In June 2015 the Air Traffic Control Center (ATCC) organized its bi-annual Open Door at Semmerzake. As the Belgian Air Force didn't organize a major Airshow in 2015 this was one of the few occasions that the Belgian public could see some Air Force hardware in action this year.
As the ATCC has no runway, the static is limited to a number of visiting helicopters, both civil and military. Unfortunately the announced participation from the French Armed forces was cancelled so the only foreign military visitors came from the Royal Air Force. Belgian helicopters on display included the Sud Aviation SA316B Alouette III and the brand-new NH Industries NH90NFH Cayman from 40 Squadron, based at Koksijde.
The Royal Air Force contingent consisted of two helicopters, a Eurocopter Squirrel HT.1 and a Bell Griffin HT.1, from the Defense Helicopter Flying School, based at Shawbury. In the late afternoon both departed Semmerzake, which provided some nice photo opportunities.
The flying program consisted of a number of fly-bys from both civil and military aircraft. From the civilian side we had amongst others a Cessna Ce525A Citation Jet 2 and a Christen-Eagle S2B Special. Also a nice 'warbird' made a number of passes over Semmerzake, the rare Commonwealth CA13 Boomerang, which is normally based at Deurne-Antwerp Airport.
Military aircraft that could be seen in the fly-by section included an Embraer Emb121AA Xingu from the Armée de l'Air. Off course also a number of Belgian military aircraft made several passes during the day, a Dassault Falcon 20-5 from 21 Squadron at Melsbroek and two Piper L21B Super Cubs from the Air Force Cadets.
In between the fly-bys a number of demonstrations by Belgian Air Force could be seen. Starting with a base attack and formation flights by F16s from both Kleine Brogel and Florennes Air Base.
Next display on the program was the Agusta A109BA Hirundo from N° 1 Helicopter Wing based at Beauvechain, who gave an spectacular demonstration of the capabilities of this helicopter.
We already saw the Search and Rescue variant of the NH90 at the static display, but also the Tactical Transport version, the NH Industries NH90MTH was present at Semmerzake. In collaboration with a Special Forces team from the Belgian Army a demonstration was staged. The scenario was that a 'bad guy' in a white van had to be captured and transferred to the authorities.
After the Belgian Air Force 'Red Devils' demonstration team made a number of formation fly-bys and passes in their Siai-Marchetti SF260Ms. A full display was not possible as the location of Semmerzake is too close to the town center of Gavere.
Final display on the program was the well-known display of the Westland Sea King Mk.48 from Koksijde. The aircraft is currently in the process of being replaced by the NH90NFH Cayman, so its days are unfortunately numbered. The display consisted of a number of fly-bys and a Search and Rescue demonstration, where even the Rescue diver demonstrated some of his 'acrobatic' capabilities.
Photography conditions at Semmerzake are very good, the static display were well organized and the fencing was placed at a sufficient distance to make good shots of the present aircraft. The fly-bys and demonstrations can easily be photographed with the sun in the back.
The ATCC Open Door is a relatively small event, but at the end of day the counter stopped at 4500 visitors, which can be considered a big success for the organization. The large numbers of visitors is also a nice illustration of the big interest of the Belgian population in its armed forces.
Will there be a next edition ? At this moment no one can tell, as the location is threatened with closure as part of the upcoming Defense restructuration, but this hasn't been officially confirmed. This would really be a shame as it a really nice event to visit.
Text & Photography : Laurent Heyligen