There is no public airshow on the Saturday of the Sanicole Weekend. Instead, the final preparations are put in place and the final few aircraft get to fly their mandatory rehearsals ahead of the main airshow day on the Sunday. For enthusiasts however, the aviation action did not stop in 2017 as Kleine Brogel Air Force Base opened its doors for “Spottersday” which is a chance to see many of the Sanicole participants on the ground and also fly out to their rehearsals.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Kleine Brogel is home to the 10th Tactical Wing of the Belgian Air Force which comprises two Squadrons of Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons as well as the Operational Conversion Unit. It has a proud history and in particular is associated with the legendary Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, an example of which is preserved at the entrance to the base. Displayed alongside the F-104 were earlier examples of Belgian Air Force jet fighters operated by the 10th TW including the Republic F-84E Thunderjet and the F-84F Thunderstreak.
In 2018, the base will host the biennial Belgian Air Force Days military airshow but for 2017 it hosted ‘Spottersday’ taking advantage of the many aircraft brought together for the Sanicole Airshow. Unlike a major airshow, the Spottersday event is far more relaxed allowing enthusiasts some close-up access to many of the airshow participants as they gear up for their displays on the Sunday.
Nestled amongst trees, Kleine Brogel boasts one main runway plus a parallel relief runway. The latter was the main parking place for the various solo displays and teams. However, as seems tradition at Kleine Brogel, the Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornets and the Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs of the Patrouille Suisse parked in a maintenance area away from the main runway.
Just as for the Belgian Air Force Days, the long area along the side of the parallel taxiway was open to the public. There was also a square island between the the taxiway and runway open for enthusiasts which is always very popular.
While there is no formal flying display during the Spottersday, the Belgian Air Force’s own display teams all give displays at various points throughout the day. With his busy schedule supporting both events in Belgium and the Scampton Airshow, Cdt Tom de Moortel opened proceedings with the Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon solo display over his home base. Later in the day there was a Search and Rescue demo by a NH Industries NH90NFH, a near aerobatic routine by the Agusta A109BA plus the Red Devils Formation Aerobatic team flying four SIAI-Marchetti SF260s.
Providing some interludes amongst the various Sanicole related movements were some formations of Pilatus aircraft. The first saw a German registered Pilatus P-3 leading a PC-7 Turbotrainer and a PC-12 Executive aircraft. The second formation seen much later in the day saw the PC-7 leading a pair of PC-12s.
Sanicole’s rehearsal schedule starts on the Thursday so some of the participating aircraft were just seen on the ground. The Finnish Air Force thoughtfully positions their pair of Boeing F-18C Hornets with one aircraft demonstrating the wings folded and the other with wings extended. There was also a single RAF Eurofighter Typhoon T3 and a Spanish Air Force Airbus DS CN295M at opposite ends of the aircraft parking areas.
Amongst the movements for Sanicole were recce and rehearsal flights for the Saudi Hawks with their BAE Systems Hawks Mk65s, press flights for the Breitling Jet Team and Royal Jordanian Falcons, the Polish Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum, the Turkish and Hellenic F-16C Fighting Falcons, French Air Force Dassault Rafale B, Swedish Air Force SAAB JAS-39C Gripen, Patrulla ASPA with their Airbus Helicopter H125 Colibris plus the North American TF-51D Mustang ‘Scat VII’ and T-28B Trojan.
Compared to previous Spotterdays, it may not have been busy but it was still a very pleasant day enjoying some aviation. It is always good to see any military air arm being so accommodating and keen to show off what they do – the Belgians are particularly good at it as has been demonstrated this year both at Florennes in June and Kleine Brogel. We look forward to return for Belgian Air Force Days next year.