Beauvechain Air Base Day - April 10th, 2019
The first aviation event in Belgium was the Beauvechain Air Base (BAB) Day that was organized in the second week of April. The intention was to offer the public the chance to see up close the equipment of the No 1 Wing both on the ground and in the air. It was organized on a Wednesday to give students the chance the visit the event and hopefully convince them to choose for a military career in the Belgian Armed Forces.
The airshow element was provided by a number of displays showing off of the capabilities of the Belgian Air Force. First there was a demo with an Agusta A-109 in the Medevac configuration used for the evacuation of wounded personnel from the battlefield. The A-109 was acquired in the early 1990’s in the anti-tank and battlefield observation role, initially equipped with 8 (and later 4) TOW-missiles. A number of years ago this role was abandoned and a number of new tasks were developed, one being the medical evacuation. For this the helicopter is equipped with ‘extra wide’ doors to enable the installation of a stretcher and the required medical equipment for the medic. In the static a second helicopter with an identical configuration could be seen up close.
The disappearance of the TOW-missiles doesn’t mean that the A-109’s operate completely unarmed. During the Special Forces demo two different armed configurations were used. The first one consisted of a soldier providing air cover with his personal machine gun (illustrated here by the A-109 in demo colorscheme) and a second where the A-109 is equipped with a fixed machine gun pintle fitted with a MAG 7.62mm machine gun. The pintle was developed especially for the Belgian Air Force by FN Herstal who also modified a number of infantry MAG’s for use in air operations.
In 2012 the first of four NH-90MTH (Medium Transport Helicopter) were delivered to 18 Squadron at Beauvechain. Their main role is the transport of troops and equipment, but over the years a number of secondary tasks have been added (Casevac (Casualty Evacuation), Combat Search and Rescue, Special Operations,…). During the BAB Day the Special Forces Regiment staged a spectacular demo in the Special Operations role where the few ‘bad guys’ had to be intercepted and this always is a nice opportunity to make some nice shots.
During the demo support was given by a second NH-90TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) coming from the German Bundesheer, from Transporthubschrauberregiment 10 ‘Lüneburger Heide’ based at Fassberg to be more precise. This example demonstrated the cargo sling role, where extra equipment is attached underneath the helicopter. The BAB Day came at the end of a tactical flying exercise organized by the Belgian Air Force with foreign participants from Germany and the Czech Republic. Unfortunately the Czech participants, a Mil Mi-35 Hind and a Mil Mi-171Sh Hip, could only be seen in the static display.
On March 21s, 2019 the Westland Sea King Mk.48 was permanently withdrawn from use in the Search-and-Rescue role and its tasks were taken over by yet another variant of the NH-90, the NH-90NFH (Nato Frigate Helicopter). The first NH-90NFH arrived in Koksijde in July 2014 and from that moment on the crews of 40 Squadron started familiarizing themselves with the new type. The NH-90NFH will not only be used for Search-and-Rescue, but in the future will deploy regularly on board the frigates of the Belgian Navy, in which they will replace the Alouette III.
50 Years ago in November 1969 the first of 36 Siai-Marchetti SF-260M’s were delivered to the Elementary Flying School at Goetsenhoven. These state-of-the-art trainers took over the primary flying training from the Stampe-Vertongen SV-4B biplane. In February 1992 the fleet was increased with the delivery of 9 SF-260D’s. This anniversary was off course not forgotten by No 5 Squadron who now operate the aircraft from Beauvechain. Several aircraft (including all the aircraft of the Red Devils Demonstration Team) received special tail markings to commemorate this anniversary. The Red Devils themselves off course gave their first public display for 2019 during the BAB Day, but unfortunately for the photographers their display was way too far to make descent shots.
Traditionally the show ended with a demo from the Lockheed-Martin F16-AM Fighting Falcon in the hands of Captain Stefan ‘Vador’ Darte from No 2 Wing at Florennes. For this years’ display the display aircraft received a modified paint scheme celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the F16 in the Belgian Air Force. The weather conditions, that were very good the whole day, allowed him to do his full display with the use flares.
To end this report I want to highlight a few aircraft that could be admired in the static display. The first one was the Dassault-Breguet-Dornier Alpha Jet 1B+, a type that was withdrawn from use by the Belgian Air Force in October 2018 during a small ceremony at Cazaux where the aircraft were based since 2003. In addition to several civil aircraft the public could also see a MD Helicopters MD902 Explorer from the Belgian Federal Police and a delegation from the Belgian Air Cadets who brought along a Grob G102 and a Piper L21B Super Cub used for glider towing.
The BAB Day was a relatively small event, that drew a large crowd, but as so often it remains to be seen if another edition will be organized. The budgetary restraints within the Belgian Armed Forces don’t make it easy to find the funding for these type of events, even when it’s the ideal manner to stimulate possible candidates to make the step towards a military career. So I’m curious what 2020 will bring….
Text & Photography : Laurent Heyligen