after six years his demo flying career ended.

Planning the demos was done by the Staff of the Air Force. More than once Hans was told on Thursday, after a week of operational flying, that a demo was planned at an airshow somewhere in Europe. This meant: packing stuff and leaving on Friday for the demo, returning on Sunday and fly again the next week. Biggest difference with the demo teams these days was that Hans did not have a team: he left for the airshow with a spare drag-chute and managed his own business. Because of the Staff planned the airshows, it could also happen that Hans missed an airshow he would have loved to do. An example is the 25th anniversary of the F-104 at Lockheed in Burbank, USA. Lockheed sent an invitation to the Royal Netherlands Air Force and had a German Air Force F-104G ready to be used by Hans, but the Air Force declined the invitation without informing Lockheed and Hans. Only a while later Hans was asked by people in the airshow circuit why he declined…….

When his Air Force career came to an end, Hans had two opportunities to chose from: flying commercial at KLM or flying at Fokker. As he was unsure about which decision to make, he arranged a flight with KLM, to see if this was his cup of tea. After returning he knew: this is not my future. So the next step was Fokker. Fokker had a vacancy for a test pilot, starting in April 1980. As his contract in the Air Force ended in November 1979 and they were not willing to keep Hans as a pilot until april (sign for two years, no other options), a solution had to be found. Fokker had a possible solution: go to Fort Worth in Texas to begin F-16 training, but they were not sure if the possibility was given by General Dynamics. Hans contacted Neil Anderson, chief test pilot at General Dynamics and a friend from the airshow circuit, and he was more than welcome to start. Unfortunately after only a few hours in the F-16 Hans got ill. He appeared to have an auto immune disease which abruptly ended his flying career. It is unclear if his work as demo pilot contributed to his disease. The United States Air Force investigated similar cases with A-10 pilots, but this investigation magically disappeared…..The University of Nijmegen offered the Air Force to investigate if high-g flying could trigger this disease, but as 25 pilots had to take part in this investigation, the Air Force declined to cooperate. As there occurred several fatal crashes over the years, Hans thinks it is a missed opportunity to test for the impact of high-g flying to the human body.

Hans ends with a last nice anecdote: his doctor who treated him for his disease had a statement for him. Hans, you will never reach the age of 75. When we asked him of his age: 75 ! Lots of laughs, and Hans is still going strong. A very nice person and true ambassador of the Dutch Starfighter Foundation.

The F-104 in Dutch service

From 1962 to 1984 the Royal Netherlands Air Force used the F-104G Starfighter in different roles: Interceptor, Bomber, Reconnaissance and Trainer. 311 and 312 squadron at Volkel Airbase started using the F-104G in the fighter-bomber role from June 1964 and early 1965. Leeuwarden Airbase started using the F-104G in the interceptor role from June 1964. The interceptors were used by 322 and 323 squadron. In total the Royal Netherlands Air Force purchased 18 TF-104Gs, all built by Lockheed. 102 F-104Gs in the role of interceptor and tactical bomber and 18 RF-104Gs were built by Fokker (95) and FIAT (25). Aircraft with a serial number starting with the digit 6 are built by FIAT. A total of 43 RNLAF Starfighters were lost in accidents.

Volkel Air Base has been home of 311 and 312 squadron in the Bomber role, 306 squadron in the reconnaissance role flying the RF-104G and CAV, the Conversion unit using the TF-104G. In June of 1984, No 312 Squadron stood down as the last KLu operational F-104G unit. When 312 Squadron disbanded, its 18 F-104Gs and four TF-104Gs were transferred to the UFO (Uit Faserings Onderdeel) at Volkel, a never official unit that used to keep F-104 pilots, not yet converted to the F-16, current on jets. This lasted until the last formal fly-past on November 21, 1984.

With 3 operational squadrons and the CAV, Volkel was a good place to be in the days the F-104 was active. Below an impression of F-104s photographed at Volkel Airbase in the eighties of last century.

The Dutch Starfighter Foundation

Hans Ruijgrok, the chairman of the Historische Vliegtuigen Volkel (Historical Fighters Volkel) is also a former F-104 pilot. We interviewed him about the organization HVV and the Dutch Starfighter Foundation.

Hans stayed at Vokel after his draft and signed for a career as fighter pilot. In 1969 he started at Gilze-Rijen and moved to Brustem in Belgium shortly after this. After this he moved to Twente Air Base to fly the T-33. Staying at Twente Air Base he moved to the NF-5. After his NF-5 period he made the transition to the F-104 at Volkel Air Base, where he flew until 1979 when he left the Air Force to start a new career at KLM.

The HVV (Historische Vliegtuigen Volkel) was established more than 20 years ago. In the opinion of the group, the base needed several ‘gate guardians’ along the Poortlaan, the entry road on the base. At that time there was only one F-104G (serial D-8279) on show. Forming the Werkgroep Historische Vliegtuigen Volkel (Volkel Historical Aircraft Working Group) aimed to display at least three aircraft, but ideally wanted as many as seven. In 1999 a group started restoring an F-104G, airframe D-8256, and F-84F Thunderstreak. At that time they also had the idea to display an F-104 cockpit in Volkel’s Tradition Room. Lt Col van Duren, deputy commander of Volkel Air Base at that time, heard about the projects and surprised everybody when he said:  “Why not take an F-104 back in the sky ?”. Unfortunately no suitable candidate to do this was available, as the only aircraft that could possibly to this, airframe D-8312, was corroding away.

