BELGIAN AIR FORCE DAYS 2018
On the 8th and 9th of September the Belgian Air Force organized once again the Belgian Air Force Days, hosted at Kleine-Brogel Airbase situated in Peer, Limburg. The last edition of the BAFD organized in Kleine-Brogel was in 2014 with very high quality participants both in the static as the flying display. (report 2014) So also for this edition our expectations were very high.
With the return of the BAFD to Kleine-Brogel, the organizers from the Sanicole airshow took a break for the 2018 edition and helped the BAF to organize and support this edition of the BAFD. The Belgian Air Force treated us with a 3 day event full of interesting aircraft. On Friday the BAF organized a spottersday to photograph the last arrivals and rehearsals for the Airshow on Saturday and Sunday. During the weekend more than 72.000 persons visited the BAFD, that’s what we call a big success.
The theme for this year’s show was “Ready for the future”, because the BAF has some big challenges coming up: first there is the replacement from the C-130H by the Airbus A-400M, the first A-400M for the BAF is at this moment on the production line in Seville (Spain). Although the delivery should not be expected earlier than 2020, an example attended the BAFD. The Airbus factory in Seville sent one of their own A-400Ms to KB. Second there is the replacement of the 40 years old F-16 Fighting Falcons. When writing this article the replacement already had been chosen. Not the Eurofighter Typhoon or the French Dassault Rafale was chosen, but the Belgian government selected the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II as the winner. The first delivery of this new fighter is expected around 2028. At the BAFD all the candidates were present, the Eurofighter Typhoon from the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force Rafale and the F-35A from the Italian Air Force. Also in the meantime, the old, but still very reliable Sea King will be replaced by the modern and powerful NH-90 helicopter. At this moment there are still 3 flying Sea Kings but at the end of March 2019 the last example will be retired in the Belgian Air Force. During the two airshow days we saw the Sea King and also the NH-90 in the flying display, the Sea King also did some flights with people that had participated in some competitions setup by the Belgian Air Force.
There were 19 countries attending this edition of the Belgian Air Force Days. The most special participant was the Ukrainian Air Force with their Sukhoi Su-27 - Flanker demo, the Italian Air Force with their F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the static display and the US Air Force with the Osprey CV-22 in the static display and the KC-135 Stratotanker that performed a fly-past on the both airshow days.
For us as Low Approach the Belgian Air Force Days already started on Wednesday and Thursday for the arrivals of some of the participants. On Wednesday not very much was going on in Kleine-Brogel only the in Germany registered Stemme S15 Ecarys arrived and some locals F-16 were flying their missions. On Thursday there was much more flying activity, the two Hawk T.2 from the Royal Air Force came on final in bad weather conditions, luckily for us in the afternoon they flew a mission with some local F-16’s in Belgian airspace. Between the local flying activity we saw the arrival from the Extra 330SC from Kristof Cloetens and the Piper PA-25-235 Pawnee from CNE Air as civilian registered aircrafts.
Other military participants that arrived on Thursday were the Hellenic Air Force Demo Team “ Zeus “ with their F-16C Block 52+ equipped with conformal fuel tanks (CFT) for an increased range. The solo demonstration team “Zeus” started in 2009 and is stationed in Chania Airbase on the island of Crete. Another arrival for the BAFD was made by the Danish Air Force with the “ Baby Blue Team “ flying the Saab MFI-17 Supporter. They are part of the flight training school at Karup and are flying a formation display with four aircraft. Not only the Baby Blue Demo Team came from Denmark, but also the F-16 Demo Display came to Kleine Brogel. Also arriving Thursday afternoon were the NATO AWACS, the French Air Force Rafale, the Belgian Air Force Alpha Jet, the Slovakian Air Force MiG-29UBS and the French Air Force Embraer EMB-121AA Xingú.
On Friday the Belgian Air Force organized a spottersday to witness and photograph the latest arrivals and rehearsals for the Airshow on Saturday and Sunday. Also invited were the secondary schools from various places in Belgium, mainly to attract some future pilots, mechanics, Air Traffic Controllers or other personnel for the Belgian Air Force. The main attraction during the spottersday was the arrival of the Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 Flankers. Upon arrival at Kleine-Brogel they did an impressive break with the two Su-27’s and the Ilyushin Il-76 MD, that went to Brussels Airport as support for the Flankers. They attended the BAFD with a Sukhoi Su-27UB-1M Flanker and a Sukhoi Su-27P1M Flanker. Other arrivals made on Friday were the F-35A from the Italian Air Force that made a very nice low approach before landing, the Royal Netherlands Air Force with the Apache and Chinook for the static display and the Belgian F-16 demo pilot “Vador” arrived with his Dark Falcon from Florennes. Also the French Army sent some nice helicopters to Kleine Brogel, the first was the Tigre and the second a NH90 in a very nice camo paintscheme. The Danish Air Force attended also with a nice helicopter: the Merlin, this helicopter is one you don’t see very often outside Denmark. Another Merlin that came to the BAFD was a Royal Navy example.
