306 Squadron Royal Netherlands Air Force

Throughout its existence, 306 Squadron has been the only photo-reconnaissance unit in the Royal Netherlands Air Force, having formed at Volkel in September 1953.  Its initial equipment consisted of a dozen aircraft from the first batch of Republic F-84E/G Thunderjet, with the first F-84G Thunderjet delivered in September 1953.

After test in November 1953 were taken with a K.17camera in the left tip tank of an F-84E Thunderjet and proven to be successful.The decision was made to replace most of the F-84G Thunderjet in 1954 with the modified F-84E Thunderjet. The first pictures where made with this system May sixth 1954, the K.17 camera would be replaced with the K.20 model for betterresults.   The different aircraft where coded TP-1 to TP30, TP- being the code for 306 squadron in the then used unitcode system.

In September 1954 the squadron transferred to Laarbruch Airbase Germany after a seven-week period at Buckeburg Airbase Germany, at that time it had also become clear that the F-84E Thunderjet became obsolete and had to be replaced. The replacement came in the form of twenty-four new Republic RF-84F Thunderflash aircraft coded TP-1 to TP-18 (later P1 to P24) delivered in the period 1956 to 1958. To prepare for this new aircraft the squadron received two Lockheed RT-33A Shooting Star photo reconnaissance aircraft TP-19 and TP-20 (later M-101 and M-102) in August 1955.  The RT-33A Shooting Star had four cameras in the nose, three K18 and a K22 camera, which was a big improvement over the single K20 camera of the F-84E Thunderjet.

The squadron was stationed at Laarbruch Airbase from 8 Nov 1954 till 13 Dec 1957 building up its strength on the RF-84F Thunderflash. In their early days the RF-84F Thunderflash wore a silver livery with the 306 squadron-code (TP-) on the nose this changed as the Royal Netherlands Air Force adopted an American style of squadron build-up instead of the English style.  Meanwhile, a third RT-33A Shooting Star was added to the inventory of the squadron the M-103 as a replacement for the crashed M-101. As the RF-84F Thunderflash was specifically developed for the reconnaissance task it was able to carry an array of different cameras, there was room for five and an option of fifteen different cameras including the K-37 for nightphotography with the ad of flash-flares. Other adaptation in the airframe where the possibility to look downwards under de aircraft via a “periscope” for a better view on the target and a recorder for the pilot to make accounts of the mission.  In those days most off the settings on the cameras had to be done before take-off as the only options available during the mission was the interval. 

After two years the squadron was fully switched to the RF-84F Thunderflash and the RT-33A Shooting Stars became redundant. The RF-84F Thunderflash were mainly used for operational photographs and the RT-33A Shooting Star mainly for external phototasks, for example, pictures of ice or the delta works.

At the end of 1957, when 306 squadron was transferred to Deelen Airbase in the Netherlands, it was also decided that the squadron would perform only operational photography. It was at the end of 1958 when a separate photo section was raised for executing other photography tasks, the Base Photo Flight Deelen that the RT-33AShooting Star where transferred to that unit.

As the squadron moved to Twenthe Airbase to convert to the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter they were gradually withdrawn during the year. As 306 Squadron was chosen to be the first KLu Lockheed F-104G Starfighter unit, it found on its arrival at Twenthe that two F-104G Starfighter aircraft had already been delivered, on 19 December 1962. With pilots already trained at Norvenich by the Luftwaffe’s first F-104G Starfighter unit, WS-10, the squadron began the task of instructing more aircrew in the operation of the new type on the standard version of the F-104G Starfighter .  At the same time its remaining nine RF-84F Thunderflash moved to Volkel Airbase to fulfil the reconnaissance tasks until there transfer to Turkey.

The firsttwenty-seven F-104G Starfighters was initially delivered to 306 Squadron up toAugust 1963, but all were later transferred to 322 and 323 Squadrons oncepersonnel had been converted.

The reconnaissance variant of the F-104G Starfighter commenced deliveries on 13 September 1963, and by January 1964 the squadron had eighteen RF-104G Starfighter on charge and passed its training role to the OCU (Dutch Masters), also at Twenthe Airbase. As the base is passed from Air Defence to Tactical Air Command on 1 June 1964, 306 Squadron moved out to Volkel Airbase, where it joined two other F-104G Starfighter units, 311 and 312 Squadrons in September 1969. The RF-104G Starfighter was at first equipped with only three internally mounted daylight cameras.

The modifications made to the reconnaissance variant of the F-104G Starfighter included the removal of the M-61 canon to create more space for full and extra wiring and panels for the operation and adjusting of the cameras. Being unarmed let to the phrase “306 – Unarmed but Unafraid”. From October 1974 the RF-104G Starfighter the modification that housed the internal cameras just behind the front landing gear was removed as the aircraft where modified to carry the Orpheus reconnaissance pod.  The Orpheus reconnaissance pod was specially developed by the Dutch Oude Delft Company for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The pod was used for high speed and low level reconnaissance. It normally hadfive day-light cameras and an Infra-Red Line Scanner. Several versions were developed, the Orpheus IV pod being the most advanced model. With a length of3.37 meter and a diameter of .5 meter the 350 kg pod fitted on the centrelinerack of the RF-104G Starfighter.

