Weeze Airport , initially known as Flughafen Niederrhein, opened in 2003 after it had been prepared for civil operations in 2002 with the construction of a new terminal and modification of the existing control tower. The history of this airfield goes back to 1945 when the British Army build Advanced landing Ground Goch (B-100) at the end of World War II in support of the final push across the river Rhine in 1945, B-100 was only used during the months of March-April 1945. In 1954 the RAF rebuilt the WWII facility as RAF Laarbruch due to the outbreak of the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 also reduced the need of a large military presence in Germany and the Royal Air Force started withdrawing its personnel from RAF Laarbruch in 1993, in 1999 the last units moved back to the United Kingdom and the airbase was closed.
Since its opening as a civil airport a small number of airshows have been organized at Weeze, however one has to bear in mind that airshows in Germany have to follow quite stringent rules after the disaster at Ramstein in 1988, so don’t expect too spectacular aerial demonstrations.
Tim and myself attended the ‘Flugtag’ (or ‘flying day’) on May 1st, 2008 (a Thursday, but a bank holiday in most of the surrounding countries) and hereafter are some impressions on what was present that day. With its history as one of its former airbases, the Royal Air Force was present with quite a large contingent of aircraft. The first unit that was well represented was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight based at RAF Coningsby. The historical unit of the RAF attended with these aircraft : a Douglas Dakota C3, a Hawker Hurricane and a Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIX. The presence of the Spitfire was a reminder of the fact that in 1945 Canadian Spitfires from 127 Wing were based at B-100 (ALG Goch).
The Royal Air Force also provided some more modern equipment, a British Aerospace Hawk T1A , a Eurofighter Typhoon F2 from RAF No No 3 Squadron, and a contingent of the British Aerospace Harrier GR9s from RAF No 4 Squadron. The presence of both No 3 and 4 Squadron also had historical significance. As these were the last two RAF squadrons based at RAF Laarbruch, until they relocated to RAF Cottesmore in 1999. At the time both units were flying the Harrier GR.7 variant.
The only other military aircraft present was a Luftwaffe Panavia Tornado IDS from Jagdbombergeschwader 31 ‘Boelcke’ based at Nörvenich. Two additional highlights for me were the two Lockheed F104G Starfighters that had been restored at Weeze by a small group of enthusiasts. The first one was ‘FX52’, the well-known Belgian Air Force Tiger-aircraft from 31 Squadron at Kleine Brogel. This airframe was decorated in this special color scheme for the 1978 NATO Tiger Meet held at Kleine Brogel. After its service it changed hands several times until it was acquired by a Belgian F104G-fan who transported it to Weeze and it was restored to the smallest detail to its former glory. The second aircraft, KG-101, was the first F104G build by Fokker in the Netherlands for the German Luftwaffe and was restored by the same team. Unfortunately a few years ago the group of enthusiasts had to abandon their restoration facilities at Weeze and both aircraft had to be sold, with FX-52 ending up in Greece. KG-101 is still in the possession of an aircraft trader in the Netherlands.
The reminder of the ‘Flugtag’ was filled with a nice collection of warbirds of all sorts and origins. The French ‘Association Amicale des Avions Anciens de la Drome’ visited with their Rockwell OV10B Bronco, which during its operational days was used by the Luftwaffe as a reconnaissance and target-towing aircraft. In addition a number of better known warbirds attended the event, such as the North American Harvard, North American P51D Mustang and the Consolidated PBY5A Catalina from the Netherlands. Finally a former Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) Max Holste MH1521M Broussard was present in the static exhibition.
Finally a number of 100% civilian displays could be seen. Most spectacular was the act by German Wingwalker Peggy Krainz, early 2016 Peggy announced that the team was disbanded and the aircraft was put up for sale. Other noteworthy aircraft were an aerobatic display by an Extra EA300S and two oldtimers a Zlin 526F and Antonov An2T. During the whole event many helicopter rides were done using a Bell 206L-3 Long Ranger III and a Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blöhm Bo105C.
Photography at Weeze is fairly straightforward although a bit later in the afternoon you have the sun straight in your camera. Most military aircraft were positioned in front of the old RAF shelters, so you could make some ‘operational’ shots. The flying and taxiing could be photographed from various spots around the platform, all aircraft participating in the flying schedule could also be photographed on the ground.
The event at Weeze was a real nice one to attend, but unfortunately it was organized at irregular intervals for various reasons. The last one was in 2013, which I unfortunately couldn’t attend, but hopefully there will be one in the not so far future.
Text : Laurent Heyligen
Photography : Laurent Heyligen & Tim Van den Boer