Ursel Avia 2018
In our series of Belgian aviation events we this time have a look at "Ursel Avia" held at the Belgian Air Force reserve field of Ursel situated between Ghent and Bruges, near the town of Aalter in the first weekend of July. It is difficult to categorize this event as it is not really a fly-in, but not a full scale airshow either, it's a bit of a mix enabling the visitors to have a taste of aviation in many different ways.
Last years' edition of 'Ursel Avia' was blessed with the ideal weather, which meant that the number of visiting aircraft and interested visitors was quite large.
Ursel first appears in the Belgian aviation history when in 1939 the then Belgian Air Force started construction of an airfield in this village. In 1940 it was occupied by the German Luftwaffe, during this period it was amongst others used for the testing of the new Messerschmitt Bf210. In 1944 the airfield was liberated by allied troops and used by the Royal Air Force under codename 'B-67'. The Royal Air Force still hasn't forgotten the role Ursel played during WWII and still sends a delegation to the events at Ursel. This year two Shorts Tucano T1s from RAF No 72 Squadron from RAF Linton-on-Ouse had the honor.
Second group of aircraft we want to mention in this report are a number of so-called 'warbirds'. For many the star of the event was the Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire LF.XVIe that recently arrived in Belgium. As already mentioned in a previous report it is now easier to register such types of aircraft on the Belgian civil register and this is now happening in rapid speed. The Spitfire present at Ursel arrived from Canada in early 2018 and is now based at Brustem near Sint-Truiden. The North American P51D Mustang can be considered the American equivalent of the Spitfire, but its main use during the Second World War was the protection of Allied bombers that attacked Germany. Noteworthy is that it is possible to take a ride in this Mustang as it is a two-seater version.
Not only fighters were present, also a couple of trainers from the World War Two period (or just after it) made an appearance. The first is a North American T6G Texan painted in Belgian Air Force colors. The Texan was a real 'pilot maker' as many military pilots earned their wings on this type. After the war the T6 was replaced by the larger North American T28B Trojan in the US armed forces. In Belgium several of these aircraft are active, the aircraft present at Ursel being a former US Navy example. Another interesting trainer aircraft is the Pilatus P2-05 that was developed for the Swiss Air Force. Unfortunately the aircraft at Ursel developed some engine problems during its visit, thus extending its stay at the airfield for much longer than planned, but the good news is that in early October its engine was repaired and that it could regain its normal base Balen-Keiheuvel.
As already mentioned Ursel Avia also has some airshow elements and this was shown by the display of a Douglas AD4N Skyraider coming from France. This aircraft was initially developed for use in WWII, but this conflict ended before it saw any operational use. Later it was used in a number of conflicts that followed, like Korea, Vietnam and the war of independence in Algeria where this example saw operational use.
Also a number of historic 'liaison' aircraft made the trip to Ursel this year. First was an immaculate looking Beechcraft E17L Staggerwing. This type was developed in the USA as a light transport in the 1930s, but also saw military use during the war, like this example. The example in Ursel survived the war and regained its civilian color scheme, also this aircraft was recently imported into Belgium. Another aircraft from US origins is the Stinson V77 Reliant, similarly developed in the 1930s and also this aircraft saw operational military use during the second World War. At Ursel two examples were present, one in a civilian dress and the second one still wearing his Royal Navy uniform. The Antonov An-2 Colt was developed in the Soviet Union and made its first flight in 1947. It is considered one the last bi-planes developed and it saw extensive use in Eastern Europe and even now it is used operationally by a small number of air forces. The example at Ursel is still flying in the markings it wore when in service in East Germany and was offering pleasure rides to the visitors of the event.
We already saw them in one of the Stinson Reliant pictures, but no event at Ursel is complete without a display of the local 'Victors' display team. It was created in 2004 by a small group of pilots of 'Vliegclub Ursel' (Aeroclub Ursel) and over the years they have become regular participants with their four Piper PA28 Cherokees at Belgian aviation events.