Although more than 100 Starfighters were on active service in the Netherlands, the amount of aircraft saved after retirement was incredibly low. An F-104G (D-8114) was in storage with the Nationaal Militair Museum (National Military Museum/NMM) in Soesterberg. This jet was used by the Delft University of Technology as a ground instructional airframe just after its retirement in 1984; it was replaced by an F-16 in May 2008. It was in a very good condition. Unfortunately the HVV was only allowed to take parts if they really needed them. That soon changed when they found out the University intended to scrap the airframe. A deal was made: D-8114 was handed over to the HVV, while D-8312 was stripped for parts and scrapped instead. Starfighter D-8114 is a former Volkel based F-104 and had been on the base for some 15 years, with 311 and 312 Squadrons. On April 5, 2012 the aircraft was handed over to the HVV. Unfortunately it seemed most of the electrical system wiring harnesses in the system wiring harnesses in the cockpit had been cut through, instead of being disconnected properly. It took three years fixing those wires  and finding those that were missing. Although D-8114 is a good aeroplane, the restoration is still an incredibly complex process: everything needs to be disassembled, cleaned, inspected, reassembled and ground tested to meet regulations. It should be noted that to make D-8114 airworthy, the cable harnesses that have been repaired will need to be replaced outright. While this is technically not impossible, it is a massive undertaking. Other tasks have also included replacing the damaged rear end, rebuilding the cockpit and most of the instruments, scrutinizing the fuel tanks inside and out, and removing the undercarriage for nondestructive testing. The wings have also been removed and new sealing rings fitted, while the ailerons and leading and trailing edges have all been taken apart and examined.

One of the major goals was restoring the hydraulic systems, which allowed the team to demonstrate the gear, flying controls and speed brakes during the Luchtmachtdagen at Volkel. Meanwhile, lots time was spent finding spare parts – all of which have been catalogued, photographed and placed in storage.

The HVV needed to prioritize D-8114’s progress so they introduced a business plan. Bringing D-8114 back to life but also obtain another F-104G for instructional purposes, and an airworthy two-seat TF-104G.This plan didn’t fit with the HVV’s overall scope, and the finances would be the most important issue, so the team established an independent organization on September 17, 2018. The Dutch Starfighter Foundation was born. The aim of the DSF is to generate funds to support the HVV’s restoration and maintenance of D-8114. Although they have RNLAF connections, no money is received from them or the Dutch Ministry of Defense. Like many similar projects, the foundation is on the lookout for potential sponsors. However, the DSF wants the D-8114 to stay as authentic as possible, with no sponsor stickers etcetera on the aircraft.

Even though D-8114 was a suitable airframe, one very important component was missing: the engine: a General Electric J79 afterburning turbojet. Unbelievably, Facebook was the answer on the search for an engine. To everybody’s amazement, Robin Sipe of S&S Turbine Ltd in Canada replied that they had several J79s in storage, including some F-104G standard J-79-GE11s obtained from the Netherlands and that they could pick one. When S&S would be mentioned as a sponsor, the only thing to be payed would be transport costs. There was one major issue: the necessary documents were not available. The idea was the documents could be still in the Netherlands, but they seemed to have been destroyed. The engine needed to be overhauled and certified once again, which cost around €25,000, Luckily, someone is sponsoring that money without interest. Once fitted, the engine would be able to run for around 400 hours before it needs to be overhauled again. Another important issue to fly is the ejection seat. Like the engine, it has to be approved. Originally Dutch Starfighters were fitted with Lockheed’s upward-firing C-2 seat, but you can’t get them serviced and no one makes the cartridges anymore. Most likely  a Martin-Baker can be fitted. Technically the project can be finished, the biggest issue is certification.

Dual

The DSF is also looking to operate a two-seat Starfighter alongside D-8114. TF-104G D-5803 was a candidate, but it revealed huge amounts of corrosion and had its wiring harnesses been cut. Only one candidate, D-5810 which is currently in the US remains. It has 3745 hours on the clock and is being gradually restored. The jet’s fuel and electrical system have been brought back to life. It was put up for sale several years ago and is on the market for $325,000 and comes with a good zero-houred J79 and a spare set of wings – it would be perfect. The DSF is currently trying to raise the money to buy the aircraft and transport it back to the Netherlands.

What’s next?

The next major goal is to install the J79 when it has arrived at the DSF. Once that is done they will start trying to get D-8114 taxiing and look at the possibility of getting it into the air. Time will tell. If you want to be a donor for the Dutch Starfighter Foundation, please visit this page: https://dutchstarfighterfoundation.nl/index.php/en/support-us

We would like to thank Hans van de Werf, Hans Ruijgrok and Theo Rombout of the Dutch Starfighter Foundation for giving us the opportunity to visit the Dutch Starfighter Foundation at Volkel Air Base.

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