By Cadet Sgt B. Major of 2425 (Nottingham Airport) Sqn ATC
South and East Midlands Wing
In the summer of 2012, myself and 2 other Royal Air Force air cadets were the lucky few whom embarked for two weeks in the Netherlands on what I feel has been the pinnacle of my cadet career so far.
Meeting everyone for the first time at Brunel university we then left the next day from Heathrow were the United Kingdom party began to bond as we would later with all the members representing their respective countries. Arriving at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam we were greeted by the friendly representatives of the Netherlands Air Force and the IACE programme; we were then transported by coach (the standard transport of the 2 weeks) to Woensdrecht airbase where after being well fed and performing a standard room set up, we were fully briefed on the fortnight ahead of us.
enlightening presentation on Europe’s current space activity and the development of the project with a guided tour and lecture around the space museum at the centre and the behind the scenes testing facility where we witnessed the testing of a piece of a launcher’s capacity to withstand stress and high levels of amplitude. We then headed back for our home away from home where international rivalry culminated in a battle of national pride during the evening’s snooker games. The next day the coach escorted us to Delft University which provided valuable insight to those wishing to study abroad during their university years, followed by a tour of the campus. Later that evening back at base we took advantage of the bases many facilities, the sports centre and gym was one of the favourites for all nationalities with the continuation of the previous nights games.
The IACE then moved into what for some was familiar territory, gliding; using a disused airbase we were taken up for a circuit or two by the members of a local gliding club. For all of us it was a welcome and fun afternoon of both the practicalities of gliding and some international banter. The exchange later took us to Volkel airbase, home of the Netherlands F-16s were we met some of the pilots followed by an interesting tour of the maintenance hangers and in the culmination of the day we witnessed the take-off and flypast of 5 F-16s. The day was incredible and wouldn’t be the last flypast our group was lucky enough to see.
The next day we were meant to visit the Netherland’s naval base De Kooy, which unfortunately didn’t come to pass, however in one of the exchanges moments of fast reorganisation we had a jovial trip to one of the countries beaches were we enjoyed one of the luxuries that Britain often lacks, sun.
The trips next trip to an airbase was to the helicopter command centre of Gilze Rijen were we saw some very familiar aircraft to us Brits. The Chinook and Apache, absolutely amazing to see so up close and some to see all the working mechanics as the teams of mechanics worked on the machines in front of us. We later in the trip were lucky to be escorted around Eindhoven airbase by a senior member of the bases staff who called in a few favours which resulted in a fly pass of the Netherlands Apache display team and a Chinook, both of which came in very low which was a privilege to witness.
The exchange also had a sombre aspect to it as we were taken on a battlefield tour of Arnhem and the airborne museum; we then in were taken to the war cemetery nearby where we felt humbled by the sacrifice of those in operation market garden. Seeing photographs of what happened and hearing the accounts and historical records of the operation were enlightening . The exchange also had one element of unpredictability to it, as each of the participants spent a weekend with a host family where we enjoyed a more domestic experience of the Dutch culture; for me and my newly acquired Czech friend this meant a trip along Holland’s canals to a traditional Dutch windmill village which lived up to the stereotypes of clogs and tulips. The weekend was not without some denting of national pride however when one foolishly began singing rule Britannia assuming Britain would win the women’s bike road race in the London 2012 Olympic games, Holland’s victory silenced that singing.
All good things must come to an end, the departures came eventually and we had to bid farewell to our international friends and set course for Britain. What didn’t end though were the memories of the two weeks and the bonds we made with everyone we met; it was sold as the pinnacle of our cadet career and it most certainly lived up to that.