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Falcon Leap 2017
Latest update: August 2018
Below article has been published by Air Forces Monthly Issue 357 December 2017.
Exercise Falcon Leap

Exercise Falcon Leap is an international exercise for paratroopers organized by Koninklijke Landmacht (Royal Netherlands Army – RNLA) 11 Luchtmobiele Brigade Air Assault  “7 december” (11LMB - 11 Air Mobile Brigade). 11LM is a light infantry unit composed of three infantry battalions, one reconnaissance squadron and five support companies and is the sole Dutch Air Assault brigade based at the Oranje kazerne (barracks) in Schaarsbergen and the Johan Willem Friso kazerne in Assen. The RNLA cooperates with the German Army which lead to a number of units of one country adopted into the command structure of the other country. The 2.000 personnel strong 11LM is part of Germany’s Division Schnelle Kräfte (DSK - Rapid Forces Division) from June 2014.
11LM also works closely with Royal Netherlands Air Force squadrons transforming all units into 11 Air Manoeuvre Brigade (11 AMB) . 11 AMB is composed of  11LM and the Defense Helicopter Command (DHC) with 298 squadron (Boeing CH-47D/F Chinook), 300 squadron (Airbus Helicopter AS532.U2 Cougar), 301 Squadron (Boeing AH-64D Apache) all based at Gilze-Rijen and is partnered with 336 squadron with its Lockheed Martin C-130H/C-130H.30 Hercules based at Eindhoven.

Falcon Leap and Market Garden commemoration

The Falcon Leap exercise finds its origin in the annual WWII operation Market Garden commemoration paratroop jumps held annually on the third Saturday of September. During operation Market Garden troops from Poland, United Kingdom and the United States used three main drop zones with the British and Polish forces landing near Arnhem including the Ginkelse heide in the city of Ede. Until 2014 these jumps were reenacted by paratroopers from these countries as well as airborne soldiers from Canada, The Netherlands and other NATO countries. With all these troops flying in for one day of jumps the commander of 11LM decided to organize a three day exercise prior to the commemoration jumps. Exercise Falcon Leap was organized for the first time in 2015. Except the advantage of the several airborne units meeting each other and have the opportunity to exchange knowledge and bonding the exercise provides for interoperability and cross training by using each other’s parachutes. During Falcon Leap three missions a day are planned which based on the available aircraft have the ability to drop between 600 – 700 paratroopers.

Mission planning

Mission planning starts 24 hours prior to the jump day and is done at Eindhoven Air Base where a pilot of 336 Squadron is assigned mission commander for the aircraft formation due to complexity of the exercise while at Schaarsbergen and De Harskamp the assignment of the paratroopers are prepared. For the jumps two different kind of parachutes can be used the well known “round” as used during WWII and the Military Free Fall (MFF) known as “square”. The MFF is being used by special forces and pathfinders of the Airborne troops. The pathfinders jump from high altitudes well ahead of the main forces. These jumps are conducted from the ramp. Contrary to the 2014 exercise these jumps were not made this year. The main force jumps with the “rounds” as they are used to drop from low altitudes and quickly deploys a large scale force.  Jumps with the “rounds” are conducted from the (side) paratroop doors using static lines.

At Eindhoven the mission commander is responsible for the aircraft formation which is depending on the altitude and the currency of the aircrew. As the Transall (see table) requires a higher altitude then a Hercules they are allocated the last positions in the formation. Furthermore the aircrews need to be current on formation flying as well as experienced in the paratroop drop mission.

