2021 Through the lens of Laurent Heyligen


2021 was for a year with mixed feelings.  The year before we had big hopes that everything would more or less go back to normal after a disastrous 2020, but quickly these vanished.  Again it would be a year of taking the (spotting) opportunity as it came without a lot of planning ahead.


In this Top 10 I want to give you a small overview of my highlights for 2021.  In March it started nice with the arrival of the 2nd A400M for the Belgian Air Force, CT03.   It is the replacement of the Lockheed C130H Hercules whose days were numbered, this was illustrated clearly when C130H CH01 unveiled its last special color scheme a few days later.

The next month I finally managed to photograph a Boeing E4B Nightwatch that acted as a transport for the US Minister of Defense.  Finally these type of international meetings were ‘live’ again, several would follow in the year, bringing some nice government aircraft to Brussels.

In June the Belgian Air Force organized its first event, a spottersday at Florennes.  In fact this replaced the cancelled large scale celebration of 75 Years of Belgian Air Force.  A nice part of this spottersday was the possibility of night photography…. The only one I had this year.

In early July we had to say goodbye to another well-known type from the air force.  After the departure of the Embraer 135/145 a few months earlier, which happened in virtual complete silence, a handful of photographers were allowed to see the departure from Koksijde of the last two Alouette III’s to their new home.

In the same month I attended my first aviation event in almost two years.  The local aeroclub at Balen-Keiheuvel organized their (normally) annual fly-in, unfortunately weather conditions were terrible the whole weekend so only a few visiting aircraft showed up.  One of these was this Stampe-Vertongen SV4B…. and yes (for those who still claim the opposite) this is a Belgian Air Force aircraft!
Why do I mention this.  The previous months one particular person tried to ‘overtake’ the Belgian spotting community, but wouldn’t accept the advise of others…. In my case he even threatened me with legal actions (one of the lowpoints in a 40+ spotting career)!  And yes, this person didn’t even know that the SV4B was one of the highlights in our rich Belgian aviation history and that it had flown in our Air Force. 

Late August I attended my first major airshow in two years.  After a ‘dress rehearsel’ at Albert in France, the last weekend ‘Les Temps des Hélices’ at La Ferté-Alais was a bit of a new start for many of us.  One of my personal highlights at this show was this wonderfully restored North American AD4N Skyraider.  Another one that jumped out was this French Navy Alouette III, the first Alouette III that I saw equipped with radar.

After a scale-down Tiger Meet and SAR Meet and a Sanicole airshow with not so great weather it was time again to head to Koksijde.  Two years after their withdrawal from active service the last remaining West Sea Kings would move to their new homes in the UK.  For the occasion they were dressed with a ‘civil’ registration, we can only hope that we will see them again somewhere in the future….

The year more or less like it started, with a transport plane.  After weather disrupted the “C130 Farewell Flight” a few days earlier I had the opportunity to see on December 22nd one of the last airworthy aircraft over Diest-Schaffen airfield during its ferryflight into storage…. 

Text & Photography: Laurent Heyligen