Yes! This shot is real, and not from inside a cockpit, either. Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 pilot and avid skydiver Joost Luysterburg of Performance Designs is going to tell you exactly how this crazy encounter came to pass:
It’s Sunday afternoon. The second day of a great jumping weekend has ended. Made some nice jumps filming Texel’s 8-way team ‘8@work’. I’m packing my things while Hans van Marrewijk (a local Tandem/AFF instructor and camera flyer) is dubbing some tandem videos for customers. He asks me if I’m gonna fly formation with ‘my’ jet from work (I’m active duty for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, flying F-16s) and the Cessna Caravan the center uses as their primary jump plane, before I move to the USA for my next assignment.
Wow, what a question. I tell him I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen/work or not. After saying goodbye to everyone I get in my car and as I’m driving home I’ve forgotten all about his question and I’m already focusing on the busy work week that’s ahead.
Tuesday rolls around and I’m pulling alert duty. This a 24-hour duty day where two pilots, two crew chiefs and two fully armed F-16s are ready to launch to guard the airspace of The Netherlands and neighboring NATO countries. During this particular day we were scheduled to fly a training sortie with the alert birds.
This is training for us and of course for the Ground Controlled Intercept officers on the ground. When the controllers call to talk about what they wanted to do during the training mission, they say they would like to practice some intercepts against ‘slow-movers’ if they can find them. ‘Slow-movers’ are aircraft (or helicopters) who fly a lot slower then our F-16s usually fly.
At that moment I remember my conversation with Hans. I tell the master controller that I know the perfect aircraft to intercept for this training. After explaining he likes the idea. As he starts to make some calls to talk to the Air Traffic Controllers who will be controlling the jump plane, I call the Skydiving center to talk to the pilot of the jump plane. Everybody is looking forward to this and after setting some ground rules, I mean air rules, we’re all ready for this.
“How fast do you fly?” “...That slow? Okay, how fast can you go when you’re really trying? Okay, that should work.” The jump plane can do 120 knots (about 140 mph) when it tries en my F-16 won’t go a whole lot slower then 150 knots (about 170 mph) when it’s fully armed. It can fly slower but it’s only really happy at speeds that are in excess of 300 knots (345 mph.)
After flying the first part of our training sortie (we’re a lot lighter now, which will help with flying slow) we contact the jump plane pilot. He’s over the dropzone at 7,000 feet, climbing to exit altitude, getting ready to drop some tandems in 1 minute. We’re about 15 miles away from him. We lock him with our radars and tell him we’ll be with him in less then 2 minutes.
As our jets accelerate smoothly through 500 knots we close the gap rapidly. At about eight miles away we start slowing down as the tandems exit. A little later we see the jump plane. A beautiful white Cessna Caravan, pitted against the blue sky. As they continue to climb, we join next to them.
Well, next to them… The climbing speed is about 90 knots and that is impossible for the Vipers to sustain. As the Caravan levels at 13,000 feet it starts to accelerate and it turns out to be really easy to fly at co-speed. The jet handles fine at 120 knots. It can even go a little slower. Time to fly a little closer.
And there you are, in ‘your’ F-16, feet away from your jumping buddies who are going insane as they are in the open door of the jump plane. This is so awesome. I can nearly touch them. Hans is in the door and the motor drive of his still camera is making overtime. Behind him are some more people I recognize. Everybody is smiling ear to ear.
A little after this the jump, the pilot is signaling the next exit to me over the radio. It is no problem to keep flying formation until the jump plane slows down. As we accelerate away from the jump plane we see the first load of jumpers exit behind and below us. What an amazing sight…
Four happy jumpers remain in the plane. After some more formation flying we make some room for the next exit. Four waving jumpers exit one at a time and make a clear and pull. We briefed it wouldn’t be a problem to have four jumpers open high and canopy flock with me making some passes by their canopies. As the jump plane descends and gets out of the way, we see the canopies join in a nice tight formation. So now it’s just two F-16s and four Velocities. After a couple of passes along the flock we descend through 10,000 feet. This is the end for us, as we want to keep the noise for people on the ground to a minimum.
After one last pass on top of the edge of a cloud formation we say goodbye by rocking our wings to the fortunate jumpers.
Back to our base, to turn the jets and continue our alert duty. As we fly low over the countryside, I have a huge smile underneath my oxygen mask. What an amazing sortie. This day rocks!
This story originally appeared on Performance Designs Blog and was republished here with permission. It has been lightly edited. A huge thanks to them, the Royal Netherlands Air Force, author Joost Luysterburg and canopy pilots Hans Van Marrewijk and Dedric Hourde.
Email us with the subject line “Syndication” if you would like to see your own story syndicated here on Foxtrot Alpha.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com