Exercise Falcon Leap 19 ran for two weeks in September as an exercise in interoperability and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. The first week allowed participating nations to practice airdrop of stores. Number 47 Squadron supported the second week during which parachutists from the United States of America and Europe had the opportunity to jump from other nation’s aircraft to drop zones used in the original Op Market Garden.
Operation Market Garden was launched in September 1944, in an attempt to speed the Allied advance by seizing nine bridges in the Netherlands to allow the rapid advance of ground forces. The bridges were to be seized by airborne forces - US airborne forces in the south and the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem, supported by the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade. The paratroopers at Arnhem fought through to capture the Arnhem road bridge. However, delays in the advance of ground forces lead to the bridge being recaptured by German units on 21st September 1944.
The low-level parachuting element of the exercise was supported by 47 Sqn who deployed a C-130J Mk4, with crew and support personnel, to Eindhoven Air Base, home of the Royal Netherlands Air Force transport fleet. We operated in a mixed formation of up to eight aircraft comprising various types of Hercules and a Transal. The formation flew three waves per day with engines running onload of paratroopers between each.
Over three days 47 Squadron dropped 382 parachutists in total, from the US, Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy and Belgium. Between the formation around 200 parachutists would jump per pass, most of them being in air the simultaneously. This was excellent training for the crews in managing formation spacing, wake turbulence and wind conditions to allow despatch of troops in clean air within the confines of the drop zone.
Falcon Leap culminated on the 21st September in the 75th anniversary commemoration of Op Market Garden during which we dropped at Ginkel Heath drop zone; one of the original drop zones. The run-in direction to Ginkel Heath was chosen to provide a fly past to Arnhem and the John Frost bridge where the 1st Airborne Division was overrun 75 years ago to the day.
Throughout the week we were impressed by the support and enthusiasm of the Dutch. Thousands of spectators had come to Ginkel Heath to watch, including Prince Charles and former Dutch Queen, Princess Beatrix. Each of the cities along the Market Garden route identified with the unit that had landed there, and decorated their streets with the emblems of the 101st, 82nd or 1st Airborne Divisions. We also appreciated our colleagues in the RNAF doing an excellent job of running the exercise, and that they acknowledged the UK contribution to Op Market Garden and Ex Falcon Leap by placing us in the centre of the formation beside the Dutch lead.