The last few years the Belgian Air Force have identified the potential of this type of aviation events to promote themselves towards the public as a possible employer. Also this year the participation of our Air Force was well noticed by the audience and this in many ways. First on the list was a display of the Westland Sea King Mk48 from 40 Squadron based at Koksijde. In early 2019 the type will be taken out of service, so the participation at Ursel was the first stop in its 2018 'farewell tour'. Yes, we will surely miss this gentle giant in our skies....
Second helicopter type that displayed at Ursel was the Agusta A109 Hirundo from 1 Wing at Beauvechain. This specially decorated A109 is now a popular visitor of airshows in Belgium and the rest of Europe, the use of flares during some of its shows is always appreciated by the crowds, and Ursel was no exception to this.
Final flying display from the Belgian Air Force came with the 'Red Devils' Demoteam. Equipped with the Siai-Marchetti SF260M primary trainer they continue the legacy set by their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s when flying the Hawker Hunter and the Fouga CM170R Magister. Nowadays the team is formed by a number of instructors pilots part of 5 Squadron at Beauvechain.
Not only in the skies the Belgian Air Force aircraft could be admired. Also on the ground they were present. Largest aircraft in the display was the Airbus A321 operated by 21 Squadron at Melsbroek for the transport of personnel. Since a number of years Belgian Air Force transport pilots are trained in France and a few of them brought over one of their aircraft, an Embraer Emb121AN Xingu, which is officially part of the French Naval Aviation, the Aéronavale. Not only the largest BAF aircraft was present, but also the smallest. The IAI/Eagle B-Hunter unmanned drone is operated by 80 (UAV) Squadron and normally based at Florennes, however on very regular intervals it is deployed to Koksijde for observation flights over the North Sea. Security is a key factor at aviation events and this year Ursel Avia was supported with the present of a couple Rosenbauer Panther 6x6 fire engines who were stand-by in case of an incident. Last but not least I want to mention the Belgian Air Force ground crew who managed all the ground movements of aircraft on the ground, these guys make sure that all of this was in a safe manner.
In recent years the Pitts Special has become a popular aircraft in Belgium. At Ursel Avia no less than 5 examples of different marks of this aerobatic bi-plane were present. During the aerial display a formation of three performed a number of fly pasts, which is quite likely the beginning of a new team.... time will tell. One of the successors of the Pitts is the Extra EA300. This aerobatic aircraft was developed in Germany by Walter Extra. At Ursel two examples were present, one of the EA300-series and one of the more powerfull EA330-range.
For many Ultralight aircraft are still synonymous with a construction of aluminum tubes with a parasol-type wing over it. Over the years a number of very elegant aircraft have been developed, which for the untrained eye are identical to more traditional designs. One of these newer designs is the Blackshape Prime, that was developed in Italy. The Prime is an aircraft seating two occupants in a tandem configuration similar to modern military training aircraft. At Ursel Avia four Primes were present, two with an Italian registration and two from the Netherlands. In fact the dealer in the Netherlands used Ursel Avia to promote the aircraft to potential buyers in Belgium.
Another light-weight was the Aerotec Coax 2D helicopter. This type was developed in Germany and unlike traditional helicopters it is fitted with a contra-rotating propeller, so no tailprop is required. Two were present at Ursel and one of the factory test pilots did a demonstration flight with one of the prototypes. One the ground a second example could be examined. The contrast with the Eurocopter EC120B Kolibri parked next to it was quite astounding.
Off course many more aircraft were present during Ursel Avia, too much to cover them all in detail, so here is an impression of a number of them....
Ursel Avia has become one of the major aviation events in Belgium in recent years and we hope that the organizers keep the upward trend going. However as plans are now in 2019 there will be no Ursel Avia as such, as in October 2019 they plan to organize an event to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of 'B-67' Ursel and 15 Years of 'The Victors', in 2020 again a 'normal' Ursel Avia will be held in the last weekend of June.
Low Approach wishes to thank the organization of Ursel Avia for the offered support.
Text & Photography : Laurent Heyligen