From September 7th till September 18th 2020 exercise Falcon Leap was held. This annual exercise focuses on air cargo dropping and para dropping and is organized by the Royal Netherlands Airforce. The exercise is strongly linked to the commemoration of Operation Market Garden. Operation Market Garden was one of the largest Allied operations of World War II and took place in September 1944. The aim was to acquire the bridges over the rivers Maas, Waal and Rhine in The Netherlands. The bridges over the rivers where crucial points on the route of Operation Market Garden and had to be taken by the Allies.
Every Year several commemorations are held in honor of Operation Market Garden. One of the highlights are the memorial para jumps above the Ginkelse heide, which saw massive para droppings during WW II.
Exercise Falcon Leap was the first international training since the Covid 19 outbreak. Various measures had to be taken to make the exercise run safely, so that unsafe situations would not arise and the exercise could continue in a safe way. For example the group with participating soldiers was a lot smaller than previous editions of the exercise.
Instead of the usual 1000 paratroopers this time around 600 paratroopers took part, and the temperature of all participants was measured daily. Where keeping distance was not possible, like when putting on the parachutes everyone wore a face mask. Unfortunately it was decided to cancel the memorial jumps for the commemorations of Operation Market Garden for this year, as the authorities found it irresponsible in connection with the Covid 19 outbreak. This to great disappointment of the various organizations and the small group of WW II veterans who had been looking forward to this. At Falcon Leap the Royal Netherlands Airforce works together with the Royal Netherlands Army and various other NATO countries. The exercise offers unique opportunities for the participants For example it is practiced to move soldiers or air cargo from the air in or near areas that are difficult or impossible to reach without air transport, this can be, for example to drop soldiers in a war zone or for emergency aid during a natural disaster
Air cargo droppings
The first week of Falcon Leap mainly focuses on the air cargo droppings. The droppings took place above the military training areas from Deelen and ‘t Harde. Soldiers of the 11th airmobile brigade of the Royal Netherlands Army work closely together with the Royal Netherlands Airforce and several other NATO country’s during the exercise Air operations took place from Eindhoven Airbase located in the province of Noord Brabant. During the first week of the exercise, 2 C-130H’s of the Eindhoven based 336 squadron and a factory fresh KC-130J Multi role tanker aircraft of the French Airforce took part in the air cargo droppings. Several missions where flown in the first days of Falcon Leap.
The US Air Force Reserve Command also came to Eindhoven with one of their C-130H’s from the 94 airlift Wing from Dobbins air base. The intention was to fly some missions together with the other participants during the last days in the first week of the exercise. Unfortunately some missions had to be canceled due to bad weather conditions. As a result, the C-130H of the Air Force Reserve Command was unable to fly a single mission and left after a short stay at Eindhoven airbase.
The second week of exercise Falcon Leap is entirely devoted to the paradropping’s. The paratroopers were dropped above various training areas in The Netherlands. They jumped above Deelen, Renkum and the Ginkelse heide. During Operation Market Garden in WW II, large para droppings took place in some of these areas. The most famous of these areas is the Ginkelse heide, every year a major commemoration takes place here in connection with Operation Market Garden. One of the highlights during the commemoration are the para droppings, in the past several veterans of WW II who fought in the area, also participated in the commemoration jumps. Several NATO countries participated in the second week of Falcon Leap. Participants included The Netherlands, Belgium, The United States, Germany and the Czech Republic. The Royal Netherlands Airforce took part with two of their C-130H’s from 336 squadron, Belgium participated with one of their C-130H’s from the 15 Wing, while the US Air force Air National Guard took part with two C-130H’s from the West Virginia Air National Guard. In addition to the 2 C-130H’s of the Air National Guard a C-130J Super Hercules of the 86 Airlift Wing from Ramstein airbase also participated during the last days of the exercise. Last but not least the German Air Force brought one of their last operational C-160D Transal’s to Eindhoven for the second week of Falcon leap.
The still handful operational C-160D’s of the German Air Force will soon be taken out of active service with the German Air Force. Besides the participation of the military transport aircraft, some non-military aircraft were also used for the paradropping’s. For example, two PZL M-28 Sky trucks from the German company PD Air Operations where participating in the exercise. While two civilian owned Austrian SC-7 Sky vans where used by the Czech paratroopers. The Royal Netherlands Airforce can look back on a successful exercise. Despite the limitations associated with the Covid 19 virus, the necessary missions were flown during exercise Falcon Leap. Several air cargo dropping missions were flown in the first week of the exercise, only a few missions were canceled during the first week due to bad weather conditions. During the second week of the exercise, no less than 2.500 jumps were performed above the training areas in The Netherlands. Unfortunately the annual events and the associated commemorative jumps that are dedicated to Operation Market Garden could not take place this year due to the Covid 19 virus.
Let’s hope that this will be possible again next year!