During the day on Friday you could see the rehearsals of a lot of demo teams and solo displays. We could see the practice of the Belgian F-16 Demo team, the Hellenic Air Force F-16, Breitling Jet team, Baby Blue team, Spanish and Swiss Air Force F-18 Hornet, the Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 and many more. We made a small selection from the pictures made during these rehearsals.
After most of the spotters had already left the airbase some late arrivals were seen and noticed, the Portuguese Air Force with the Merlin and Dirk saw from his backyard the arrival from the US Air Force CV-22 Osprey.
On Saturday and Sunday it was showtime, most of the participants flew on both days, so there was not much difference if you attended on Saturday or Sunday. The only difference was the time of flying on both days. We start with some static shots from the weekend. On the static line we saw the French Army NH-90 and Tigre, the Italian Air Force F-35A, the Belgian Air Force F-16 in the Tiger color scheme from 31SQN and one with a tailband from 349SQN, the German Air Force Tornado IDS, and the Su-27’s from the Ukrainian Air Force. Making a rare appearance at an airshow were the Austrian Alouette III and the Portuguese Air Force Merlin. Also civil airplanes showed up in the static display like the Stampe SV4, T-28B Trojan, TF-51D Mustang and much more….
72.000 attended both airshowdays that very varied in displays. Because Sanicole and the Belgian Air Force organized the airshow together we saw a lot of civilian air displays at this edition of the BAFD, more than on previously organized editions of the Belgian Air Force Days. Some people like this, for other people it’s not spectacular enough and take the time for enjoying a fresh pint of Belgian beer or take a moment to eat the much loved Belgian fries. We start the flying part of the airshow report with the civilian participants: during the two days off course some Belgian teams visited the show, no Belgian airshow without the participation of the Victors Formation Team from the Ursel flying club, equipped with four Piper PA-28 Cherokee aircraft. Another first timer seen to show his capabilities at Klein-Brogel was the Sonaca 200. The Sonaca 200 is a low-wing, full metallic aircraft build by the Belgian company Sonaca Aircraft, this aircraft is mainly developed to attract civilian flying schools and private pilots. Also two Extra 330SC joined the party in Kleine-Brogel, one flown by Stijn De Jaeghere and the second by Kristof Cloetens. Also some international participants showed up like a Stolp Starduster flown by Jean-Marc D’Hulst coming from France. From the UK we saw Team Raven with a mix of Van's RV4 and RV8 giving the best of themselves.
On the military side we also saw some “light” aircraft performing with the display of the Royal Danish Air Force “Baby Blue Team” with the Saab T-17 Supporter and from the Royal Jordanian Air Force we saw the “Royal Jordanian Falcons” with their brand new Extra 330LX aircrafts. The team not received new aircraft, but also adopted a new paint scheme to go with it. The Belgium Air Force sent the “Red Devils”. They fly with four of the SIAI-Marchetti SF260M based at Beauvechain Airbase. The Red Devils did not only flew their demo, but could also be seen in formation with the Stampe & Vertongen museums’ Fouga Magister CM170.
During the two days much more military hardware was present. We start with the Belgian Air Force that only on Saturday presented their newly painted C-130H to celebrate 70 years 15th Wing and 40 years C-130 Hercules. After some passes he landed and was placed in the static display. Another Belgian Air Force contribution was made by the F-16 Solo Display Team. Display pilot “Vador” demonstrated the F-16 in his first year as the official demo pilot for the Belgian Air Force. Traditionally his aircraft is wearing a new paintscheme called “Dark Falcon”. Beside his demo he also flew a nice formation with the Supermarine Spitfire XVI flown by Kris Van Den Bergh. The “Thundertigers” are a formation of four Belgian Air Force F-16’s from 31SQN based at Kleine-Brogel, this is a mix of role demonstrations with strafing runs, bombing runs and close formation passes.