On the ground at De Harskamp the manifest process starts which covers the entire process from the mission preparation until the paratroopers have landed. The process is bound by laws and rules of the participating countries. The planners check the certifications of the jumpmasters (PJE) and their dispatchers and the limitations of the parachutes. The chutes are limited to a maximum wind speed and the PJE’s are limited to a maximum number of paratroopers they are allowed to jump of an aircraft. The planning team assigns the paratroopers by chalk which found its origin in WWII where a identification number was written on the soldiers helmet. Nowadays a chalk number can be written as 1-1-1 which identifies the flight as wave 1 – flight 1 – sortie 1. The chalk itself is composed of two sticks used for boarding the aircraft on the left and right side. A PJE team is assigned to the chalk and the entire chalk to an aircraft. When the chalk numbers are final the pre-jump conversion training is conducted at De Harskamp barracks where all international  paratroopers are housed. The next day the paratroopers are moved by bus to Eindhoven and processed by chalk to their assigned aircraft. Bringing together the information of both the aircraft and its crews capabilities and limitations as well as the same items for the parachutes, JPE’s and paratroopers and taking into account the weather forecast resulting in the assignment of chalks to aircraft is a complex process.

As example what the result of the jump planning can look like: Dutch paratroopers will jump with German parachutes means they are assigned a German PJE team. The PJE team is limited to drop 40 paratroopers including themselves (one of the German regulations) they will be assigned to the Polish Air Force C-295M.

When the paratroopers made the jump with the chute of another country he earns their wings. However the validation of the certificate remains on their national rules which requires a number of jumps to be made in a year to remain valid. When the validation expires the paratrooper will have to return to ground school to restart the training from the beginning.

Falcon Leap missions, drop zones and participants

Exercise Falcon Leap uses two drop zones in the Veluwe region. The already mentioned Ginkelse heide and the Houtdorperveld which featured in the move ‘A bridge too far’.

Jump locations: Date: Planned missions: Executed missions:
Houtdorperveld 13 Sept. 3 0
Ginkelse heide 14 Sept. 3 1
Houtdorperveld 15 Sept. 3 3
Ginkelse heide 16 Sept. 3 2
Total   12 6

Half of the missions were cancelled as a result of the weather conditions resulting in exceeding the limitations to safely conduct the both air operations and paratroop drops.

Note: On the Thursday’s jump at Ginkelse heide the paratroopers conduct a march following the route taken by Col. John Frost to Arnhem in September 1944.

Country: Aircraft: Unit: Drop alt.: No. Para’s: Para unit:
Belgium         Dispatchers only
Germany 2x C-160D LTG 63 1.300ft 60-70 DSK
Netherlands 1x C-130H 336 Sqn 1.000ft 60 11 LM
Poland 1x C-295M 13 ELTr. 1.000ft 40 6 BPD
UK         4 Para
USA 1x C-130J.30 62 AS (AETC) 1.000ft 60 173 Airborne Brig.


The RNLAF had two of its Hercules aircraft assigned to the exercise. Due to hurricane Irma which heavily struck St. Maarten - one of the Dutch Antilles – these C-130s were re-tasked and flown to Curacao to provide provide humanitarian relief to the island.
Due to other commitments the RAF – one Hercules - cancelled their annual participation at the commemoration jumps.

11 Luchtmobiel 25th anniversary

11LM was activated in 1992 and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2017. During Falcon Leap / Market Garden two public moments – Sept. 13 and 16 - were planned to present the brigade and its work to the public. The presentation included a joined demonstration with the DHC helicopter squadrons on the first and fourth day. Unfortunately the entire first day was cancelled due to the weather conditions. However the next day an Apache and Cougar were able execute their planned demonstration with the first securing the display area followed by the Cougar using a underslung load. On the 16th during the Market Garden commemoration the Chinook also flew its demo with a dual underslung load.

AS532.U2 Cougar arriving with underslung load. AH-64D Apache providing cover.

From 1994 until present 11LM participated in 18 international (EU/UN/NATO) missions and supports  operations in the Kingdom of The Netherlands. The brigade is currently tasked with the following missions:

St. Maarten: Humanitarian relief operations (hurricane Irma).
‘Company in the west’.
Africa: African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program (ACOTA) in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.
Somalia: Ocean Shield.

The author wishes to thanks Maj. Igor 11LM and Alex 11LM communications and media dept.
Photo gallery Ginkelse heide September 14
German Transall over the drop zone

and para's departing the C-160.

Polish Air Force C-295M overflies the
Ginkelse heide.
Drops from the C-295M are made from the ramp. Compared to the Hercules which uses

its side 'para' doors for the drops.