When theNorthrop F-5 Tiger was ordered in 1966, the original plans called for aquantity of RF-5A Tigers for 306 Squadron, to allow the RF-104G Starfighter to make up attrition losses in other squadrons. Events proved this step unnecessary, and instead losses the RF-104G Starfighter aircraft were overcomeby fitting an Orpheus reconnaissance pod to eleven standard F-104G Starfighters, and posting them to 306 Squadron.  The following  F-104’s where build as or converted to RF-104GStarfighter standard ; D-8013, D-8052, D-8057, D-8059, D-8065, D-8066, D-8101,D-8103, D-8105, D-8107, D-8112, D-8117, D-8119, D-8123, D-8125, D-8127, D-8129,D-8131, D-8133, D-8135, D-8138, D-8141, D-8143, D-8145, D-8147, D-8260, D-8273,D-8293 and D-8311

During 1984, 306 Squadron resaved its first General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon because of the dedicated reconnaissance task of the unit and the usage of the Orpheusreconnaissance pod  twenty-two  F-16A(R) Fighting Falcon  where modified to carry the Orpheusreconnaissance pod. As this was a modification only required by the Royal Netherlands Air force a modification program was started.

First trial flight with the Orpheus reconnaissance pod where made in 1980 and continued until the delivery of the first F-16A(R) Fighting Falcon. The modification included a height indication on the Head-Up-Display from the radar in the Orpheusreconnaissance pod as extra options for the selection and usage of the different camera systems, the modified F-16A(R) Fighting Falcon received the serialsJ-627 to J-648. Even with these modifications in place the F-16A(R) FightingFalcon kept its full multi-role capability and so became on off the few armed reconnaissanceplanes. There it was also necessary to update the Orpheus reconnaissance pod for the higher G-forces the F-16A(R) Fighting Falcon would reach. The build-up with the F-16A(R) Fighting Falcon to full operational capability took until May 1986. For the first time in its existence 306 squadron was deployed to a warzone during the Balkan conflict in the 90ties, were 306 Squadron flew hundreds recce missions above former Yugoslavia flying from Villafranca Italy inoperation Deny Flight.

In spite of these upgrades, in the late eighties, early nineties, it was decided that the Orpheus pod would be phased out in 1993 due to its dwindling age. It was ultimately approved that the pod would soldier on until a replacement could befound. At first the Dutch Air Force preferred the ATARS (Advanced Tactical AirReconnaissance System) system to be installed on their F-16s, but this project was cancelled by the USAF in 1993, thus condemning the Dutch efforts for a newrecce system.

In 1997 the decision was taken to use the so-called MARS (Medium Altitude Reconnaissance System) pod which was also used by the Belgian Air Force. Only 4 examples ofthese pods where purchased since it would only be a stop-gap until a definitive solution would be available. In 2004 it was finally decided by the Dutch government that the successor of the Orpheus system would be the ‘Recce-Lite’system which is developed and manufactured by the Israeli Raphael company.

In 2001however, 306 squadron lost its dedicated reconnaissance task because all F-16AM Fighting Falcon upgraded true the midlife update program where able to carry recce pods.  With the loss of this task,the squadron was tasked with conversion training of all Royal Netherlands AirForce F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots and so the squadron became the designatedtraining squadron within the Dutch Air Force. In this period the squadron used several F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcon that rotated true the squadrons of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

In 2007 the Royal Netherlands Air Force signed a contract with the USAF to perform a large part of the F-16 Fighting Falcon training in the United States. This happened once before between December of 1989 and April of 1994 when the Royal Netherlands Air Force send eight F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft to be included in the 148th TFTS in Tucson. Bud this times a total fourteen F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft where to be based at Springfield IAP with the 162nd FS of the Ohio National Guard to perform the training duties. The difference was that in the early eighties the aircraft where included in the 148th TFTS and this time,the 306th squadron is moved entirely and continued flying under its own colours.

Because of the disbandment of the Springfield wing, the Dutch F-16 Fighting Falcon had to be relocated. As in the past, a suitable place was found in Tucson with the 148th FS. Like in the past, the aircraft will be incorporated into the 148th and so the existence of 306 squadron was no longer necessary, causing it to be disbanded in December of 2010 with all General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon leaving for their new home base in Arizona.

In 2018 the Royal Netherlands Air Force has re-activated its 306 Squadron at Leeuwarden AirBase to operate the four MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 unmanned aerial vehicles it isprocuring. The four MQ-9 Reaper are scheduled to be delivered in mid-2020. Although it has not been decided where the drones will be based, the operational base for 306 squadron will be Leeuwarden Airbase.

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