On Sunday there was some space left to make a pass with the Netherlands Air Force KDC-10 tanker. The farewell tour of the Westland Sea King Mk48 also brought her to the Belgian Air Force Days, the Sea King entered service in 1976 and now 42 years later the end is near. The Sea King that displayed in Kleine Brogel still wore the colorscheme for the 25th anniversary, a color scheme that is already 17 years old. After the display of the Sea King we could welcome the itssuccessor, the NH90. The NH90 flew directly from Koksijde on the two airshowdays to perform only some flybys before going back to Koksijde. Another Belgium Air Force Demo Team that we don’t want forget is the Agusta A-109 from 17th SQN based in Beauvechain, pilots Stijn Stoenens and Jo Jacobs did a very nice job on this display, unfortunately they were not allowed to use flares during his demo because of the strong winds.
After all these Belgian participants we go further with the other countries that came to Kleine-Brogel to present their airplanes. The Danish Air Force presented their F-16AM solo display, this demo let us see the power of this fighter with some very tight, high alpha barrel rolls and sharp turns and climbs in his show. Another F-16 demo was flown be the Hellenic Air Force Demo Team “ZEUS”. Beside these F-16’s we also saw two solo displays from the F-18 Hornet. The first awesome display was flown by the Spanish Air Force with their powerful EF-18A, at the end of his demo on Saturday the F-18 engraved its presence on the Runway because the tail hook was locked in downward position after his display, causing a massive shower of sparks on touchdown. The other Hornet that we saw at the BAFD came from Switzerland with the F-18C version with Captain Nicolas "Vincent" Rossier from Fighter Squadron 17 on the stick, based at Payerne. The other base operating the F-18 within the Swiss Air Force is Meiringen.
Besides the Baby Blue Team from Denmark we saw two other demoteams, these came from France. The first was the civil Breitling Jet Team, the Breitling Jet Team flies six L-39 Albatross aircraft and are based in the south of France at Dijon. All team members are former members of the French air force except their leader Jacques Bothelin. They flew a demonstration of over 20 minutes with non-stop action, tight formations, cross-overs and solo maneuvers. The other display team was Patrouille de France, the French national display team and the ambassadors for the French Air Force. They fly 8 Alpha Jets advanced jet trainers and are based at the airbase Salon-de-Provence in the south of France. Another French Air Force participant was the Rafale Solo Display, the Rafale is the frontline fighter of the French air force and Navy. The French Air Force has 110 Rafales in service in two different types: the Rafale B double seater and the Rafale C single-seat version. The Navy has 42 Rafales in service in the M version, specially designed to land on their aircraft carrier. The Rafale at the BAFD was flown by Captain Sébastien Nativel “Babouc” with already 1000 flight hours on Rafale.
The absolute highlight was the display from the Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27P1M. The display itself is not that spectacular, but it didn't need to be. We were presented with some nice tail slides, no cobra maneuver but instead a beautifully flown display that was fast and impressive only by the presence of such a massive fighter. The Su-27 was piloted by Col. Oleksander Oksanchenko from 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade based at Myrhorod Air Base. The display at Kleine Brogel were the Colonels last, as he decided to retire from the airshow circuit, but we are convinced that a successor will stand up in the coming years.
To finish this report we also want to mention the perfectly flown demo by the Royal Air Force Typhoon Display flown by Flt.Lt Jim Peterson and the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team. The only flying participant from the USAF at this edition was the Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker that did some fly-by’s. This KC-135 came from the 459th Air Refuelling Wing based at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Also some history was be shown by the Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight with their Beechcraft D18S-3NM and a pair of North American Harvard II-B’s.
To conclude we could say the Belgian Air Force Days was a successful event and we had some very enjoyable days. Nevertheless there are some points to improve for next editions. Because the VIP tents were setup more to the center of the display line we had a lot of traffic from busses and cars in front of the Static Display and we noticed that that frustrated the normal people from time to time. Another missed chance is, because the end of the Belgian Air Force Alpha Jets is near, we not saw any Belgian Alpha Jet flying during this airshow. We also missed the special painted Alpha Jet on the show, could have been a very nice addition to the static display. On this edition there were some very good displays, but in the program were also too many quiet moments. The event missed its chance to turn such a complete line-up of different jets, even into a memorable airshow. There were also improvements to the showground since 2014, with more food and toilet areas. When a good service is provided, you then don't mind having to pay. We are already looking forward to the next BAFD.
Next year the airshow will again be held at Sanicole Airfield in the weekend from 13th and 15th of September. Kleine-Brogel will be used again during that weekend as supporting base for the jet aircraft and aircraft that need a longer runway to take-off and land.
Text: Dirk Geuns
Photography: Dirk Geuns, Tim Van den Boer, Laurent Heyligen, Andy Patzelt