On 13 December 2022, the Koninklijke Luchtmacht (KLu, Royal Netherlands Air Force) started to return former "US based" F-16 Fighting Falcons back to Europe. Six F-16s arrived at Lajes Field on the Azores (Portugal) in the dark hours.
In total eleven F-16s are expected to return to Europe. The fighters will continue their journey on Thursday 15 december to Gosselies (Belgium), where they will be overhauled by Sabena Aerospace.
This batch of eleven fighters was earlier reported as sold to Draken International, a provider of tactical fighter aircraft for contract adversary air (ADAIR, also known as “Red Air”). Some of the former KLu F-16s were already noted making some test flights late November/early December at the company's home base at Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland (FL).
Although the Dutch Ministry of Defence (MoD) still reports that the aircraft are sold to Draken International, strong rumours indicate that these F-16s will go to the Bulgarski Voenno Vzdushni Sili (BVVS, Bulgarian Air Force). Even more F-16s will come from the storage in the Netherlands and will join the F-16s now returning to Europe. Most probably the US government helped to cancel the contract with Draken International.
Bulgaria has ordered sixteen Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 multi-role fighter aircraft, but deliveries are delayed for a period of two years. Because the Bulgarian MiG-29s will become unserviceable from late 2023 onward, the air force is in need for an interim fighter aircraft to replace the ageing MiG-29 fleet.
On 24 November, Scramble Magazine reported on the interim fighters for the Bulgarian Air Force.
The six F-16s that arrived in the evening hours of 13 December are:
F-16AM: J-004, J-010 and J-018
F-16BM: J-064, J-067 and J-210
Photos by João Toste